Is Uoma Beauty Unraveling?

Customers are accusing Uoma Beauty, an activist makeup brand dedicated to improving diversity in beauty product assortments and the industry’s halls of power, of not fulfilling orders.

In response to an Instagram post dated Aug. 14, the last from the brand, Amanda Fanning, a customer using the handle amanda_lynn0315, wrote, “I’ve been waiting over 5 weeks and still nothing! It’s absolutely unreal they keep taking orders knowing they aren’t going to fill them that seems almost criminal to me. They obviously don’t care about their customers or they would take the products off the website and either refund everyone or send the products we paid for. So ridiculous and unprofessional!!!”

Customer complaints are happening as Uoma’s staff has been depleted, the brand is dealing with legal challenges, and its presence at retail is shrinking. Nigerian-born founder Sharon Chuter, who worked at PepsiCo, Benefit Cosmetics and L’Oréal prior to starting Uoma, stepped down from CEO and board member posts in May, but remained a shareholder in the company and creative visionary for it. Cyndi Isgrig, former CEO and president of Dermstore, became interim CEO of Uoma following Chuter exiting the role, but departed the brand in July. The same month, Fred Collins, who was COO at Uoma and is currently COO at Black Girl Sunscreen, left.

Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter

Emails to more people identified on LinkedIn as being employed at Uoma as late as this year, including a social media manager and SVP of global field education and sales, all bounced. The company seems to have cut ties with them in the summer. Chuter didn’t reply to a request for comment. Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, founder and CEO of BrainTrust Fund, an investor in Uoma, told Beauty Independent that she’s unable to comment on Uoma’s status “at this time.”

Unilever Ventures, Sinai Ventures and PLG Ventures are among other backers of Uoma. None replied to emails seeking comment. Chuter previously shared with Beauty Independent that Uoma raised $3.5 million in funding to prepare for its launch in 2019 with 108 products. On Uoma’s website, the brand lists $39 Say What?! Foundation, $24 Badass Icon Matte Lipstick, $19.50 Drama Bomb Extreme Volume Mascara and $25 Stay Woke Concealer as bestsellers.

As first reported by the media outlet Cosmetics Business, Uoma faces possible closure by the government in the United Kingdom due to late accounts. Back in the United States, where the brand is headquartered in Los Angeles after initially being based in London, a secondary line called Uoma by Sharon C., which premiered exclusively at Walmart in 2021 and proceeded to enter CVS, appears to be struggling.

According to remarks on the platform Reddit, the line was placed on clearance at Walmart earlier this year. On its site, Uoma by Sharon C.’s bestsellers are identified as $7 It’s Complicated Lip Tint + Cheek Stain + Oil + Gloss, $7.99 Badder Boom Au Naturel Volumizing Mascara, $15 Flawless IRL Skin Perfecting Foundation and $5.99 Go Awf! 2 In 1 Water-Activated Face Wipes. Uoma by Sharon C. hasn’t posted on Instagram since May.

Affordable secondary lines intended to appeal to the masses have been difficult plays for small prestige beauty brands. Jana Blankenship, founder of eco-conscious prestige haircare brand Captain Blankenship, knows well how tricky they are. She formerly sold Sailor by Captain Blankenship, an affordable offshoot of her brand, at retailers the likes of Target and Whole Foods. She underscores the timing and funding must be right for a secondary line to succeed.

For indie brands interested in rolling out secondary lines, Blankenship advises the most important thing “is to make sure you have very good brand awareness prior to entering. Additionally, there are additional costs that any brand needs to consider and discuss with the partner such as marketing plans, samples, placement within the store, signage, etc. This is a capital-intensive endeavor, so make sure you have the funding to support a proper launch and reserves. It can be a bumpy journey, and you should expect the unexpected besides the standard chargebacks, which can be very significant.”

Legal activity is compounding Uoma’s troubles. On Nov. 13, Interfila Cosmetics, a Chinese subsidiary of beauty contract manufacturing company Intercos Group, sued the brand for breach of contract to recover $50,352.70 it claims Uoma owes it for cosmetic products. A preceding case involving Intercos and Uoma was dismissed in 2021. Last year, creative and technology agency Lightblue filed a lawsuit against Uoma for breach of contract, too.

During the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Chuter stepped into the spotlight in a big way with her Pull Up For Change campaign urging brands to disclose the number of Black employees they have at the corporate level. Subsequently, she embarked on the Make It Black initiative teaming up with brands like Briogeo, Maybelline and ColourPop to redesign the packaging of their most popular products in the color black. The gross profits of Make It Black contributed to Pull Up For Change’s Impact Fund slated for Black-owned businesses and founders. The last post on Pull Up For Change’s Instagram feed was March 30.

After holding positions at L’Oréal and Benefit Cosmetics, Sharon Chuter launched Uoma Beauty in 2019. In 2021, Chuter introduced mass-market line Uoma by Sharon C. The line appears to be cleared out of Walmart, and customers are complaining Uoma isn’t fulfilling orders.

Talking to Beauty Independent in 2022 about Uoma’s activism, Chuter said, “It’s creating a new model for the future for people to understand that being ethical and profitability or having commercial success are not mutually exclusive. Historically, the world has favored the Donald Trumps, people who are ready to do the most sleazy things. Now, we’re saying, ‘There is another way. There is a way where we can serve the world, serve the planet, serve the animals and the people who live in it, and we can also make a lot of money in the process.’ It’s not either/or. It can be both/and. That’s the model that I’m running.”

It’s unclear if the Black Lives Matter movement’s fade from the headlines has hurt Uoma’s business, but many Black-owned beauty companies that saw sales spike in 2020 when there was a push to support them later experienced the reverse. Discussing the fourth season of Make It Black with Beauty Independent in February this year, Chuter said, “For me, the heartbreak is realizing that nobody cares, and now people are so blatant about it. At least for the last two years, they were pretending like they cared or they wanted to try. Now, we are in a place where the ‘I don’t care’ factor is palpable. It’s an uphill battle because people have forgotten about it and moved on.”

Uoma is available online at Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, Ulta Beauty, Shopbop, Shoppers Drug Mart and QVC, where it launched in March this year. Promoting the QVC launch, the brand informed the publication Women’s Wear Daily that its business increased sevenfold last year. In the WWD article, Chuter said, “We’ve built really solid growth in three years with no celebrity, no brand ambassador, no nothing. We’re growing, we’re thriving, but we’re moving away from a VC [venture capital] model of just growing at all costs. I’m going to keep serving my consumers; my consumers are my first investors.”