In 2020, Programs To Support BIPOC Brands Proliferated. What Should Be Done Now?

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 36 brand founders and executives: Following Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, retailers and brands such as Credo and Tower 28 initiated programs to support BIPOC-led brands. What are you hoping to see now from companies in their efforts to promote beauty entrepreneurs of color?

FUNLAYO ALABI CEO and Co-Founder, Shea Radiance

I would like to see these stores do more than bring in BIPOC-led brands just to check off a box. I would like to see them support these brands in their merchandising. Give the brands visibility and share the story of the founders. Create a space that will draw their customers in to discover products that they typically overlook that are actually really good for them. At the end of the day, these retailers are looking for sales, and they can create successful BIPOC-led brands that will make them money by making these brands visible in their stores.

Rafaela Gonzalez Founder, Gloryscent Beauty

Following the protests in 2020, there was a wave of “support” from companies, and it was tough not to feel like a tool at times. It was hard to distinguish who was sincere in their efforts to help BIPOC-led brands advance. On various occasions, I found myself doubting the strength of my vision and felt as though my skin color ought to be sold instead. It's crazy to think that by trying to level the playing field it made some of us feel even more unqualified. 

To say the least, I didn't want any handouts, and I'm proud to say I've earned all partnerships with the quality of my products rather than just for the color of my skin. As we move forward, I hope companies have a genuine interest and admiration for the brands and entrepreneurs they are promoting or partnering with, as opposed to using minority owned businesses and brands as tokens. I also hope that beauty entrepreneurs are no longer dismissed or boxed into one category because of the color of their skin, but, rather, they [will make headway due to the] quality of their brand and products.    

Courtney LeMarco CEO and Founder, Motsi Skincare

Supporting beauty entrepreneurs of color is certainly a move in the right direction. However, declarations of allyship can sometimes be seen as surface-level commitment that a company makes in order to avoid unwanted press or a negative public opinion. Often, these moves have very little sincerity behind them. I would like to see more diversity on all levels, not just in the creative advertising content that is put out by retail and beauty brands, but in the corporate offices of those same companies. 

BIPOC individuals and entrepreneurs need to have a seat at the boardroom table, and their voices and insight need to be included at the executive and C-suite level. That level of inclusion will naturally help these brands reach a wider audience, sell more products, and improve their bottom line.

Preeti Luthra Founder, Pure & Cimple

Isn’t it surprising that, even though the world’s BIPOC population is more than twice that of the white population, the beauty and wellness industry has had almost negligible participation from this group? What happened in 2020 was a catalyst for change across cultures and industries. For beauty and wellness, it was the tipping point to bring more equality in the industry. 

We are far from the end and, as a person of color, I hope that this is not just a moment but instead a movement. Specifically, I hope that efforts from various companies and government programs are here to bring effective change and are not just a blip on the radar.

Many admirable efforts are being made to provide financial support and mentorship to members of the BIPOC community, and that’s awesome. However, we also need to remember that entrepreneurship is a mindset. To achieve this much needed equality in our industry, it’s crucial that BIPOC are exposed to that way of thinking, that mindset. I hope to see companies and governments come together to build active programs that start at the high school or college level, exposing BIPOC to entrepreneurship from an early age.

ALEENA KHAN Co-Founder, CTZN Cosmetics

An incredible example is Aurora James' 15% pledge, where big beauty retailers such as Sephora vowed to dedicate 15% of their retail space to BIPOC-owned brands. However, I would not stop there. These companies can use their social media platforms to regularly promote beauty entrepreneurs of color, to host digital panels and discussions with these founders covering a range of topics from diversity to their own personal stories. 

Furthermore, big retail companies have the power to promote entrepreneurs or brands on their email newsletters and their homepage banners. There are so many opportunities these companies have to help an entrepreneur of color with coverage and exposure. Coverage and exposure in this millennial age is the kind of support that makes a difference.

NISHA DEARBORN Founder, Fresh Chemistry

Promoting beauty entrepreneurs of color has to go beyond simply having a percentage of your assortment allocated to BIPOC-led brands. The retailers need to help fill in the gaps that exist for BIPOC founders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, from funding to sourcing to influencer partnerships. The retailer can use their voice as an ally and make sure the brands are getting the attention and partnerships they deserve. If they do, then in the end, everyone wins—the retailer, the brand and, most importantly, the consumer.

CALVIN QUALLIS Founder and CEO, Scotch Porter

The racial reckoning that the world witnessed occur in this country caused many brands to immediately take an audit of the gaps that exist in their diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. As we look to the future, it is my hope that companies lean more into providing beauty entrepreneurs of color with full funnel support where applicable. Not just providing BIPOC-led brands with capital, which is important, but also providing intangible resources that many entrepreneurs of color don’t have quick access to such as mentorship, resourceful networks, and additional B2B resources that will propel these businesses to success.   

Ni’Kita Wilson Co-Founder, Ni’Kita Wilson Beauty Chemist

I might have the unpopular opinion here. I am all for promoting the founders of the brands with the promotion. It is especially helpful for consumers who are purposeful in their support of BIPOC-led brands. However, what I feel is getting lost in the message is the actual products. There are amazing products that are efficacious, beautifully developed with benefits that span across race, gender and age (depending on the product). 

I love that BIPOC brands are being promoted, but, if that’s the only focus then if or when this attention to BIPOC brands fade, then, unless we heavily promote the benefits of the products, reinforcing that these products are not inferior, then they too will fade and we’ll be right back to where we were.

JAMILA POWELL Owner, Maggie Rose Salon

Having been in the beauty industry for almost a decade, I’ve noticed that brands like to use your work and be affiliated with you to showcase diversity, but that is typically where their support ends. There is no opportunity for sponsorship, exposure to the company or any additional support past that initial collaboration. 

Moving forward, it will be important for brands to conduct business and partnerships with minority-owned brands with integrity, honest intentions and authenticity. Not just as a way to check the box, portray themselves as "diverse," and then go back to sponsoring and working solely with non-minority-owned brands. Relationships need to be mutually beneficial and consistent. Otherwise, it’s just performative activism.

JAMIKA MARTIN Founder, Rosen Skincare

All in all, I really just want to see true action from companies who are starting to speak up and try to support BIPOC brands. Many of us in the Black community are already tentative of these recent efforts because we know that they came at a time where it was trending, not because they truly sat back and thought about doing this out of their own values.  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Include BIPOC people behind the scenes. Your team needs to be diverse, your speakers need to be diverse, your contractors need to be diverse. Don't just bring out the support for BIPOC for external-facing content. Do it when no one is looking or asking you to.

The easiest step for these people to step up to the plate is to hire and work with BIPOC individuals. The marketing, messaging and overall efforts that flow through a diverse team will be inherently diverse as opposed to a checkbox or afterthought when you're developing a campaign or choosing brands.

SHAFFALI MIGLANI Founder, Shaffali

I think for retailers to truly embrace the heart of the matter of initiating programs to support BIPOC-led brands, they need to assess their community from a 360-degree point of view. Take a look at your staff, your customers and community at large. Are you cultivating diversity and supporting it in all of those areas? If so, this will naturally support the beauty entrepreneurs of color that these companies have brought on board.

Also, once there is more diversity within and as an extension to the business or brand (such as a retail partnership), I think it is also important to address mindfulness trainings/tools and programs that can support BIPOC people to heal from issues, stress and trauma that may be unique to them in facing adversity and discrimination so they can then thrive.

Safi Tshinsele Van Bellingen Founder, Nebedai

I’d like to see the same treatments for beauty entrepreneurs of color and the ones who are not, so that entrepreneurs of color don’t have to justify that their target market is not Black only, but it is for everyone.

ENJUNAYA CANTON Founder, Zuhuri Beauty

The Black Lives Matter movement shed a new light on what Black entrepreneurs and creators already knew about a lack of opportunities for us to scale our businesses. Though many companies have created projects to provide us with networking opportunities and tools as well as financial assistance, there is still a huge gap in the amount of retail space available to us. This retail space is not just with white retailers, but also Black retailers. 

COVID has created a survival mode for us all. Many retailers are selling what they know will sell. They are selling what they believe the "market" asks for. They do not have the bandwidth to try new products and market them. Without giving adequate shelf space, marketing and helping with production, smaller brands will not be able to sustain themselves in large stores. As a growing brand, I am honestly shocked that our sales more than doubled from last year. COVID has been hard. I believe our sales continue to double each year because we continue to take big risks on our own, and thank goodness they paid off.

JULISSA PRADO Founder and CEO, Rizos Curls

The Black Lives Matter 2020 movement also put a huge focus on the massive race inequality within the beauty industry at every level, from lack of funding, to lack of press attention, to lack of retail and marketing support and so on for BIPOC-owned beauty brands. I loved and participated in the Pull Up For Change initiative because it’s so important that every brand is held accountable as Black and brown communities see through performative activism. 

The craziest part is that Black and brown communities are the largest consumers and buyers of beauty, yet we’re the most underrepresented. I think companies, retailers and press really need to unlearn to relearn their relationships with colorism and race in this country to look at Black-owned brands, whether they market to Black skin or textured hair, as worthy of placement in retail shelves at eye level or press to regularly include Black-owned brands within beauty roundups, not just in Black-owned roundups. We need to [be] deliberate [about] inclusion and not solely be put in a box as a BIPOC-led brand. It’s really as simple as just looking around in a room and, if it lacks representation, finding ways to bring more diversity from every level.

MEHRBANO SETHI Founder, Luscious Cosmetics

Setting the intention to support BIPOC-led brands was an important milestone for retailers and the industry at large in 2020, but we need sustained momentum to keep growing inclusivity and work harder to level the playing field. There was a lot of seeding activity and grants for BIPOC brands last year. Now, we all need to work together to support founders and help them grow.

NIKITA MONTGOMERY Owner and Founder, Hazel O. Salon

Retailer responses (or the lack thereof) across industries following the BLM movement have been telling. Beauty brands have varied with some being more visually diverse, others expanding their retail offerings to include more diverse products, and some allocating funding for the development of Black beauty brands. 

As a beauty entrepreneur of color, I'm hoping to see more brands provide funding for the development and expansion of Black-owned beauty brands along with partnerships that will increase visibility and awareness of such brands. Some of the current programs offer mentorship and technical training, but this assumes that every BIPOC-owned beauty business is in need of such. Some simply could expand with access to funding and partnerships that can be leveraged.

JESSIKA CARTER-ROSS Owner and Founder, Madam J Beauty

I think BIPOC-led brands should be more visible, and considered more when it comes to partnerships and investments. It’s so much harder for beauty entrepreneurs of color to receive the essential funding that is needed to scale and grow. At the end of the day, we just want to feel included. 

Often overlooked or unsupported, it’s refreshing to see others view and purchase from our brands more frequently. I am hoping, for one, that the excitement and support stays around for a very long time. I am also hoping that BIPOC businesses continue to qualify for the resources we need to survive and thrive. I am wishing for more education, specifically surrounding business ownership and growth, from other leaders in the beauty industry. 

I am looking for more partnerships and exposure to assist in fulfilling our wide-eyed dreams. I’m looking forward to showcasing our visionary brand stories and concepts, our unique approach to beauty, and our inclusivity in the beauty industry. Madam J Beauty is working towards obtaining one of these amazing opportunities provided to help us excel.

Dee Porter Owner, Black Beauty House

I’m hoping to see continuous and consistent efforts at collaboration and representation from these companies with beauty entrepreneurs of color. As a beauty entrepreneur and blogger, I think it would be rewarding and uplifting to constantly collaborate with larger companies on different projects and goals or provide feedback. Semi-yearly group mentoring and monthly recognition of the achievements of beauty entrepreneurs of color via newsletter or social media would be beneficial as well. More importantly, to incorporate representation, bigger companies could add more Black-owned brands to their shelves and establish a reliable list of BIPOC businesses to distribute to customers on a quarterly basis.

BRITTNEY OGIKE Founder, BeautyBeez

These initiatives are a huge step in creating equality and inclusivity in beauty. I hope these programs can mitigate the inequities that minority-led brands face. They help to increase exposure of otherwise obscure brands and create access to resources that help these brands grow. 

But the effects of these programs go much deeper. It strengthens racial economic equality, one of the main objectives of the Black Lives Matter protests. Many people are unaware that minority-owned brands recycle dollars within their community. Our staff is 100% BIPOC, and we are committed to investing in new and emerging Black-owned brands. Companies should make every effort to promote these new brands and also hold their existing brands accountable for having more inclusive offerings. 

In order to see real change, supportive programs should be long-term and non-inclusive beauty brands must start incorporating full diversity in every layer of the company. When this is in place, the biggest winner is the consumer. They have more options, and they see themselves represented in their favorite brands at their favorite stores.

Darbi Alexander Business Credit and Funding Specialist, BCA Culture

As an entrepreneur, I'm looking to see more collaborations and events in diverse communities to influence the next generation of beauty entrepreneurs. It is so vital to continually create lasting relationships and develop brands that truly cater to diverse shades, beauty and personalities in our world. I also would like for more larger enterprises and companies to invest into minority brands and more micro influencers. Creating boardrooms that are diverse and telling more beauty stories of BIPOC men and women is a must. Stories are how we connect universally, and I would love to visually see more documentaries and stories of beautypreneurs in the marketplace.

DONNET BRUCE Founder, Nubian Oasis

It has been a long road, but it’s great to see retailers making an effort to be more inclusive when it comes to the brands on their shelves. I’m excited as well because my haircare brand, Nubian Oasis, was chosen to be a part of the Madewell 15 Percent Pledge for their online store. I love being able to go into stores such as Sephora, Ulta and Target, and see a variety of BIPOC-owned brands.

I’m hoping that retailers are genuine in their search to place BIPOC-led brands. And I truly hope that these initiatives remain in place for many years to come. I’ve personally noticed retailers and brands that promised to take action and sell BIPOC brands, but have gotten silent since. I hope the serious retailers continue to consider, seek out, collaborate and buy from Black-owned brands for the long run.

Ines Fakiri Founder, Masdar

What I’m expecting from companies as much as big groups is a transition to broader ranges of POC-owned brands from within. This means the necessity for POC to have a seat (and even several seats) at the table where they will fully express their opinions and set standards for the industry to follow. No such change can come from mostly white-owned businesses without a POC insight.

Regina Tucker Founder, Formm Beauty

I am hoping to see consistency. The protests and tragic events of 2020 prompted many businesses to look inward and explore areas where they needed to change. The real work begins now. Retailers committed to change should develop strategic plans that address how they will attract BIPOC talent. These measures could include new founder meet ups with product introductions as well as mentorship programs for BIPOC founders.

Retailers should also give entrepreneurs not only a seat at the table but a voice at that table as well. It is important to be heard. The work is ongoing. Companies seeking to improve their practices need to get involved with entrepreneurs and hear from them directly.

BEATRIZ DURANGO Founder and Managing Director, Novellus Skin Care

The 2020 protests were long overdue and should have been quite a wake-up call for brands who have been overlooking BIPOC talent. I think it's fantastic that Credo and Tower 28 are organizing these programs and, hopefully, we will see many more companies doing the same to help make more seats at the table available.

It would be great to see more companies with larger platforms push a cultural shift towards having BIPOC brands in the mainstream. The change isn't going to happen overnight, and companies have to commit for the long term. But I believe, if they set these goals in place, we can have real positive change.

Gwen Jimmere CEO and Founder, Naturalicious

I'm very glad to see these brands stand in solidarity with Black-owned businesses. I hope it wasn't a flash in the pan due to us being a trending topic. I hope these brands, who are allies, find ways to collaborate with Black-owned brands in ways that are mutually beneficial beyond this moment. We are all stronger together.

YOKI KIVA HANLEY Owner and President, Itiba Beauty

Be intentional with giving smaller, BIPOC-led brands a true chance of presenting to retailers. Mentoring programs. Access to capital. Educational programs that help smaller brands understand what it takes to not only get into the larger beauty space, but also to stay there as well. Opportunities for those who are serious about their brands getting into more stores and onto more shelves, virtual and physical. Even to follow up after contests are held to further offer other avenues of support and assistance. 

I would like to shout out Tower 28 for being one company who is doing just that through aiding those who may not have been awarded anything through their initial contest. That kind of action shows a true commitment to making sure that the beauty landscape becomes as diversified as possible and has something to offer for all when we go shopping for beauty and personal care items.

Kay Cola CEO and Founder, TheOrganiBrands

I hope to see more Black-owned products highlighted on the top and forefront of shelves, and not pushed to the back in the small people of color haircare section. I also hope to see their support in regards to angel investing and hiring.

TOPE ADUBI Founder, Kilali Cosmetics

Thankfully, more light has been shed on the gap that exists in the beauty industry and the corporate leadership of the same industry. There is a glaring lack of BIPOC in leadership in this industry. With this awareness, I am looking forward to seeing even more diverse leadership within these companies, more funding/mentorship programs to help small businesses owned by BIPOC in the beauty industry and, definitely, more Black-owned products in retail. 

We need to spotlight BIPOC brands until equality is achieved. I think a brand doing this is Target with their Black-owned business category. However, more can be done in the industry as a whole. We should not only speak about Black Lives Matter protests like it's just some trend. People want to see action. People want to see this balance in the industry. It is from this action progress is made and this existing gap gets to be filled. 

Giovanna Campagna Founder, Joaquina Botánica

It is so inspiring to see the beauty industry taking the lead in terms of supporting BIPOC-led brands. Sephora, one of the first corporations to take the 15% Pledge, Credo and Tower 28 have been paving the way for other major players to follow suit. I think that, beyond committing shelf space, a further step will be creating opportunities for BIPOC-led brands to secure funding, which indie brands in many cases need to be able to meet the demand of partnerships with larger retailers.

Kimberly Smith Founder, Marjani

Following the civil unrest of June 2020 and the industry’s commitment to change, I want to see a cultural shift: A true cultural shift within the beauty industry, evidenced through internal/external hiring practices of diverse members at the managerial, executive and board levels, diversity-driven strategic partnerships and financial investment in Black- and brown-owned beauty brands. 

It’s been said that Black businesses are over-mentored and underfunded. The use of diverse imagery, a BLM post on your timeline and mentorship programs without long-term investments are performative. Without sustainable plans to close the gap of economic inequality that exists between white- and non-white-owned beauty brands/businesses, we know the outrage will lessen, the Black Lives Matter protests will become a distant memory, and we will return to business as usual. 

When you are seated at the table where decisions are being made, if you look to the left and right of you and only see people that look like you and reflect your values, therein lies the problem. Hire Black and brown talent. Invest in Black- and brown-owned beauty brands. Partner with Black- and brown- owned businesses. From retailers large and small, investment firms, beauty companies, etc., let’s use this moment in history to change the beauty industry and usher in a culture of real inclusivity at every level.

Awa Mballo Tall Founder, AMFA Beauty

More opportunities for startups, financing possibilities and support in training, especially in business management techniques.

GARONNE DECOSSARD Founder, The Ronnie Shop

I am elated to see that companies are essentially teaching up and showing BIPOC business how to fish. The BLM movement gave a lot of small businesses fish to eat, sales skyrocketed for many businesses, and they received a lot of eyes on their brands. Although it was profitable in the beginning, it exposed that, unfortunately, a lot of small brands are just not ready to scale, and do not have the resources and strategy in place to capitalize on the sudden visibility they received.  

Recently, one of my toddler nieces received a doll in the mail. My brother was trying to find out which one of us had sent the doll since it was around the holidays and our family is pretty large. It took almost two months and a lot of group texts until we realized another older niece bought her the doll seven months ago from one of the many highlighted small businesses during the BLM protests. Their sales backlog was so long that it took them seven months to produce and ship the doll. This is a cold hard truth that we have to give our small business grace for. But, as both a customer and small business owner, I know that competition in the market is stiff and attention spans are short. 

The value you get out of acquiring a customer is to be able to convert that customer into a repeat buyer. How can you do that if it takes you seven to eight months to deliver on their first purchase? Understand that people will give you grace and, yes, they will understand, all the while giving business that could have been yours to another business who is more positioned to sell to them.  

Another observation I made was how a small business would get a spotlight and a surge of followers and literally have no strategy on how to keep the new crowd engaged through constant interaction, engagement and, eventually, conversion to sales. I have seen so many of these examples that I have decided to take something that I used to do informally to be more intentional about helping others like me with their readiness.  

With these in mind, I think the best thing any company seeking to help BIPOC now is teach them how to fish. The word accelerator has been thrown around so much, and I have participated in some myself, but I have been helping fellow small business owners for a while, and sometimes presenting things in small bite size with immediate ROI formats could be very helpful. The word accelerator itself doesn’t really catch the attention of a small business owner in the weeds of the day to day. Accelerator usually invoke images of a long program with classes, much like being back in school again. 

Instead, I think a good way to catch the attention of small business owners would be to enlist the help of other small business owners who can grab the attention of their colleagues with bite-size challenges, programs and courses such as, “How to source manufacturers for your products” or “Tips How to Grow your Following” or “Tips on How to Convert Followers to Subscribers” or “Checklist to Get Ready to Go Viral,” etc. 

It goes without saying that funding helps in getting a business ready to scale, but having gone to an accelerator myself, I was able to get the mentorship and knowledge to really position The Ronnie Shop for any potential surge in orders or customers. A customer might wait for their order, but it will not be seven months, and that in itself is a step in the right direction.

Dorian Morris Founder, Undefined

I had the unique opportunity to participate in multiple programs wearing very different hats—in Tower 28's Clean Beauty Summer School as the only Black mentor, and in Credo For Change and Beauty United as a mentee. I think each program offered unique tools to build your entrepreneurial toolkit and approached solving the key pinch point quite differently.

CBSS was built as a “for us, by us” model where fellow ex-beauty veterans shared rules of the road to tackle common beauty startup challenges in an open, collaborative approach and, then, offered a carrot at the end: pitching to Sephora, Ulta, investors [and] press. I brokered the inclusion of seed money from New Voices as the cherry on top.

Beauty United offered invaluable one-on-one mentorship, and Credo For Change was structured as biweekly modules from thought leaders/experts across the space. These programs provide nice insight/blueprints to building a solid foundation, but the rubber will meet the road when we see how many of these retailers actually launch the BIPOC-founded brands that invested their (often limited) time and how many investors actually provide real capital to help the brands drive growth. Talk is cheap. It’s about the action (i.e., tangible POs and investment) that needs to happen to drive the change we need to see in the space.

BRITTON HARDIN Co-Founder, NFZD Beauty

During the pandemic, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to give lectures at a couple universities and a similar question came up in my last lecture. A student posed the question what can organizations like the NFL who have historically pandered to the African American community do to make amends? My response to that student was rooted in data. I retorted that the NFL makes $15 billion a year, yet the NFL is comprised of 70% African American athletes, many of which come from broken homes and impoverished communities.  

The NFL should allocate 70% of their yearly earnings to African American communities around the United States given that it’s a miracle these athletes make it to that level of play coming from their beginnings. Similarly, the beauty and skincare industries have been known to pander to African American communities while benefiting from our dollars, which will reach $1.5 trillion this year. Perhaps it’s time to find a proper percentage of that to benefit African American entrepreneurs given how far we’ve come in the first place.

JACINTA KANAKARATNAM Founder, The Veddas

It is extremely important for these programs to be planned out and executed properly. Corporations offering these programs need to be mindful. Some programs are born out of reactiveness rather than proactiveness. If there are no persons of diverse backgrounds on the executive team, are they ready and able to mentor folks they may not identify with? What will the outcome be for the mentees? People of color in the beauty and personal care space as clients and founders have been largely ignored for decades. Therefore, now is not the time for these programs to be rolled out without meaningful content. It needs to be mutually beneficial. Culture is not a trend!

JUNKO GOMI CEO, H2O+

The Black Lives Matters protests of 2020 forced retailers and brands to think hard about their approach to everything. From hiring to marketing, to inclusion of product offering, to name just a few. We are thrilled to have beat the 15% pledge with our influencer partners (both in terms of dollars and visuals in feed and on our website). Given our founder’s artistic roots, we have been featuring BIPOC artists on our social channels and plan to feature other self-care brands owned by BIPOC on our blog, in our email newsletter and on social media in the coming months.

As we do our own work as a brand, we think continuity is so important. Our collective efforts to support the BIPOC community cannot be tied to a month or a year. We are hoping to see consistent efforts that do not fade with time.

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