The fashion industry wasn’t expecting it, the beauty industry wasn’t expecting it, but Rihanna has forced the importance of diversity into the most influential spaces. Now companies that barely used Black women to advertise their products are proudly touting and swatching their darker shades. We are in the era of Blackness for liberals and mainstream America: everything Black, while always being cool, is now publicly being lauded as such. However, there has been a consistent inconsistency on who is benefitting from this and it hasn’t been the Black women. Also, there is the ever looming present wonder of what will happen when the majority no longer deems Black “cool.” Blackness is not a trend, it’s a cultural American institution with our intellectualism and idiosyncratic ways flowing throughout.
We have IMAN Cosmetics, Mented Cosmetics, Black Opal, and Fashion Fair. These are tried and true brands that service and care for the Black community. Mainstream beauty companies have made a larger push in recent years for inclusion, enticed by our $1.3T spending power, but often diminish our value with appropriation or fetishism. We’re falling into the same 245-year-old enslavement of colorism instituted by the Willie Lynch letters through advertisers solely highlighting and using women with specific hair textures and skin tones. The gall of cultural appropriation from the majority and failing to take responsibility for the taking (or lack of acknowledging) of another’s culture is irresponsible and damaging.
Then came Rihanna. While there are Black women (not nearly enough) working in executive positions, like Desiree Reid, quietly and tirelessly trying to bring about change in the industry, Rihanna has boldly demanded it and her loyal Navy following is instituting inclusion. We’re aware of Rihanna’s philanthropic heart; however, she’s utilizing her platform to make institutional changes, loudly, within the fashion and beauty industry. She has stepped into the light, not only as an entertainer and mogul, but also as an advocate for change.
Her partnerships with brands like Manolo Blahnik have weaved Black culture into high fashion in an embracing manner versus appropriation. You see Rihanna in the sexy, cootchie cutter high boots and understand it’s bigger than the shoe brand appearing in Carrie’s closet in Sex and The City. You watch the behind the scenes or candids of her unapologetically inhaling her impeccably rolled blunt and the photos still come out more fire than what she was smoking. Black sells. There’s no denying it. She’s proved it with her multi-million dollar sales at almost every price point: with her Manolo’s, her collaborations with Puma, and now, Fenty Beauty.
Fenty Beauty further unveiled her vision to push diversity and inclusion into the industry. Black women spend $7.3B on beauty products annually, spending 80% more on beauty and twice as much on skincare products. Releasing 40 shades, ranging for women with albinism to the deepest of melanin, there is a match for you. However, this is bigger than not being color matched in the store, she’s shifting the industry and I believe in 5 years this will not be a problem. Companies will have to service Black women or face their brands dying. You can already see the shift. She is not the first company to have this large of a shade range, Makeup Forever does as well and has employed ambassadors, like Demi Grace, to represent their line. However, Rihanna’s star power is something that no amount of marketing dollars can really buy. Brands are advertising their darker shades and brands that don’t have darker shades, I predict are currently planning to make them. The world is shifting and becoming more blended and our makeup and advertisements are not altering quickly enough.
While propelling other brands with her star power which in turn raised their sales exponentially, the Bajan beauty was simultaneously working towards servicing Black women and assisting Black culture. When we look back 10 years from now, we’ll realize that her style imprint set the trends of the decade. Rihanna is about action and like a chess master, she’s forcing the fashion and beauty industries to react to her moves. Go girl. Thank you.