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WWD Beauty Inc Awards: Jackie Aina Wins Influencer of the Year

By championing inclusivity, Jackie Aina is breaking down barriers—and attracting a significant following to boot.

In January Tarte released Shape Tape Foundation, the highly anticipated sister product to its cult-favorite Shape Tape Contour Concealer. The release — 15 shades, two of which were for deeper skin tones — was met with much social media buzz, though likely not the kind the company was expecting.

As 15 shades does not suffice in a post-Fenty world, the online beauty community swiftly took to social media to voice its thoughts. Among the most prominent voices leading the conversation was YouTuber Jackie Aina.

“I don’t appreciate the blatant erasure of a whole spectrum of people,” Aina said in a video filmed with fellow YouTuber Alissa Ashley. “Tarte has to be the most whitewashed brand out there. This brand embodies the exact opposite of everything that I stand for. They don’t do anything that makes people feel included,” Aina continued.

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Aina’s video quickly made the rounds on social media, Tarte eventually issued an apology and Aina cemented herself as a lead influencer and champion for diversity and inclusion in the beauty industry.

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Born and raised in Los Angeles by an American mother and a Nigerian father, Aina launched her YouTube channel one year after joining the military. Her page was both a creative release from an unhappy marriage (she later divorced) and a response to a lack of diversity in makeup tutorials on YouTube.

“A lot of what I saw at that time [in 2009] were white women or Asian women doing looks,” she said. “I was re-creating them and making them dark skin-friendly on me.”

She would visit makeup counters in hopes of re-creating beauty looks she had seen on celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, but would get turned away and told that it wouldn’t work on her complexion. Her response? Prove them wrong.

As an OG beauty YouTuber, Aina, who now has more than 2.5 million subscribers, has seen the platform evolve considerably. YouTube is now so saturated, it’s harder than ever to grow—and keep growing—a following. While some creators opt for over-the-top concepts to drive rapid growth, she prefers to call attention to social issues, such as diversity in the larger beauty sphere and within YouTube’s creator community. “There’s still a bit of a glass ceiling on certain [YouTube] creators based on your complexion,” she said. “That’s something that I’m always going to be very vocal about.”

One way Aina combats this is by supporting young creators of color who don’t have the same resources she does. “On my personal platforms, I support up-and-coming, new creators who look like me,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll randomly message people who I’ve been following for a while, ‘Great videos, great potential, but your camera’s really crappy. Can I get you a new lens?’ I’ve helped smaller creators negotiate contracts. I just want to see people win and not get taken advantage of because, unfortunately, it happens.”

Another way is by becoming more involved in product collaborations. Aina has previously worked with E.l.f. and Artist Couture, and in June, she collaborated with Too Faced to expand its Born This Way foundation range by 11 shades. The response to the collaboration was “over-the-top phenomenal,” according to Too Faced cofounder and chief creative officer Jerrod Blandino. He declined to offer sales data, but according to industry sources, the Chai shade, which Aina created and wears regularly, sold out immediately online and at all of Too Faced’s retailers.

“[Aina’s] commitment to the process of creating these skin tones for the foundation was something I am so in awe of,” Blandino said. “She researched, she interviewed people, she went deep and the customers felt that. When it came time to trying the different shades on and wearing them and living in them, they were the absolute best because of the commitment and the energy she put into it.”

Asked why Aina is so impactful amongst her followers, Blandino lists her sense of humor, strength and passion. “I love Jackie so much because she is just Jackie,” he said. “It all goes back to being good, to fighting for what’s right, to making the world a better place. She’s glittery and sparkly and fashionable and fun and everything you would want her to be, but ultimately, she’s a warrior for what’s right and to make this world a better place.”

Aina’s viewership ranges from makeup fanatics to those who watch solely for her commentary and personality, and she caters to them both, perhaps even more so to those who aren’t hardcore makeup lovers.

“As long as I’m only focusing on just the makeup world, that would only hurt my growth as a creator. We’re at an age now where everyone knows how to do makeup because of YouTube,” she said. “You don’t need another eyebrow tutorial— there’s 50 million of them on YouTube. I want people to see things that they don’t already see, something different, with my flair to it. It’s about what I’m talking about and what I bring to the table when I’m talking. It’s my personality that people are there for.”

Some of her most-viewed videos—“Makeup Trends We’re Ditching in 2015,” “Black Girls React to Tarte Shape Foundation,” “Fenty Beauty?! Hot or Hmmm?”—are all makeup-related, but recently, she’s been experimenting with other formats. In April, she read hate comments on-camera, ASMR-style while eating chicken wings. Call it mukbang meets makeup.

This shift in content is reflective of a larger plan to expand her brand beyond beauty. Her ultimate goal is to be a “lifestyle brand.” If you’re wondering what exactly that entails, well, so is Aina. Yes, she has thought about releasing her own makeup line—“people expect that I do something in the complexion category, so that would be my goal.” Fashion is also on the table.

But content is key for Aina, who wants hers to be remembered “as a place that people come to feel like they’re at home.” She also hopes to take away some of the pressure of appearing perfect on social media in the process because, when it comes to the internet, the best way to be, she said, is yourself.

“There’s a million tutorials on YouTube, but people are gonna come to you because you’re you,” she said. “Own it. Don’t try to be something you’re not and people will love you for that.”