Is it Realistic for all Beauty Brands to be Completely Inclusive?


Photo: Fenty Beauty

In 2017, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched 40 foundation shades, impressing the beauty industry and raising the bar for inclusivity, but is it realistic for all beauty brands to follow suit? In today’s social climate, diversity and inclusivity are paramount to a successful launch in an ultra-competitive beauty industry. Newer brands with generous budgets, like Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty and Lady Gaga’s Haus Labs, have followed Rihanna’s footsteps in releasing an extensive shade range with at least 40 foundation shades, generating good press, sales and revenue. As a result, the beauty industry has seen a growing demand for inclusivity, with consumers expecting all brands to cater to diverse skin tones.

Historically, the beauty industry has catered to a much narrower demographic, typically creating light to medium foundation shades. However, the conversation around inclusivity surrounding shade ranges and diverse campaigns has surged since the pivotal BLM movement in 2021 and 2022, resulting in a shift towards conscious consumerism. Since then, an increasing number of beauty brands have adopted a more broad approach; however, is this possible for smaller brands? LUXUO explores whether it is feasible to expect all beauty brands to achieve complete inclusivity and the shortcomings they may experience in this pursuit.

Read more: The Beauty Industry’s Proprietary Ingredients

Financial limitations

In producing an extensive foundation range, brands will face various market limitations. Developing a wide range of products is undeniably costly and complex. This is because multiple trials and copious amounts of research are fundamental factors needed to mix the appropriate shades and ensure that all shades perform the same. Beauty giants like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder have mastered the mass production of inclusive shade ranges in their prospective brands in addition to celebrity brands due to an extensive production budget. On the other hand, smaller brands may struggle in this feat as they may not have sufficient resources to finance the development of numerous products and shades.

The consumer market undoubtedly demands inclusivity, as evidenced in consumer statistics. According to Gitnux’s marketing data report, 54% of Gen Z consumers opt for sustainably conscious and inclusive brands, and the sale of racially inclusive foundations spiked by 104% between 2018 and 2019. This data suggests that releasing an inclusive range will generate more revenue, improve brand image and strengthen consumer relationships. However, while inclusivity is highly beneficial for a brand, certain shades or products may not justify production costs due to less damand, more so for smaller brands, the financial burden may be too high.

Read more: Skin Deep: A Dive Into the Beauty Industry’s Ethical Battle

Performative inclusivity

Photo: Youthforia

It is also worth noting that there is a growing frequency of consumers calling brands out for shortcomings in inclusivity and having them take accountability for failing to cater to underserved populations. Therein lies the issue of performative inclusivity, where a brand is negligent in producing a product intended to boost inclusivity but makes a superficial effort to conduct the suitable research and trials needed. Most recently, beauty brand Youthforia faced criticism over the darkest shade of their “Date Night” foundation. The foundation was first released with 15 shades, which received backlash from social media for failing to include shades of a darker spectrum. The brand was even more controversial after adding ten shades, precisely the darkest shade, compared to black face paint by beauty influencer Golloria George. Her statement was later supported by fellow beauty creator Javon Ford, who examined the ingredient list and stated that the only pigment present was pure black pigment.

This begs us to ask, is it better to take superficial action in the name of inclusivity or to take the risk in maintaining limited shade range? The answer is no. Youthforia is an example of how this can backfire and severely damage a brand’s reputation. Inclusivity is not just a hot trend but rather a pivotal and transformative movement for the beauty industry to provide for underserved consumers with deeper skin tones. Thus, while many brands genuinely care for inclusivity, this calls for more people of colour (POC) to be given a place in the industry. As explained by influential fashion figure, the late Virgil Abloh, “Diversity isn’t just a question of gender and ethnicity, It’s a question of experience. It brings new ideas to the table. And it would be good if the fashion industry actually listened and took them on board.”

Furthermore, it is no question that varying skin colours call for varied needs and additional trials. Thus, a POC would be ideal to utilise their experiences in formulating a product that works for other POCs. Experiences can be used in different production areas; Rihanna used her experience as a POC to cater to a varying range of deeper skin tones, while Selena Gomez used her experience with lupus to create accessible packaging catering to those with physical disabilities.

Read more: AMAFFI Tantilises Olfactory Connoisseurs With Debut of Maracoca Fragrances

Cultural Differences and Regional Consumer Demands

Photo: Amore Pacific

Complete inclusivity may also be impeded due to beauty standards and preferences in different world regions. Take Korean beauty brands, for example, which are well-known to have a limited shade range but still perform exceptionally in East Asia. The reason being, is that their resources are invested in products that respond to the majority of their demographic and adhere to the Asian beauty standards. This approach would not bode well in the United States, where the population of those with deeper skin tones is much larger and will not be catered for. Korean beauty brands that wish to expand to the global market must invest substantial sums to produce more shades to provide to a more diverse audience, which is only realistic for more prominent brands. The gap between an influx of consumer demands and what a brand can produce may be too much of a financial burden for smaller brands looking to expand. Hence, cultural differences and regional demographics impede and complicate a brand’s efforts to be more inclusive.

Although we are seeing significant changes in inclusivity and diversity within the industry, fundamental factors like financial constraints, varying consumer needs and lack of representation in the beauty industry make it unrealistic for all beauty brands to be completely inclusive. It is a highly complex topic and a challenging task to ace. While complete inclusivity is unrealistic in the immediate future, beauty brands are making significant strides towards it, and continued consumer advocacy and support for underrepresented populations will aid with progress.

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