Why has the beauty industry struggled to embrace all skin tones?

As part of a new series at WGSN we are inviting guest speakers into our global offices to talk about an industry topic that is close to their heart. To kick off this series, beauty expert Eryca Freemantle visited our London offices to talk about the beauty industry’s diversity problem. As an industry expert, global makeup educator & industry strategist, Freemantle works to get the industry to think about their lack of diversity, and redress the balance. Her campaign ‘Embracing All Tones Of Women’, challenges the beauty industry and encourages beauty professionals to become confident when working with different skin tones. We spoke to her to find out more….

Why do you think that the beauty industry has been so slow to embrace all skin tones?

In my opinion, there are several reasons, I think many brands do not feel they should invest in darker skin tones because it is too much of a high-risk factor.  It was believed for a long time that darker women didn’t really care and wouldn’t invest in their own skin but that instead, their priority was their hair. What the mainstream industry does not realise is that all our major influences come from Africa and we have always invested in our skin but not in the conventional mainstream way. If you think back over history and you look at the culture of African women we always expressed ourselves by painting on our bodies, painting our faces and shower ourselves with ornaments.

Consumer spend (or perceived lack of diverse/ethnic consumer spend) is often blamed for the lack of product options. How much do you believe that this is the case and how much of that is a myth?

I believe this to be a myth.  There is a major misunderstanding when it comes to the diverse consumer, this is due to a lack of understanding the needs of the growing diverse cultures here in the UK.  In my opinion, there is a lack of education and empathy for others from different backgrounds.

A lot of UK based black celebrities have launched beauty lines to try and fill the huge gap in the market, but they don’t seem to last long, from the Jamelia ModelMe Toni and Guy range for Boots to Beverly Knight’s makeup launch- do you think it’s a funding issue?

Yes, it’s an issue because the products are not OWNED by the individuals.  There is a lack of commitment from the financial partner, so the finished product is usually hit and miss. The marketing material is usually wrong and most of all it is believed one tone suits all. The target audience is not convinced and then the product doesn’t sell.

I always say that makeup for darker skin is always about the undertone. Only a committed brand will understand that technical side of product (from creation to production to merchandising) needed to service the mass growing ethnic market. I understand this inside out, hence why I offer my product development skills to makeup companies.

Do you think that social media and increased consumer power is creating change in this area?

Probably – but also there is so much bad makeup application on social media, as many so-called experts online are not trained.  I think it goes back to training – we offer online training for professionals – we cover things from terminology, culture, demographics, myths and the phenomenal spending power of ethnic groups.

What do you think of young black women like Florence Adepoju from MDM flow who has created her own beauty line, do you see yourself as a pioneer for this generation?

I am very proud of Florence and all women taking the initiative to create their own makeup and beauty lines for their own skin tones, regardless their country of origin, their ethnic group and their skin undertone.  Florence is a smart lady and saw the opportunity and ran with it. I see myself to be a pioneer for all generations- having been in the industry for over 30 years I understand the young woman and her struggles- I also understand the struggle for the woman over 50.  This is a group the beauty and makeup industry tends to forget about and she (the woman over 50) has more disposal income.

Over the last 5 years there is a noticeable change in the beauty market. There are approx. 12 makeup lines who produce makeup (foundations) for all skin tones. Here are a few Bobbi Brown, MAC. Kryolan, Urban Decay and Makeup forever. What is the noticeable pattern? – they were all created and founded by elite makeup artists.

What have you learned through being a speaker on these issues? Both as an industry expert and a consumer?

I say it every day there is so much to learn and understand about darker skin tones. It is not just about the colour of the skin. When speaking at events about Embracing All Tones of Women (a campaign started by myself), I see how embarrassed and confused my colleagues are around anything to do with dark skin- they are embarrassed to broach the issue of diversity and have open conversations around that. We need to create high profile educational platform and conferences for all those in the beauty industry to attend. With the right partners, sponsors and supporter this is something we would like to create for the industry.

Like this? Follow Eryca on social media, via Twitter and Instagram.

Want more? Check out our blog on Diversity in design: Why it’s a business imperative here

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