Black Beauty

Retailers’ beauty departments represent one area where progress has been made on the road toward more diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past two years, and change continues. While each effort is unique, in general retailers have diversified their product mix to make more offerings available for women of all colors and skin and hair types, with the assortment increasingly curated by people from diverse backgrounds. They have also worked to increase the number of brands available that are founded and/or owned by Black entrepreneurs and other people of color.

For example:

  • Walmart announced this month that it had launched a new brand, Madam by Madam C.J. Walker. The effort is a partnership with A’Lelia Bundles, great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, a pioneer in the category, who founded a haircare company in 1906 dedicated to products for Black women and became the country’s first Black female millionaire. Unilever owns the trademark and is working with Bundles to market the Madam products through its Black-led and founded Sundial Brands division, which it acquired in 2017. Sundial also owns leading diverse beauty brands SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, and others. Previously, Walmart had been expanding the Black-owned and founded brands it carries, with examples including Flawless by Gabrielle Union and TPH by Taraji P. Henson, among many others.
  • Target has been actively seeking out Black property owners and Black-owned consumer product businesses for collaborations and permanent product ranges, including in the beauty category. In February of this year, for example, it introduced 40 new brands to its already extensive beauty array, mostly clean and priced under $10, with 20 of those being from Black-owned or founded companies. Some of the latter, including Frederick Benjamin, Sassy Hair, and Undefined Beauty, are graduates of the Target Takeoff accelerator program, which supports up-and-coming beauty brands. Target has said its goal is to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025 and that it has increased its Black-owned and founded beauty assortment by 65% since 2020. It is also opening 250 Ulta shops in its stores this year, toward a total of 800.
  • JCPenney is rolling out a new online and offline beauty department in which 39, or 23%, of the 170 brands at launch were curated by Thirteen Lune, an e-commerce purveyor of beauty brands with Black and Brown founders. All stores are expected to have the new department in place by 2023. The Thirteen Lune-selected products are housed in shop-in-shops within JCPenney Beauty and include brands such as Buttah Skin (founded by model, actor, and musician Dorion Renaud), Shaz & Kiks, and Wander Beauty. The mix extends to skincare, makeup, haircare, fragrance, nailcare, styling tools, and bath and body products.
  • Sephora was among the first retailers to sign on to the 15% Pledge, a program launched by Aurora James that commits a retailer to having 15% of its shelf space devoted to Black-owned brands, and met that goal in the haircare category by fall 2020. In 2021, the retailer transformed its existing Sephora Accelerate program to include only BIPOC-founded brands, with plans for all of the entrepreneurs going through the program to launch at Sephora. The retailer worked with eight Black-owned brands when it signed the pledge and now lists 24 on its website, from Pat McGrath Labs (which is currently offering a Bridgerton collection) to Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross.
  • Ulta Beauty has made significant investments in Black beauty, including a BIPOC-focused accelerator program. For 2022, the retailer has allocated more than $50 million to a variety of ventures, including $25 million for multicultural media platforms and the accelerator program, $5 million for a fund to invest in BIPOC entrepreneurs, $3.5 million for diverse merchandise purchases, and $8.5 million for marketing Black-owned and founded products. Some of the brands it carries include Beauty Bakerie, Juvia’s Place, Uoma Beauty, and its latest addition, announced this week, the fast-growing Mielle Organics. Ulta also launched the Muse 100, a celebration of 100 Black voices in the beauty business, including makeup artists, hair stylists, style icons, wellness advocates, media personalities and writers, influencers, and entrepreneurs.
  • Kohl’s has committed to supporting Black-founded and owned beauty businesses, especially through its shop-in-shop experience Kohl’s Wellness Market, available in select stores and online. Some of the brands that have been featured at Kohl’s include Mixed Chicks, SheaMoisture, Rucker Roots, People of Color, and Hustle Clean, co-founded by NFL player Justin Forsett. Kohl’s is adding 400 Sephora shops to the 200 already in place in its stores this year, with a total of 850 planned by 2023. This should bring additional Black-owned or founded beauty brands into its mix.

Some progress is also being made in other categories at retail, from fashion, to home goods, to children’s books and toys. But beauty has been at the forefront, in part because there has long been an urgent need for more products at mass retail that are formulated specifically for the unique beauty needs of Black consumers and other people of color. In addition, the fact that a significant number of entrepreneurial Black-owned and founded brands had already been addressing this need on a smaller scale gave retailers a range of options that allowed them to quickly ramp up their assortments, while giving these niche brands a wider audience. Watch for more new partnerships and initiatives in the beauty department as the journey continues.

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