Nude. Flesh-tone. For decades, when these words were used, it was often to describe a peachy tan – not the multiple variations of skin color that exist among humans.
In spite of the Black personal care industry being a $700B one, advertising dollars are, overall, disproportionately spent on White consumers. With African-Americans watching more television than any other group, advertisers are missing a niche opportunity. As African American women, we need to use our voice and economic dominance to further influence brands and marketers to create products and market products directly to us.
The concept of flesh-tone in marketing, media and products has, historically, been limited to Whites. Johnson & Johnson created Band-Aids in 1920s in a beige color and the products was, unsurprisingly, not marketed towards the African-American population. In a 1955 Band-aid ad, a White woman modeling a Band-Aid on her hand and an voiceover proudly declaring, “Neat, flesh-colored, almost invisible!”
The simple statement: “flesh-colored” and illustrating one type of skin color, was limiting, creating a dangerous statement, and has taken us down a winding road of mainstream products, not being created with multiple variations in mind. For the purpose of this article, I tried to determine, through scholarly research, just how many varying shades of skin color there are. I couldn’t. There are that damn many. In 1957, Johnson & Johnson created a clear band-aid, which is still in production today. However, though we have SpongeBob’s and Dora’s and every other print that can cause intrigue, Johnson & Johnson has not responded to their minority customers.
…and this is a shame. The current buying power of African-Americans is $1 TRILLION…yes, I repeat, $1 TRILLION and predicted to be $1.3T by 2017. The strength of our spending power has shifted the market to adapt or create specific brands that are more inclusive. In 1969, after watching models mix foundations to create specific shades, Johnson & Johnson created a capsule collection, a mail-order brand named Fashion Fair, launched in 1973 by popular demand.
In that same time period, came the popularity of sheer panty hose. While they came in sheer and even extra sheer, the panty hose still did not cater to women of color. Over 40 years later, we have a burgeoning of beauty and fashion products created in response to the demand that larger corporations and brands often ignore.
One of these “invisible” women of color, dancer Erin Carpenter, was familiar with the struggle, constantly facing challenges in finding hosiery to match her skin tone. Sick of dying and altering hosiery to match her skin, she founded Nude Barre. Nude Barre is an eco-friendly undergarment line made in 16 shades of nude to match all skin tones. The website states it’s, “durable enough for active women and stylish enough for everyday fashion.”
Erin exclusively told HelloBeautiful about her experience in creating a product by and for women of color: “When dealing with my customer directly it has been great. The response is amazing and my customers are grateful for a product like Nude Barre. Nude Barre makes women of color finally feel included in the lingerie and hosiery market and not an after thought.”
Though consumers, customers and the general product are screaming for inclusion, retailers are still not fully realizing the disconnect. Black owned. Female owned. A focus on shades that most brands don’t even acknowledge: it seems like a no-brainer. Erin tells us,
When dealing with retailers things can be a little bit tricky. A majority of the buyers are not women of color and do not truly understand the pain of not finding undergarments in their nude shade. Therefore, they do not always understand the frustration. They hear about it from time to time, but I really have to sell them on this idea. The idea that finding ‘nude’ feels impossible to many women.
As a former fashion buyer, I can attest to the lack of women of color in the industry. It’s no surprise that something which directly doesn’t affect the buyers is not a focus, as they simply cannot understand the niche opportunity.
However, fashion designer Christian Louboutin is capitalizing on the demand and reaching this consumer niche, which in reality, is a massive market. Launching in 2013, Louboutin began with a five-shade line of “nude” shoes, to the delight of the consumer market. He has plans to expand the capsule collection by next year to seven shades. Even Donna Karan is investing in the new nude. Her line, simply dubbed, “The Nudes”, is the fastest growing hosiery category, representing 50% of the brands’ multi-million dollar hosiery business. Duke graduate, Ade Hassan, is the founder of Nubian Skin, a line of lingerie that comes in various skin tones for women. We reported on her burgeoning lingerie empire earlier here.
Yet, for every step forward, we still deal with challenges. In 2003, Johnson & Johnson released a ‘concealable’ contraceptive, Ortha Evra. Within a year, the company had made almost $30M dollars. However, the company alienated African-American woman (despite using them in advertising), because the patch came in one color, which they dubbed: beige. The ‘concealable’ contraceptive was only hidden, for a few. In 2004, the below Ortha Evra commercial came out, illustrating a diverse group of women using and wearing the patch and boasting, “On your body, off your mind.” On the company website, their main model is a black woman, and the patch is starkly visible on her back. If they can advertise with African-Americans in mind, why can’t the product be created or evolved with us in mind as well?
As we move into a more diverse nation, the definition of nude will continue to expand. Retailers and brands can continue to ignore the growing population of people of color, forcing the hand of African-American consumers and others to demand and seek other smaller power players that are responding to the needs of the 21st Century. The power of the African-American dollar in the fashion and beauty industry is real: 1 trillon real and growing. It’s time to use our voice and demand that brands cultivate diverse products.