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EXCLUSIVE: Sephora to Add More Black-owned Brands

The retailer will reach the 15 percent benchmark in prestige hair care by yearend.

Sephora is rethinking its approach to merchandising as it continues to expand its Black-owned beauty offerings.

An advanced copy of a progress report on Sephora’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, shared exclusively with WWD, states that the retailer expects to reach the 15 percent benchmark in prestige hair care by yearend.

Sephora remains on track to double its Black-owned beauty offerings by the end of 2021. It recently added eight brands founded by women of color to its matrix, as well as Forvr Mood, the lifestyle brand founded by influencer-preneur Jackie Aina, and Fashion Fair, which will enter Sephora doors in the fall.

Deborah Yeh, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Sephora Americas, said the retailer is taking cues with regard to how to merchandise Black-owned brands from the founders themselves.

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“The in-store experience depends on where brands are in their lifecycle,” Yeh said. “Many of them will appear in Next Big Thing, which is where we put all of our hot new brand launches, as well as in the main gondola areas. We have developed a Black-owned at Sephora seal they can choose to use, but it is optional to the founders as to how they want to tell their story. For consumers, we have a landing page and a number of digital resources to find those products. But within the in-store environment, it is still at the discretion of the brand founders. We believe it’s their right to choose how they want to represent themselves.”

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Sephora has been highlighting Black-owned brands via quarterly digital campaigns. It has increased the number of Black-owned brands it features digitally, including on social media, from 11 percent in June 2020 to 15 percent in July 2021.

“This fall, we will be doing our first-ever 360-degree marketing campaign featuring Black-owned brands across all of our categories,” Yeh said. “It will be in the windows, on the homepage. We’re launching it with a short film. We’re excited about giving Black-owned brands the main stage at Sephora.”

This year’s Sephora Squad influencer set counts 73 members — the retailer’s largest yet — with 79 percent of members identifying as people of color, up from 51 percent in 2020, and double the amount of Spanish-speaking influencers — 16 members, up from eight in 2019.

Additionally, the retailer has doubled the number of Spanish-language YouTube videos it produces monthly. It has created mini campaigns for holidays such as Lunar New Year and Eid al-Fitr in an attempt for wider cultural appeal. Closed-captioning is now included in all content shared via Sephora’s Instagram TV.

“These are things you can push forward into pretty quickly, and then there are other places where we are laddering into pipelines and building training and transitioning,” Yeh said. “Those places will have a massive impact, but we’re going to take a little bit longer.”

Over the past year Sephora has hired more people of color in retail, distribution and corporate positions. Employees who identify as Black or African American now account for 16 percent of the work force, up 2 percent versus last year.

Black or African American leadership in retail, distribution and corporate is at 9 percent, up from 6 percent last year. Black or African American store director representation is at 11 percent, also up from 6 percent last year.

“We’ve been able to make a huge amount of progress in the retail areas of the business, but quite frankly, we’re looking at our stores, distribution centers and corporate offices as places where we can further increase diversity across our work force,” Yeh said.

This summer, Sephora hired 43 interns, more than half of whom self identify as people of color.

In keeping with action items outlined in its Racial Bias in Retail study, Sephora has created 20 new inclusivity training sessions meant to mitigate unconscious bias in its retail employees. Yeh said Sephora has implemented a “number of different listening strategies” to “capture the signals of how things are going” in-store.

The number of negative in-store experiences reported is, so far, declining.

“We implemented a retail experience dashboard that is looking at a number of different inputs from the more traditional post-purchase survey to client service reporting [to] social media,” Yeh said. “We are able to share with our field leaders incidences that have been reported in their stores, which is giving people a much more granular and accurate understanding of the incidents happening.

“Interestingly, what’s happening here is the number of incidents are slightly declining,” she continued. “It’s not just opening up the aperture of reporting, but also doing the work to, as an organization, reduce the number of occasions where someone feels unwelcome in our stores.”

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