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Multiethnic Beauty Consumers on the Rise

As the ethnic makeup of the U.S. consumer continues to become more multiracial, cosmetics companies are looking to address a more nuanced audience.

A collection visual for MAC’s upcoming Styleseeker range.

Talk about shades of gray.

As the ethnic makeup of the U.S. consumer continues to become more multiracial, cosmetics companies are looking to address a more nuanced audience. This past year, brands like Dior, L’Oréal Paris and Burberry Beauty have expanded their shade offerings to meet increasing demand for a spectrum of skin tones. In addition, retailers like Target Corp. have risen to the challenge, stocking their shelves with ethnically oriented indie brands once relegated to the salon channel.

“The world today is not a black-and-white one,” said The NPD Group’s vice president and global beauty industry analyst, Karen Grant. “[It is critical to] allow for women to embrace brands without thinking they are making an ethnic choice.”

The new multicultural landscape reflects a growing number of women in the U.S. who associate themselves with multiple ethnic backgrounds, thus making it difficult for them to find brands that speak to them — or work for them — completely. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans who are made up of two or more races increased by 32 percent between 2000 and 2010. The Census Bureau even concedes that number actually underestimates the total number of multiethnic people in the U.S. Clearly, the days of checking one ethnicity box to address diversity are numbered.

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“Brands that have done well have recognized the potential in their portfolios,” said Grant, who added that the number of foreign-born individuals who have immigrated to the U.S. in the last 20 years is 38.5 million, which surpasses the populations of almost 200 countries around the world. Grant also estimated that almost one-third of the population swell is caused by net immigration. Looking into the future, she predicted that about 86 percent of population growth by the year 2050 may be attributed to the immigrant flow since 1992. “The ethnic complexion in the U.S. is constantly changing,” said Grant, who named some of the fastest-growing demographics in the U.S. as Indians, Pakistanis, Middle Easterners, Brazilians and Hispanics, both as residents and visiting beauty buyers alike. “Even the suburbs of Middle America are so full of culture.”

This new multiethnic consumer, Grant said, is typically under age 45, beauty-oriented and underserved when it comes to her beauty needs.

The other side of the U.S. multicultural beauty-buying population derives from affluent tourists from countries like Brazil, who travel to the U.S. to procure their beauty products because of inflated prices in their homelands.

“One of the things [beauty] brands are seeing is that it is not only the homegrown American they are appealing to,” said Grant. “This is a hugely viable market.”

As beauty companies continue their quest to address these new demographics, a noteworthy paradox becomes the danger of alienating mixed-race consumers who do not identify with the single demographic being targeted.

“Consumers don’t mind having a brand with a heritage, but at the end of the day, it’s about what works for them,” said Grant, who also warned, “Black models and darker shades does not mean a brand is going to be relevant.”

The point of the complexity of ethnic labeling was also underscored by beauty entrepreneur Iman at WWD’s recent Beauty CEO Summit in Palm Beach, Fla.

“I know for a fact that Filipinos look exactly like my skin tone, and they are Asians,” said Somalia-born Iman, who launched Iman Cosmetics in 1994 for all “women of color. Latinas come as dark as I am or blonde [with] blue eyes. I [was never] talking about creating something for black women. At the time, I was talking about a whole global thing, and it was just at the beginning of the multicultural talk we had been hearing.”

Iman set out on her mission to offer products that would work on every skin tone after years ago being made over to look “gray” during her first day working as a model for American Vogue in New York. “The makeup artist asked me if I brought my own foundation,” she said. After she said no, Iman said the result was an unnatural-looking complexion. “You have to understand what foundation means. It is really a self-esteem booster, especially for women with skin of color. It becomes like the holy grail of a product. It is the one that makes you look as beautiful as you can be, as flawless as you can be.”

To that end, in January, L’Oréal Paris revisited its True Match foundation franchise, launched in 1994, to incorporate 14 additional shades for multiethnic skin.

“We reevaluated the performance of the shades on darker tones, [which] had to be rebalanced with warmth to address the growing Hispanic and African-American [demographics],” said Nathalie Kristo, senior vice president of marketing for L’Oréal Paris.

The initiative was accompanied with a campaign called The Story Behind My Skin, fronted by brand spokeswomen like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Aimee Mullins, meant to celebrate the cultural heritage of every woman.

For its part, Dior has also set out to be more inclusive in its shade offerings for complexion products by adding to its Diorskin Nude and AirFlash lines.

“Any cosmetics company has to appeal to a broad range of skin tones,” said Terry Darland, president of Dior Parfums North America, who added that part of the Dior model is hiring multilingual beauty consultants. Darland said since the brand entered Sephora stores, it has been able also to reach younger demographics, including multicultural shoppers.

Other brands extending their reach include Chanel, which launched its comprehensive and globally oriented Perfection Lumière line of foundations in September 2011, and Burberry Beauty, which tucked in an additional four darker tones into its Luminosity Collection in March. This summer, British color brand Illamasqua also added seven new “.5” shades — each with a yellow or yellow-and-pink undertone — to its lineup to address Asian skin tones. In September, Laura Mercier will add two shades to her best-selling Tinted Moisturizer designed for olive and warmer pale complexions.

“The Asian pool, we often group together,” noted Grant, who added that “the range is so diverse culturally” when it comes to foundation tones.

In addition to cosmetics, hair care is another notable beauty category for the multicultural consumer. To that end, retailers like Target have been offering consumers more breadth when it comes to ethnic needs by bringing in independent salon brands like Mixed Chicks, Kinky Curly, Hair Rules and Shea Moisture.

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“We have tripled the space dedicated to multiethnic brands for the past few years,” said Christina Hennington, divisional merchandising manager for Target’s beauty division. “This consumer has always had places to buy beauty products, but the mass channel hasn’t been the channel of choice.” Hennington added that many multiethnic consumers had traditionally shopped for their hair care products through beauty supply stores and salons.

“Our consumer’s hair is not just relaxed or natural — the style can fall anywhere on the spectrum,” agreed Donna Barker, senior director for Unilever, which owns multicultural-oriented Motions hair care. “We strive to provide products and resources to help her maintain her signature style, no matter what texture.”

Hairdresser Ken Paves, who calls himself a “Filipino, Portuguese, Romanian Jew,” said addressing multiethnic hair textures — something he has done since his early days in the industry — is increasingly relevant.

Paves’ collection, Hairdo, which is constantly being updated to address multiethnic textures and tones, includes crimped kinky waves to smooth straight styles, and everything in-between.

“Beauty should not ever be a problem,” said Paves, whose work has been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The X Factor.” “It’s not about fixing anything. It’s about enhancing what women already have.”

Similarly, for Bésame Cosmetics founder Gabriela Hernandez, who was born in Buenos Aires to an Italian mother and a Basque (Spanish and French) father, culture complements, but does not define, her brand.

“Bésame started like an ethnic brand,” said Hernandez. “The fact that I’m Hispanic obviously changed my design aesthetic.”

According to Hernandez, her line of vintage-inspired cosmetics is designed to appeal to women of any race because of its saturation levels and classic packaging. “Larger companies have to segregate people into groups, but I don’t work that way,” said Hernandez, who counts among her client base Armenians, Indians and Hispanics. “I think of a woman as a whole woman.”

As a multiethnic-beauty shopper herself, Hernandez has found common ground with other demographics when it comes to her beauty needs.

“My hair is very curly, so I buy the heavier serums made for [African-Americans],” she said. “We are so worldly now as a culture, everything is shared.”

As the lines of ethnicity continue to blur, Grant says beauty brands can take a cue from MAC Cosmetics, which was an early player in the inclusivity game.

“MAC keeps its cool yet strives to never be out of reach,” said Grant, who added that the brand overindexes in Hispanic and African-American markets. “It is surprisingly affordable, and women of all races can wear it.”

Built from the philosophy of “all ages, all races, all sexes,” MAC Cosmetics — from its inception — set out to include formerly omitted beauty consumers, like men and women with darker skin.

To that end, the MAC product lineup — which offers more than 200 lipsticks and 160 eye-shadow shades — has always been designed to address a broad range of skin tones and provide colors that work on all of them.

“It is a priority that everyone has a shade,” said Karen Buglisi, global brand president of MAC Cosmetics, who said the brand’s best-selling Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation has 46 shades to cover every demographic. To keep its product assortment fresh and relevant, she said, MAC holds biannual “color team” meetings with makeup artists and trainers from around the world, to learn the dynamics of each marketplace and share product formulas, shades and ideas.

“If there are gaps, something that is shifting, product development, marketing, creative [teams] are all getting this information,” said Buglisi. “The world is a big place, and every market has a nuance.”

For Buglisi, MAC’s concentration on the local market ensures it will continue to address women’s beauty needs.

“We pay attention to what the needs are of consumers all around the world, adapt to that and fold it into the brand.” Buglisi added that MAC’s price point — typically between $14.50 for a lipstick and $30 for a foundation — also makes the brand cross-appealing among ethnic groups and income levels.

“We are a brand that lives in communities,” said Buglisi. “We can be on Fifth Avenue and the Champs-Elysées. We can also be in Harlem.”