Offering Black Women The Right Beauty Choices

Iman was dazzling as she addressed the audience at last week’s WWD Beauty CEO Summit. She zeroed in on a nagging problem for women of color — the challenge of finding a foundation. Iman vividly described how when she began to model, makeup artists asked if she had a foundation since they weren’t stocked with products for black skin. She started mixing her own which eventually lead her to create her eponymous line of cosmetics.

The crux of the issue for creating brands for black women stretches way beyond the making of colors that complement dark skin tones. Some cosmetics, especially those produced as Iman was rising to fame, contained ingredients that actually turned white and ashy on black skin. While some of those additives have been removed, it remains a challenge for a general market brand to have foundations right for African-American women.

Once Iman conquered the issue of products right for black women, she encountered the next problem— distribution. Initially she partnered with J.C. Penney and by 1996, Iman had sales over $5 million. When Penney’s decided to phase out beauty, Iman had to look for other retailers that understood the potential. Iman’s line is sold in stores including Wal-Mart, Duane Reade, Ulta and Target. But she admitted she still struggles with getting retailers to understand the need, how to merchandise and how to select the right stores. In her presentation, she challenged retailers to take a close look at their stores and how they are reaching black women.

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While retailers sympathized with Iman and her efforts, they said the facts remain that shelf space is finite. One retailer said she’d love to put in into more stores, but the reality is every stock keeping unit has to pay for itself and not every store can support inventory.

Cosmetics for black women was also touched upon by Desiree Rogers, chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Company. On her to do list is a goal of reinvigorating the company’s beauty brand, Fashion Fair. The 38-year-old brand pioneered cosmetics for women of color and was a department store winner in the Eighties. Mass merchants often begged to get the brand. Rogers, seeing the potential, hopes to put more muscle behind it and return the brand to its glory. Like Iman, Rogers sees the brand squarely focused on black women, versus a multicultural approach. Showing its commitment to its revival, Johnson tapped celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine to create new products.

Black women are proving they want and need specialized products. Based on the chatter at the Summit, ethnic cosmetics will be a category to watch.

People, Places and Things

A few words with Alan Ennis, president and chief executive officer of Revlon at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit.

WWD:  The last year or so the prestige market has been outperforming the mass market. What’s your view on that? Can you analyze the mass versus prestige from a consumer point of view?

Ennis: A couple of things. Certainly in the last year, year and a half, both the mass market and the prestige market have done exceptionally well. I think the prestige market, and I’ll call it department stores in general, had a pretty low point in 2008-2009 and so the comparisons look very attractive relative to that low point. That’s the first point. The second point, if you look at what’s propelled the mass channel over the last year, it’s really been nail and the nail category has been on fire. And it’s not just innovation but it’s she’s now looking at nail as an accessory and she is looking at different shades, she’s looking at different formats, she’s looking at different styles. There’s crackle, there’s magnetic nail and so nail has really been on fire.

Interestingly, around the prestige consumer, there was a time — and I have a little story to tell you — there was a time when the prestige or the luxury consumer was actually afraid to spend their money, even though they had money to spend because they didn’t want to be seen by those that were suffering to be greedy, if you like. But the point was that the luxury consumer didn’t want to be seen to spend money. I think today people are over the recession, whether the recession is technically over or not, I think people are just tired of it. It’s been around for too long and I think people are starting to spend money. So I think the prestige channel certainly has had a significant growth in the last year, year and a half. And I think the mass channel is doing the same so it’s good for all of us.

WWD: What is Revlon in brands trying to do to reach black women or women of color?

Ennis: The Revlon portfolio of products caters to all skin types. So when we launch a new foundation we will launch the lightest shades all the way through to the darkest shades. And so let’s assume a typical foundation is 20 shades, for example, that will launch around the world and retailers will choose the selection of shades or sku’s that fit their consumer. And even in the U.S., for example, in areas that have more of a Latina population or African -American population, they will select the darker shades.

So our product offering caters to all skin types, including by the way, the whitening products or the fairness components that was talked to earlier. So it caters to all those products, that’s the first thing.

The second thing is Halle Berry is black and she’s been a brand ambassador for us for 16 years and a very good one. And so I think the Revlon brand, its distribution is broad to satisfy all consumer needs, the product offering is broad to satisfy the consumer needs. And so I haven’t found a meaningful reason to launch a specific line for the black consumer.

What’s In Store

Shoppers Drug Mart to Acquire Paragon: Canadian drugstores are garnering more attention and one of the largest, Shoppers Drug Mart, is getting bigger with plans to buy Paragon Pharmacies.  The deal includes 19 stores.

Prom Season Sells Out:
In addition to shelves being emptied for mascara, foundation and bronzer, drugstore retailers found another item they couldn’t keep in stock for Prom 2012 – Crest 3D 2-Hour Express Whitestrips priced at $54.99!


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