Pyer Moss Spring 2020 was all about giving black women their due. Here's how makeup brands can follow suit.
In a perfect world, everyone would be given due credit for their work. Those who have displayed excellence, innovation, and creativity in their fields would get the flowers and accolades they deserve. But we don't live in a perfect world, and ofttimes black artists and creators, in particular, aren't given the proper recognition or credit. It's a phenomenon so common it's not even surprising when it happens — for many black artists, it's almost a sad and frustrating fact of existence.
Just ask Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the mother of Rock and Roll. They say being a mom is a thankless job, and it looks like the adage applies here too — unlike her male counterparts, say Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley, hers is not a household name. Still, her influence as an originator is there. And it is this influence that was at the forefront of the Pyer Moss Spring 2020 show (arguably the most talked-about event of New York Fashion Week), "Sister."
"I feel like black women are often erased from things and I wanted to do this specifically for black women," says creative director Kerby Jean-Raymond of the brand's latest effort, the third installment of the brand's "American Also" series of collections, which aim to shed light on the influence of black people in America. "It focuses on reversing the erasure of African-Americans in American society and pop culture. What we do is take things that are stereotypically 'white' in America and prove how it's black."
This same erasure extends to the fashion and beauty worlds, as well. America's greatest export is its culture, and much of its worldwide appeal stems from its roots in black aesthetics. The world tells us every day: Black shit is cool, but on actual black people, God forbid black women? It's ugly. Ghetto. Not in line with our branding. Not our target market. Tanned white women with cornrows, big lips, and full rear ends: social media millionaires. Actual, dark-skinned black women with those things: just not our preference. We're consistently erased from the things we create, and at times it's so ridiculous it's hardly believable. I, for one, will never forget the "boxer braids" craze that took over the internet once Kim Kardashian was spied wearing cornrows. All of a sudden, it was the height of fashion to gel down your baby hairs and have your hair in the same braids that were getting black women fired from their jobs across the country.
But this is not to say that there isn't an effort to change things. Thanks to social media, the voices of marginalized people have been increasingly amplified, and companies are starting to listen, to a certain extent (even if it is just to make some more coin). After all, if black women are moving culture along, then they should be acknowledged as the tastemakers they are and included in the conversation.
Rihanna's Fenty Beauty line is a great example of how things have changed, particularly in the beauty space. Since Fenty launched with a 40-shade range of foundations, other makeup brands have been following suit, releasing their own base products in shades that finally go deeper than say, Kerry Washington. They fail to do so at their own peril: Anything that doesn't have an adequate shade range is promptly dragged by consumers all over social media.
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Collection 3 Reviews — “Puzzled passersby on Flatbush Avenue all seemed to be asking themselves the same question: What kind of performer draws a sold-out crowd at this 3,000-person-capacity venue on a Sunday night? . As the first model bounded down the runway to the sound of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love,” sporting rhinestone-studded wide-leg pants, a bolero jacket, and a halolike Afro, the staid rocker archetype—skinny, white, male—was instantly turned on its head.” -Chioma Nnadi, Vogue Magazine
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However, even with additional shades, it can be difficult for darker-skinned women (not just black ones) to find one that's a match. It's an issue Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter is well aware of. "A lot of brands [as far as diversity] think it's trendy right now or it's a buzzword. If you release a foundation right now that's less than 40 shades, you're gonna get dragged," Chuter explains.
A wider shade range is cute and all, but it's not always enough. We don't have to tell you about the drama surrounding major brands touting a foundation launches touting a good selection bunch of deep shades — but with unfortunate, ashy, or orange-looking undertones. "They just say, 'Let's pick up whatever 40 shades are on the shelves and replicate it in the lab and send it out.' I still really encourage them to do it properly."
The key here is actually paying attention to the needs of darker-skinned people, and also having the knowledge and expertise to create formulas that actually flatter their rich hues, instead of making something with an undertone that doesn't work on anyone. There's also the issue of representation — if a brand is putting out a 40-plus shade range but their Instagram page barely features anyone darker than a brown paper bag, that's another sign that they're in it for the wrong reasons.
To avoid missteps like these, Chuter says it's all about having diversity not only in the colours of foundation you put out but also within your actual business. "Look in-house first. How can you be inclusive and try to represent the rest of the world when there is no diversity on the teams working with you? Look in-house, fix that, and then things will start getting real. You'll stop getting it wrong and you'll stop making those missteps because you have enough people in the room to give you context when you're doing things." A good way to avoid struggle undertones that are too orange or grey? Hire someone with a keen understanding of how to create undertones that complement darker skin. If your social media page is looking extra beige, why not hire someone who will have the mindset and intent of adding more diversity on your grid?
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Collection 3 Reviews— “It’s been a long time since a New York designer displayed real riotous ambition — ambition that doesn’t have anything to do with Instagram or likes or serving here-today-gone-tomorrow desires. A long time since one took on the national conversation with nuance and a lack of fear. ‘Diversity and inclusion’ have become buzzwords of the moment (they are included in the handout at practically every show), but this wasn’t about that. It was about ownership. It was about forcing a deeper reckoning at a time when race has become a dividing line in the country, and embracing a different understanding in order to move forward. That Mr. Jean-Raymond can do it so gracefully, without accusation, and with such multilayered meaning, is what makes him so effective.” —Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times
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Besides committing to diversity in-house, Chuter also mentions that if brands want to come across as inclusive and committed to servicing the needs of black and darker-skinned people, they have to be sure that their products are accessible and available to the very people they claim to be making them for. She's noticed a trend all over the world of the opposite happening in the U.S., U.K., and most troubling, in African markets.
"You go to South Africa or Zimbabwe and you have all the big brands; they're all there, and it's just the light shades," she says. "You know they have 50 shades. You're in Africa. So, the assumption is either you think the black people there don't have money, which is disgraceful to have that assumption, and you're only catering for a certain people who you think are going to spend and have money to spend." If you're going to include dark shades, they need to be stocked in order for anyone to be able to use them. If they're not readily available, how will consumers get to them, and if you're only stocking certain shades, what does that say about who you want your customer to be?
The solution is actually committing to promoting diversity from the top-down, not just symbolically, but in a meaningful, tangible, demonstrable way. "When you care care, people will see it," Chuter emphasizes. "When we launched Uoma beauty, we really didn't have to say much to let people know that we cared. It was the biggest comment over and over again. They can see it. There was nothing new about having 50 shades, but the formulation was very new and the approach to it was radical. But still, the biggest comment wasn't about the skincare in the product, it was still about the inclusivity."
The solutions to the beauty industry's diversity problem may seem easy to fix, but it's up to these brands to commit to doing so. Whether the ones that need to will embrace the mantle of inclusion or only pay lip service to it remains to be seen.