NEW YORK — A host of beauty industry insiders — and the just plain beautiful — sounded off on how best to reach African-American women at Essence magazine’s Smart Beauty panel Wednesday. Panel members included Cheryl Hudgins Williams of Procter & Gamble, entertainment mogul Steve Stoute, marketing consultant Charles Jamison Jr., singer Kelly Rowland and Iman.

The discussion centered on the need for beauty firms and advertisers to abandon an elitist view of women, which is often depicted by the image of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman, noted Jamison.

“It’s really up to us to keep pushing forward,” said Stoute, managing partner of Carol’s Daughter and chief creative officer and founder of Translation Consultation + Brand Imaging. “We have to fight to make sure they’re speaking to us.” He noted that there’s a prevailing thought in marketing circles that African-Americans do not shop online, adding that Carol’s Daughter is taking advantage of that myth. A link to Mary J. Blige’s 2006 tour on Carol’s Daughter’s Web site drove 20,000 people to the first day tickets went on sale, said Stoute. He reported that since its launch in Sephora doors last April, Carol’s Daughter has become the retailer’s eighth-best-selling brand.

Hudgins Williams, associate director of global communications for P&G Beauty, said Cover Girl has been successful in tapping the star power of Queen Latifah, leveraging her name to create a cosmetics line for women of color called Queen. Cover Girl promoted the collection at the Sugar Water Festival, featuring Latifah, and through radio advertisements.

“Cover Girl’s Queen collection dispelled the myth that you can’t sell cosmetics over the radio,” said Hudgins Williams.

Iman, who in 2004 teamed up with P&G to distribute her cosmetics line to mass retailers, pleaded with mass merchants and drugstores to do away with the “ethnic section” in their stores. “It’s old-fashioned,” declared Iman, adding that the world is too big for such a narrow approach.

“For us, it’s not an afterthought like at many general-market brands,” said Iman, referring to marketing to women of color.

Smart Beauty, a market research study that surveyed 1,928 African-American women online, also found that women of color are not always enticed by antiaging, wrinkle-fighting skin care products, and are more concerned with even skin tone and hyperpigmentation.

This story first appeared in the June 16, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Hudgins Williams said that Olay’s upcoming launch of Definity — a premium skin care line designed to improve skin tone — was inspired by conversations with black women.

Several panelist also said they anticipate a rise in natural beauty products. “I would like to see more natural products,” said Rowland. “If I’m having a skin care problem, I don’t go to the store — I call my grandmother, who will tell me to get out the olive oil.”

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