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Under Black Female Ownership, Black Opal’s Refresh Heads Into Ulta

Under new owners Desirée Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, Black Opal is launching at Ulta with new products, cleaning up formulations and aiming to be the go-to brand for women of color.

Desirée Rogers, the former chief executive officer of Fashion Fair Cosmetics and social secretary under President Barack Obama, and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, formerly the CEO of Ebony Media, have a plan to build a world-class beauty company for women of color. 

The duo are starting with a refresh for Black Opal, the decades-old beauty brand they acquired from Mana in mid-2019. The brand has tapped actress and singer Ryan Destiny Irons, who goes by Ryan Destiny, as its first ambassador. Black Opal is also releasing a slew of new products in makeup and skin care that eschew parabens, mineral oils, phathalates and other ingredients.

“There are three things we thought about as we worked on this business over the past year and a half… a real understanding of the target customer, increasing the brand awareness and growing the sales,” Rogers said. 

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For 2021, industry sources expect Black Opal to have around $10 million in sales.

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The brand’s new products aim to build off of Black Opal’s historical expertise in complexion products, Rogers said.

Black Opal
One of Black Opal’s new eye shadow palettes, launching in January. courtesy of Black Opal

In makeup, the brand is launching a Pressed Translucent Powder in eight shades, Oil Absorbing Pressed Powder, Colorshine High Shine Lipgloss, Colorsplurge Matte Lipstick as well as Creme Lipstick, Precision Eye Definer, Precision Lip Definer, six eyeshadow palettes and Lip and Cheek Tinted Balm. All of the brand’s products will cost less than $20.

Black Opal
Black Opal lip oil.

In skin care, Black Opal is launching lip oil, two lip balms and a brightening skin-care line with exfoliation and brightening bar soaps, liquid exfoliating toner and brightening and plumping serum. The fragrance-free skin-care line was developed in partnership with dermatologist Caroline Robinson.

“We’ll be following up with face products, oil reduction producing and then shaving products,” Rogers said.

“What’s important to us, as we look at color and look at products, is to make certain that they work on a variety of skin tones. The lip balm for example will be closer to women of colors’ lips — it won’t show up white or anything like that,” Rogers said. 

All new products are formulated with Black Opal’s new ingredient standards in mind, and gradually, existing products will be reformulated to meet those standards, Rogers said. 

Black Opal’s new products will be on display at new retail partner Ulta Beauty later this month. The brand is launching in 100 doors, including Ulta’s Michigan Avenue flagship in Chicago, and online, with the possibility of rolling out into more stores in the future. 

“Consumers will clearly be able to see that this is a Black-owned company. It’s written right on the gondola,” Rogers said. “That’s what we proposed to Ulta, and they were very comfortable with it. When I go into Ulta today, I don’t see anyone saying, ‘Hey, we’re a Black-owned company focused on women of color.’” 

In addition to Ulta, Black Opal is sold at Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid, where the brand will be featured in the Store of the Future concept, Mayberry McKissack said.

Black Opal also plans to ramp up digital offerings, and has partnered with Perfect Corp. in order to create virtual try-on options for customers. 

“We’re bringing out some of that technology onto our digital platform so that we can create the experience also from a digital perspective, for women of color,” Mayberry McKissack said. “One of the things we found is that a lot of the major cosmetics and skin-care companies have been using the technology but we don’t see a lot of the cosmetics companies that are owned by people of color — we think that technology and the opportunity to have that customer experience really needs to go to our audience.” The company is also working with Google to create makeup try-on options through there, as well, she noted. 

“One of the things we know that’s very important for our audience — we are our audience — is the whole foundation match,” Rogers said.

Beyond the YouCam and Google offerings, Black Opal will offer an option to plug in a foundation shade from a different brand to learn the corresponding Black Opal shade, as well as online consultations with beauty experts. 

To ramp up marketing for all these efforts, Black Opal has hired Destiny, who has 2.6 million followers on Instagram, as its first brand ambassador. “She comes from the heart of the country, one of these women of color communities in Detroit. We think she’s very relatable,” Rogers said. When working with the company, Destiny specified that she wanted a diverse group of people working on set, and campaign images were shot by photographer Quil Lemons. There’s also a charity tie-in, at Destiny’ request, with Mercy Education in Detroit.

In a statement, Destiny, 26, said she’d been using Black Opal products since she was 16, and could always find a shade the worked for her skin tone. “Representation matters in beauty, so I love that this brand is Black and female-owned. I hope people can see themselves in me and love the products that were created with them in mind,” she said.

“When you think of someone certainly at that age who has already defined for themselves what they want to be and how they want to be perceived and how they want to give back — that’s part of our mission as well,” Mayberry McKissack said. 

Black Opal’s revamp is just one of the projects that Rogers and Mayberry McKissack have taken on. The two are also readying Fashion Fair for a relaunch in the fall, they said, and would consider adding brands into their portfolio. 

“We’re always open to looking at brands,” Rogers said. “Our collective really focuses on women of color. Right now, we are focused on the brands that we have and making certain we deliver them correctly and we surprise and delight and enchant all of our consumers, but we’re always keeping our eyes open for other companies that may fit nicely into the portfolio that we can manage and direct.”

For more from WWD.com, see: 

The Evolution of Beauty Retail: Who’s Gaining Share, and Who’s Losing It

Follain to Help Black-owned Beauty Brands Get EWG-verified