How Retailers Can Help Better Beauty Industry Ethics

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 18 retailer and brand founders and executives: How should retailers be going further to ensure the beauty industry is ethical?

Anika Goodwin Founder, OpulenceMD Beauty

The retailers have direct control of what goes on to their shelves. Many brands make claims that, let's face it, sometimes are just not completely true. It has become trendy to make all-natural, vegan and cruelty-free claims, but is anyone actually fact checking these claims? It is the retailer, the gatekeeper between product and consumer, who can play a role in making sure brands are on the up and up in what they promise versus what they deliver.

Ahmed Nayel Co-Founder, Bare + Bloom

It’s important that retailers become aware of and accept their share of responsibility for what they’re selling to their customers. Currently, consumers are left to their own devices to learn what the individual ingredients in their products are and how those ingredients may impact their health and well-being. It leaves them in an extremely vulnerable position. 

Retailers can help ensure that the beauty industry is ethical by actively seeking out and carrying brands that are ethical and eco-friendly while making the distinction clear between those who are and those who aren’t. Sephora and Ulta are already moving in this direction with their Clean at Sephora and Conscious Beauty initiatives, respectively. Retailers can go a step further by electing not to carry brands or products containing ingredients that have been proven to cause endocrine disruption, hormonal imbalance, organ toxicity or that may be carcinogenic. 

Consumers are demanding transparency and are becoming increasingly attracted to brands that are viewed as clean and mission-based, and retailers have a unique opportunity to align themselves with that demand.

Melissa Obeid Founder, La Fervance

Holding suppliers and brands accountable for their systems, processes, ingredient sourcing and transparency around their provenance and brand story.  Insisting on globally recognized certifications rather than self-professed titles. As we all know, the terms “natural," “clean” “sustainable,'' “ethical,” “active” are overused and often unsubstantiated. I would encourage retailers and consumers alike to question the marketing spiels, along with the percentages, quality and provenance of ingredients, the origin of the packaging, and its production and transportation carbon footprint.

One reason we decided to produce in France is that it’s the most regulated country for the manufacturing of prestige cosmetics. Not only are there over 1,300 banned standard ingredients in contrast to the FDA’s nine, add the Ecocert/COSMOS certification to the mix, and there are thousands more banned ingredients, along with an audit on every single element of the process. 

We were also awarded the Cosmebio and Butterfly Mark award from Positive Luxury after detailed evaluation processes. It’s difficult to obtain these accreditations, to which La Fervance added traceable ingredients from 100% natural origins and 100% locally produced packaging from recycled materials. Our retailers and consumers deserve access to such quality. I do believe such touch points speak louder now than ever before and that consumers will seek out retailers who showcase such brands.

GARONNE DECOSSARD Founder, The Ronnie Shop

There are a lot of amazing up-and-coming brands who are already building ethical products but the prohibitive cost to get those certifications keep them from being able to clearly display it on their products. For example, I have products that are all-natural, no fragrance, no parabens, no sulfates, vegan and cruelty-free. My Hair and Wellness Tea is made with all organic and wild-crafted herbs, but I haven’t been able to invest in getting those certifications because I have other competing priorities for the business funds. Retailers can follow Ulta’s lead in helping brands that are sold on their shelves to get these certifications in a way that is more affordable.  

Yanghee Paik Co-Founder, Rael

I think the direction a retailer like Ulta Beauty is taking with their Conscious Beauty initiative is a great example that other retailers can follow. For the longest time, the beauty industry was mainly focused on making us look nice and going for the maximum performance. In fact, there has been some nice progress with ingredient transparency with the new clean beauty standards by multiple retailers. However, I don’t think it’s enough because today’s consumers are very smart and are demanding the industry to be more mindful and conscious from many different perspectives. 

Going forward, it’ll be really nice if retailers take a lead on discovering brands who make a positive impact on people’s lives and health while promoting those who care about the environment, social responsibilities and diversity. I would also love to see them giving back more to the community as well as to the aspiring entrepreneurs by providing more coaching and mentorship programs. 

Lastly, given the current COVID-19 situation, I hope to see brick-and-mortar retailers continuing to prioritize the health of their customers and employees above anything else so people can continue shopping beauty products safely.

Banie Redelinghuys Co-Founder, Skinesiology

From a personal macro viewpoint, it feels that marketing in the beauty industry has historically walked a thin line between transparency and ambiguity, especially if you look at the word “natural.” I believe we, as beauty and wellness brand owners, have a responsibility towards the consumer and our communities to be honest in our messaging. We should not mislead them. They are ultimately the foundation of our success (or not). 

I also believe that brands should effect change. Indie beauty brands have definitely brought greater awareness of what is ethical and what are good and bad ingredients. They have placed the spotlight on those founders with a pure and honest intention to introduce products and stories that have affected change and will continue to do so. The result has been increased consumer knowledge and a demand for honest messaging about ingredients, packaging and benefits. 

In my opinion, any unethical behavior or messaging will be called out and is a short-sighted strategy. To support the brand ethos of transparency, we plan to add a glossary of terms or “what do we mean” section on our website.

MARY-ANDRÉE ARDOUIN-GUERRIER Founder and CEO, Loving Culture

As a health researcher, when we talk about being ethical, we focus on safety and the well-being of the public, consistency, uniform standards and practices, strong guidance from well-trained leadership, adequate support for staff and an emphasis on cultural competency training. The same should and must be applied to beauty retailers and the beauty industry overall.

YOKI KIVA HANLEY Owner and President, Itiba Beauty

The simple, short answer is by holding manufacturers accountable. Hold them accountable when they make claims about ingredient sourcing, claims and status. We are quickly moving into a new space where the consumers are holding everyone’s feet to the fire with claims and transparency. The consumer is more knowledgeable, and Google is literally right at their fingertips so they are able to research the ingredients right in the store and can reasonably determine whether the claims being made by the company are above board. 

Retailers can help elevate brands that practice truth in labelling and transparency within the company. It allows for the consumers to have an even greater trust for the retailer and ensures customer loyalty as well. I think that retailers like Whole Foods and Credo Beauty have been at the forefront for having a clean ingredient listing that they require for brands to acquire shelf space. 

If the manufacturer wants to gain shelf space, it will force them to take a hard look at their manufacturing practices, how they market, their ingredient listing and begin to create products that fit into the new, more holistic plant-based products that consumers are demanding. Ulta Beauty has the right idea in creating tiers within their model that gives the consumer the option of choosing skincare and makeup products based on their personal ideologies and lifestyles. It goes one step further to ensure that products also meet a certain standard by restricting certain ingredients or clearly delineating which products contain certain ingredients. 

As a consumer, I want to know that the retail outlet that I am frequenting has taken the time to make sure that the products they are selling meet certain standards, that the products are safe to use and will be as advertised. If I purchase a product and find upon further research that the product I bought doesn’t meet the vegan beauty standard and that it has other products on the shelves that also uses marketing words solely for that, then I will not shop there or purchase my products from that retailer again. 

They have shown that they don’t care about me as a consumer and have no respect for my dollar, so I will spend it with someone who does take the time to make sure that the beauty product being sold is as advertised, doesn’t contain any harmful ingredients and that the company does something in terms of being socially responsible within their community or however they choose to within their organizational structure. Just as those are important to me as a consumer, so should those be important to me as a manufacturer, and they should also be important to a retailer so as to meet the more educated consumer of the 21st century.

Heath Wilson Founder and Creator, Heathmade

Retailers can do a couple of things to ensure the industry is ethical. First, they should support brands that are socially responsible. Also, retailers can share their values with consumers every chance they get like on their website and on social media. Finally, they should be honest about things that don’t go well and share how they will do better in the future.

Alexia Wambua Founder, Native Atlas

The most important thing a retailer can do is to build relationships and ask questions. Knowing the ins and outs of the company through research and rapport can help retailers understand their ethical practices. Buying from smaller founder-made companies is an easy way to get started on building those relationships and finding a company that's transparent and aligns with your values.

ADODO ROBINSON Founder, Delali Robinson Cosmetics

Retailers should put brands on a probationary timeframe during which they follow the brand to ensure their views, ethics and actions align with the retailer’s code.

Kenyata Gant Founder, Pink Lipps Cosmetics

Retailers can further ensure that the beauty industry is ethical by leaving no shade or skin tone behind and by putting more vegan and cruelty-free products on their shelves!

Shadi Ghanim Founder and CEO, Fashionsta

The beauty industry is very competitive with new products launching on the regular. With so many new products and brands popping up on the market, it can often become quite a task to discover where they are coming from, who is making them, what practices and ingredients are they are using. You have to add an extra layer of due diligence when sourcing products. 

As a retailer, our goal is to discover the best prices with the fastest production time without sacrificing product quality and ethics. How retailers and brands alike can go further is by providing complete transparency on the items they feature, and adding that extra layer of cross-checking and research.

Brittney Ogike Founder and CEO, BeautyBeez

There are many steps a retailer can take to ensure the beauty industry is ethical. Before onboarding a brand, one of the things we do is uncover the story behind the brand. Who are the brand’s founders? How are the products made? Where are the ingredients sourced? Are the products safe and effective? Are they cruelty-free? This process helps us discover any unethical practices. 

We find consumers are becoming savvier and prefer clean products from purpose-driven and sustainable brands. A brand’s transparency in its supply chain process establishes trust between the brand, the retailer and, most importantly, the customer. As consumer behavior shifts to conscious purchasing, retailers should start holding brands that are not adhering to ethical standards and best practices accountable. 

However, I think the responsibility goes beyond retailers. Ultimately, to create effective change in the beauty industry, regulations need to be put in place to set the standard and force companies to comply. Consumers need more protection.

Kát Rudu Founder and CEO, Kát Rudu Beauty

To make their practices more ethical to consumers, one way they could do that is to stop bringing in so many brands. Doing so makes it overwhelming in their stores. Retailers should have brands that they believe in and are transparent about the information about the brand as well as having a section that explains the reason that they are highlighting the brand in their store, and being more mindful about the products they promote and why.

Avalon Lukacs Founder, Aura Inner Beauty

This is a really tough question and one that I think we may all take a different perspective. Many brands in the beauty industry can tick a box to meet their retailers’ ethical standards, but how do the retailers truly know what the brand stands behind?

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think retailers should seek out and build relationships with brands that already operate with integrity with their own ethical standards. I think what retailers should be asking, if you meet these standards today, what are your plans in the future? If they don't have a plan or a roadmap to continue to evolve, then you know it's not really part of their brand ethos.

Jas Chung Founder, Bombay Hair

I think a great way a brand can show they are ethical is to have a video made of how their products are made. I believe, if we start to build “About Us” pages to reflect video content that shows the ethical measures taken into product development and distribution, it would really take it a step further in the beauty industry.

Jacinta Kanakaratnam Disruptor and Founder, The Veddas

Ethical is a word that overarches so many facets of a business: ethical marketing, ethical ownership (demographic distribution in governance structures of the company), ethical product creation, ethical formulation, ethical branding so as not to culturally appropriate. Every retailer must be profit-based to be sustainable. Ethics and profits are at two opposite ends of the spectrum. If we really look at ethics in the beauty realm, would we even be buying anything at all? 

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].