Last week, MAC Cosmetics dropped its latest installment of Riri Hearts MAC, Rihanna’s limited edition collection with the popular global cosmetic brand. Offerings in the Fall 2013 collection, which include the cult favorite Riri Woo and the ever-elusive perfect Nude shade were of special interest to women of color, who sometimes find it a bit more challenging to nail down the perfect picks to compliment their complexions.
Riri Hearts MAC Fall 2013 also includes eyeshadows, liners, blushes and brushes.
Before the 1970s, there were few makeup lines who offered shades for black women; complexion products, such a concealer or foundation, were often made for paler skin tones. Other cosmetics were designed to compliment fairer skin as well. In response, brands like Fashion Fair, which launched in 1973, were started in response to strong customer interest of an overlooked market.
Fast forward twenty years, and additional niche brands like Black Opal, or IMAN Cosmetics, Skincare, and Fragrance, the eponymous company owned by the legendary model, have also emerged and provide black consumers with a wider range of options.
Still, there are some who wonder if black women are getting the brush off from the cosmetic industry. According to Essence magazine’s 2009 Smart Beauty Research study, Black women spend $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, spend 80 percent more money on cosmetics, and twice as much on skin care products than the general market.
But black women are not just buying the products specifically tailored to them; they are after the larger, prestigious, high-end, aspirational brands, too. Black beauty consumers still face challenges finding the right products because many in the beauty industry still aren’t marketing effectively towards them. Without conversation between the brands and the buyers, many black have come to rely on word of mouth.
Beauty blogging has been a saving grace for many product junkies in the hair and cosmetic worlds, with regular women positioning themselves behind the screen and the lens to give the best consumer information they can for an already captive audience.
But some black beauty bloggers site exclusion even in the realm of review.
“The biggest challenge is trying to stick out in an over saturated niche,” says Aprill Coleman who started her site GlitteryGlossy.com three years ago. “It tends to be painstaking when you’re trying to stay above water when there are so many others. As an African-American blogger, there are brands that don’t represent us at all with their products, and there are others who don’t want to work with us at all, which can be a challenge.”
Without engagement from brands, bloggers have difficult to provide content for readers in a timely way. Without samples, many resort to buying the products themselves, which can be a costly undertaking over time.
Coleman referenced the highly anticipated release of the Riri Hearts MAC Fall 2013 collection as a missed opportunity for the brand to engage with a larger number of black beauty bloggers.
“They say that they have a traffic requirement as to how many hits you have to have to be on their [media list to receive samples]” she said, noting the standard is not applied ”across the board.”
A MAC Cosmetic spokesperson would not disclose the metrics requirement for blogger engagement and product samples, citing that the information was proprietary and confidential.
Still, there’s no denying brand has been consistent in its celebration of black women and has been in ways that many other beauty brands have not. MAC Cosmetics has frequently employed black female pop culture iconography with individuals (Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, RuPaul, Rihanna) who often throw respectability politics to the wind.
“In addition to being existing or emerging icons in their respective lines of work, they are outspoken, embrace individuality and have a connection to the brand resulting in an authentic partnership,” said the spokesperson.
Authenticity is a large part of dissident media, and according to Patrice Yursik, a pioneer in black beauty blogging, is part of the fabric of the Afrobella.com brand.
“I’ve always embraced my identity as a person with my blog, so I’ve never seen it as a problem, it’s just who I am. So I don’t see me as a black woman being a hindrance. It’s been beneficial because I came out early and I’ve always celebrate the range of skin tones that we come in,” she said. “When I first started it was more challenging because in 2006 people were not really as focused on us. The brands didn’t really have our shades in 2006, and there’s been a recent revolution. [Brands like] MAC, and Bobbi Brown and Fashion Fair – they’ve been doing it all along. But we’re seeing that brands with [just] six shades are losing.”
Since her start in 2006, Yursik has turned her blog into a business, providing her insight and her pen to various other places around the internet including AOL Black Voices, Glam Media, and the Italian Vogue site, Vogue Black. She cites work with other brands as a great way for bloggers to boost credibility and elevate their reputation. She stresses good business acumen as key for bloggers who want to get to the next level.
“Work actively to bring [cosmetic companies] to you. For them, it’s really that question of influence. It’s not always necessarily numbers but it’s definitely influence and professionalism and reach.”
But is that enough?
“Years ago I would have said ‘[Black beauty bloggers] need to improve our website layouts and take high quality photos to go with our great content.’” said Krissy H., who started AddictedToAllThingsPretty.com in 2009. “But we’ve done that. I don’t know what more we can do besides to reach out to brands. This is why I make it a point to add great women of color bloggers on my blogroll and share their content. We used to have the notion that if we support [the cosmetic companies] they will support us or if you have really high numbers they’ll support [us]. That’s not the case […] It comes down to who you know and if that person likes you and your blog. The playing field is a lot different for us and that needs to be understood. There are too many black beauty bloggers with great quality photos or us to always be overlooked.”
“I think brands are very aware – more aware – of the consumption of women of color,” Yursik said about the beauty industry’s perception of black women at the counters and their computers. “We are the biggest consumers of hair products, of makeup. We stay fly […] Like I said, it’s a business. So if we are actively voting with our dollars. So they can’t help but get that message.”