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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.

And blogs.

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.”

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59 Comments

  1. Lynette

    This article really intrigued me because I have been following fashion and beauty bloggers for quite a while. Back in the day, bloggers did so because they loved what they were doing and they purchased all the products that they reviewed. The past 4-5 years is when the blog world exploded and some bloggers were scoring cosmetic collaborations, book deals and making big advertising bucks. But those deals have been given to an exclusive few, no matter what color the bloggers were. Quite a few bloggers came in on the tail end of that explosion with the expectations that they would be receiving the same kind of swag and endorsements that the long term bloggers had been getting. I am not so sure that the expectations of some of the newer bloggers are realistic.

    What kind of perplexes me is that there are so many cosmetic companies that are/were created by/for women of color. Many have been mentioned previously, BlackUp, Iman, Fashion Fair and Black Opal. There’s also Sleek Cosmetics(another UK line), Vasanti (created by Canadian based South East Asian women), I was sad when their line was dropped by Ulta because I bought quite a few of their items and nothing failed to flatter my skintone. I-Iman was the higher end line created by Iman was carried in Sephora and it was dropped due to lack of sales-there were some excellent products in that line. Sephora had her line featured front and center in store placement and I would see black women sail right past her display to go to the Dior and NARS counters. Regardless of how some of us may view Kimora Lee Simmons-she also had a line that was carried by Sephora. I happened upon her items at a TJ Maxx store when her line ceased production-while I was not happy with the foundation that I got, I loved the lipsticks, glosses and blushes that I purchased. Another line was Zalia, a Latin line which accurately covered a wide spectrum of skin tones. I never saw any of those lines get any love from the Black beauty bloggers and I’ve often wondered if those lines would still be in production if more bloggers of color had been paying attention to them. I don’t see much love given to Fashion Fair, Black Radiance (yes it’s a drugstore brand, but the products are great for the price point) or any of the other lines mentioned, While I don’t expect Black bloggers to exclusively review lines created for and by women of color, I think part of the solution would be to stop chasing solely after the mainstream brands and give some of the mentioned lines more shine.

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    • I think brands like Fashion Fair and Iman do not get the love from bloggers of colour because their blogger relations strategy is not there yet. I am sure Fashion Fair is working on that.

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  2. sageh

    It’s not about personal experience – it is about knowledge of your subject. Regardless of the shade of your skin or what is available at your local store (they blog – they have access to the internet too, and thus complete and accurate information to pass on), if you hold yourself out as a subject matter expert, I expect you to be one. If I worked for a cosmetics company and it was my business to know cosmetics, I would not want to hire / someone representing my line who was not knowledgeable. I was simply saying in that case I understood why brands were not working with her.

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  3. Honestly, I feel like natural hair-care blogs are superior to most brown beauty blogs.

    I’ve learned how to make my own lotion, soap, make candles, and cook grilled salmon.

    I love beauty and fashion, but some of these brown beauty bloggers just stink.

    I have noticed that a lot of brown beauty bloggers only talk about white beauty product lines. I would love to read more about BlackUp, Black Opal, Fashion Fair, Iman, and more.

    For instance, BlackUp has a loose powder, what’s that about? I would love to see a demonstration about how to utilize this product instead of reading about it on BlackUp’s website. Also, what are the advantages and disadvantages of wearing BlackUp’s full coverage foundation versus their fluid foundation?

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    • A lot of people are put off by the name, Black-Up. Also I have heard a few beauty bloggers and customer complain about their customer service at the counters. Moreover they seem to be invisible – I have emailed them two or three times for information and never got a reply. I would love to know more about some of these brands too but I can only do so they meet me half way.

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    • So true, I have heard a few negative things about Black Opal too. I just wish these black cosmetic companies would do more to get out their products to the black public. lol

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    • Great feedback. Duly noted!

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  4. Kimmie Gee

    *rolls eyes* I really don’t think that cosmetic companies are “biased” towards brown beauty bloggers.Money sees no color; if these corporations notice that a certain blog has a lot of reach, visibility, and clout, I’m absolutely positive that they wouldnt hesitate advertise with said brown blogger.

    It’s not always about race.Plus, I think this is just about brown bloggers whining that they’re not getting enough free stuff and sponsorships. You’re going to have to do a little bit more to stick out…like the author said, blogging is an over-saturated industry. You need to do what you can to catch their eye.

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  5. Lyla

    Rhianna definitely looks beautiful here along with her lipstick and makeup. The color combo really soothes her skin tone.

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