Indie Brand Founders Weigh In On What A Truly Inclusive Beauty Industry Would Look Like

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 12 founders and executives: If the beauty industry was truly inclusive, what would it look like?

Tammie Umbel Founder, Shea Terra Organics

If the market was truly inclusive, I think there would be many more targeted brands rather than brands that want to service a maximum number of people across all audiences for maximum profits. A truly inclusive market could be created by women and men who develop products that relate to themselves and their own personal skin and hair care journeys, rather than companies that claim to have solutions for everyone.

For example, an African-American man battling with dark scarring and ingrown hairs is disappointed with mass brands and decides to experiment on his own. He uses his chemistry background to develop several products that dramatically decrease his skin care issues. He realizes that other men with the same issues will benefit from his discoveries as well, so he establishes his own lab to take his products to market.

A woman from the Caribbean has very curly, non-coily hair finds that many of the products on the market for curly hair are targeted for coily hair types, which tend to weigh down her hair. She decides to find the right ingredients for her hair type and finds solutions that others with her hair type can benefit from, too.

With the growing popularity of the internet and social media, more and more people are looking for solutions that speak to their particular needs. Online videos and stories are connecting people with brand creators that they can relate to. Such brands need avenues to get their message to the right people. Creating online programs that focus on helping creators of small brands reach their target market will help boost inclusivity.

Neveen Dominic Founder, Neveen Dominic Cosmetics

If the beauty industry was truly inclusive, every customer would find the perfect beauty services and products every time they go shopping. Unbiased technology would help us get there. For example, if a customer is looking for a foundation, lipstick or moisturizer, they should be able to describe what they want, a price they are willing to pay, and where they plan to use it geographically. Options should be provided narrowed down by the consumer’s segmentation and level of tolerance of choices.

Jessica Burman Founder and CEO, Cocoon Apothecary

Open any magazine, and you will see ads for skincare products with close-ups of 20-year-old faces or the odd mature celebrity represented in airbrushed perfection to give the illusion of youth. What message is this sending women? That they must look like a millennial in order to have great skin. My main customers are over 35, so why would I present a younger women's face to them as the ideal?

We need to see positive images of mature women in the beauty industry. They are the majority of buying customers, so it seems grossly unfair that they are underrepresented in the ads directed at them. There is a cultural phenomenon that worships youth, and leaves older women feeling ignored and irrelevant.

The reality is that beauty has no expiration date. Wrinkles and lines do not take away from a woman's face. In fact, I think they make them look downright gorgeous. These changes all represent a rich life lived, lessons learned, battles fought and so much love experienced. We need to embrace aging as a collective and drop the shame that goes with something that is a natural part of all of our lives. Age needs to be celebrated and respected.

Andrew Glass Founder, Non Gender Specific

If the industry was truly inclusive, we would not see gender labels directing consumers to specific areas of the retail sales floor. We would see greater diversity in advertising that included more than just one gender. Products would just be products. Let's leave gender out of it. Who says which products are for what gender? Now more than ever, the consumer is telling us that the rules have changed.

How do we get there? Both the brand and the retailer need to take action. From the brand side, the marketing behind a brand is just as important as the brand itself. We need to be more product-focused and spend less time on who can or can't buy the product. The retailers need to rid themselves of gender-specific areas and provide an atmosphere that lets people of all gender identities feel comfortable.

At Non Gender Specific, we celebrate individuality and are proud of our diverse customer base. Let’s stop gender-labeling, and focus on creating amazing products that make all people look and feel their best.

Joanne Starkman Co-Founder, Innersense Organic Beauty

Inclusion means not excluding any section of society. I feel that the mentally- and physically-challenged are the underserved and overlooked segment of our communities when it comes to job opportunities and industry role models. Because this is an area that is near and dear to my heart, we have made a point to support our daughter, Morgan, as a spokesperson for our brand. Morgan has Williams Syndrome, and I feel by allowing her voice to be heard, people can have a better understanding of those that are cognitively unique.

We have also employed some of Morgan’s friends for special projects that fit their skill level. Eventually, we would love to expand our employment in that area, as we all have so much to learn from one another. I think it is important for brands to stretch themselves by hiring outside of the norm. I would like to think that we all have value within our workplace and, sometimes, it's just about being given the opportunity and support.

Sarah Biggers Founder and CEO, Clove + Hallow

Truly inclusive beauty is more than just a large shade range. It means including women from all backgrounds and skin tones in the product development process and using visual assets to represent diversity. Most importantly, it means fostering proactive discussions with women who have been historically excluded from commercialized beauty.

I work hard to maximize product shade ranges at launch and utilize our platform to create a welcoming space for everyone, but there is always room for improvement when it comes to creating a truly inclusive community. Rather than theorize, I turn to a trusted circle of clients, friends and family from a variety of backgrounds to advise me on what we can do to become more inclusive. They help by testing new product formulas and shades, editing copy and reviewing visual assets to ensure we're on point. They're not marketing professionals, and some of them aren't even makeup people. They're simply real women who represent the real world, which is exactly who Clove + Hallow wants to reach.

Each time we receive a gushing message, comment or email from an underrepresented woman saying, "Yes! Finally, a clean makeup line made for me," that is when I understand the power of truly inclusive beauty.

Charla Jones Founder and CEO, Eu2Be

We love this question at Eu2Be because we make the argument for a more expansive definition of beauty as being one that focuses our conversation around beauty, the body and the skin you live in. Even when we’re blissed out on all the good benefits of green beauty and gratitude for the indie beauty movement, being inclusive still looks like a challenge for each of us.

First, with all the politics and stories surrounding skin in all its hues, with all its marks, spots and lines, the challenge inherent in addressing these skin types differs from the mainstream. It’s also about our industry leaders and rock stars asking themselves, “Who was the last person of color, with a disability or of a certain age that I initiated a conversation with for input, insights or an opportunity?”

It looks like a call to action for making inclusivity the beauty industry’s go-to business practice for success, starting with the recognition that all of us belong in the main beauty story. If you’ve ever been moved by a place that differs from where you’ve ever been before, or your mind was blown by a painting, piece of music, or photograph made by a person who doesn’t come from your comfort zone or place of origin, then you’ve felt the unseen power of diversity and inclusivity. And, you have to ask yourself, why on earth wouldn’t you do everything within your power to have more of that in your world?

Kari Gran Founder, Kari Gran

If the beauty industry was truly inclusive, it would encompass and celebrate all women of all ages and stages in their life. It’s very common to see young models in their early 20s or really lovely older models like the silver-haired Centrum Silver women. I’d love to see the missing segment of women that aren’t 20 or 80 represented more instead of being seemingly invisible. Outside of the celebrity photos, you really don’t see that middle group represented.

I do believe we’re slowly getting there, but it’s a group effort on the part of brands and consumers. Consider supporting brands that don’t promise miracles, but rather honor where you are in life and remind you that you’re beautiful, laugh lines and all. I was convinced I had to buy eye cream at age 19 because the sales women scared me into the purchase.

Aging should not be something we’re brought up fearing, but, sadly, a lot of advertising reflects that. Yes, you can take steps to care for you skin and body, including hydration and sunscreen, but there’s no magic miracle cream that will stop the hands of time. Otherwise, I’d be relaxing on an island as a millionaire.

Rachel Roff Founder, Urban Skin Rx and Urban Skin Solutions Med Spa

The beauty industry has evolved a lot, but there’s still more that can be done. For the beauty industry to be truly inclusive, we must have products and resources available to everyone, everywhere. Beauty should be accessible so, if I’m a consumer who wants to get laser hair removal, my geographic location shouldn’t determine whether or not I can find an expertly trained professional with the right equipment to treat all skin tones.

We should continue to have the right conversations and make sure that, when we create a product line, buy for a store or stock a professional salon or spa, we’re speaking to everyone. Inclusivity has to be part of the initial conversation, not an afterthought.

Jean A. Baik Founder & Chief Creative Officer, MISS A

There is no size or shape in beauty. Beauty is for anyone and everyone to feel beautiful and confident in their own skin. Our brand AOA Studio means Art Of All for every race, ethnicity, color, gender and, also, for every budget. Beauty doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. We offer products that are for beginners to experts and everyone in between. We want to shine light on all the different types of beautiful people in this world and be able to choose inspiring women as our role models, not just runway models.

Julia Teren Founder, Thesis Beauty

I think the problem is not necessarily with the beauty industry not being inclusive, but rather current societal norms, which dictate fashions and the perceptions of beauty. In the 17th century, in Europe, men and women were wearing makeup and lace, and it was the norm. During the Victorian times, makeup was reserved for the street girls only. The more society becomes accepting and tolerant of individuals' differences and freedoms in general, the more choices become available to all people in all aspects of life, be it careers, makeup, education, voting, gender norms, etc.

I feel, on a global scale, we are heading towards the mindset that inner beauty and a healthy body are the most important assets. These are the real kinds of beauty. Hypothetically, completely inclusive beauty could translate into packaging that doesn't speak too strongly to a particular age, gender, race or cultural origin, but rather is addressing specific beauty solutions. However, each region has its own design preferences, genders may be conditioned to get drawn to certain types of packaging and, finally, age groups may find certain designs more relatable. And, interestingly, this is exactly what creates diversity.

So, we could argue that a truly inclusive beauty may become so homogenous that it will ultimately get in the way of diversity and individual self-expression, ironically? The opposite scenario would be extreme customization. But, how far can you really take customization, considering that individual's skin tone and texture may change on a daily/monthly basis depending on so many factors that probably no lotion is able to override, and to what extent it is necessary or possible? This is something that I am so excited to see in the future.

Theodora Ntovas Founder, YASOU

If the beauty industry was truly inclusive, it would be for all people, women, men, children of all ages and ethnicities. I know this sounds very broad, but wouldn't it be interesting if we developed products — which I think is happening more now — that were marketed and sold on product benefits and solutions to skincare needs, rather than target audiences.

What if we were all collaborators and partners with each other? I'd like to see a system where we operated like a family tree of solving skin care needs. We would all have our own skincare lines, but work in collaboration with other brands under an umbrella kind of like Kris Kringle did in the movie A Miracle on 34th Street when he worked at Macy's.

For example, if a customer is in need of a product for a particular skin issue and my line doesn't have a product to fulfill that need, I would refer them to one of my collaborative family tree skincare line members that may have a product. I think this would be truly inclusive and, instead of separating audiences and feeling competitive, we would all be working together to solve everyone's skincare needs. I'm not sure if this is possible, but it's kind of an interesting idea.

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