Sharon Chuter, Nicola Kilner, Mazdack Rassi and Vicky Tsai

Last year’s brand-as-activist phenomenon prompted an industry-wide reprioritization of purpose over profit. But for some companies, purpose has always been the motive.

“My motivation to [start Uoma Beauty] was because I understood the damage beauty was doing by being super exclusive,” said Sharon Chuter, Uoma Beauty’s founder and chief executive officer, at Beauty Inc @20. “It was monolithic, very stale. I felt left out because of the color of my skin.”

Chuter became a leading activist in the beauty community last year, when she launched the Pull Up For Change campaign, which she referred to as “brand suicide” in her panel chat with WWD senior editor Allison Collins.

“No brand in their rational mind would do that,” she said. “We’re completely entrenched in why I do what I do.”

At Milk Makeup, revenue “has always come secondary” to creativity, said Mazdack Rassi, cofounder of Milk Studios.

“All of our projects are about trying to create something that starts with self-expression,” Rassi said. “We believe that if you are doing something that’s true and unique and different, and there is a business model but it’s not your main focus, then the profits will come. First and foremost, it has to make sense from a brand point of view.”

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The shift to purpose-driven beauty comes as consumers look to buy into more than just a brand’s products. Beyond the stock keeping units, consumers want to know as much about a company’s internal and external practices as possible.

“[Consumers] want to know where their money is going,” said Nicola Kilner, CEO of Deciem. “They care about how you treat your employees. It’s a great thing because ultimately, we’re holding companies accountable and companies are having to learn that how they treat their teams, their consumers, their audience will end up affecting their sales and longevity.”

Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha, said that in years past, beauty brands “put themselves on a pedestal,” creating a specific standard of beauty that felt both unattainable and unreflective of the diversity inherent in beauty consumers.

“Consumers are so sophisticated and empowered now, especially because of social media, that the equation is flipped,” Tsai said. “Within Tatcha, the number-one question we ask every single day is how can we be of service to our client? We’re celebrating a beauty that already exists in these people versus holding ourselves up as a standard and saying, ‘You should try to be like me.”

The flipping of the equation translates to brands’ retail partnerships, too. Consumers are less interested in prestige versus mass beauty — and more interested in accessibility.

As Rassi put it, consumers “want to shop wherever the hell they want to shop.”

“Brick-and-mortar versus digital versus this channel versus that, it never made sense to me,” Rassi said. “Definitely with the new generation, it’s on their terms. They have the power to decide when they’re going to shop, join, consume content, whatever they want to do. As a brand, we have to be everywhere for them, be their friend and make it frictionless.”

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