Nov 12, 2019 | By Joanne Thomas
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Apr 18, 2019
In WGSN’s 2021 forecast of big ideas and key opportunities for the beauty industry, a few major themes stood out. Among them, a valuable market that brands are being slow to cater for: the $6 trillion spending-power of people with disabilities and their families. There are 61 million people in the US alone with disabilities. Yet products are not always being developed with their needs in mind.
Brands have been making strides in inclusivity, especially in the areas of gender fluidity and body positivity. So why hasn’t the mainstream beauty industry developed products to reflect a broader spectrum of diversity? Below, WGSN Senior Beauty Editor Theresa Yee, and two industry influencers, discuss this oversight and how brands can catch up fast.
“I started tracking this issue of wider inclusivity back in 2017,” says Yee. “Back then, brands were only talking about it. They might have been creating marketing campaigns around inclusivity, but they weren’t actually developing products. In 2019, things have moved on. It’s still in its infancy, but product innovation is happening.”
Kelly Knox, @itskellyknox, a model and self-love/body-positivity activist, in fact believes disabled people spend even more than the average person on beauty products, often as a reaction to “physical barriers, such as being stared at in the street, or shopping aisles not being big enough for wheelchairs. Buying beauty products is part of self-care,” she explained. This makes it not only the “most modern and moral thing to do,” but means there’s huge financial opportunities as well.
Knox, featured in a 2018 Primark campaign, who was born without the lower half of her left arm, wants “all-access areas to beauty, and zero barriers” for those with disabilities. Brands should be aware, she says, that a one-off feature of disability isn’t going to cut it.
“Disabled talent should not be used for tokenism or as a one-off,” she says. “For disability to be normalised and for society to see us as beautiful peers rather than outcasts, advertising campaigns need to be more diverse, open-minded and creative.” In other words, brands should be incorporating disability representation at all stages of product development and messaging – not just as a marketing afterthought.
The issue of tokenism marketing is echoed by Madison Lawson (@wheelchairbarbie), a Teen Vogue and Glamour writer who has two forms of muscular dystrophy and has been in a wheelchair since she was nine. “The marketing tactics are more what I think is being considered at the moment and product development is lagging behind a bit,” she says. “I have seen more influencers with disabilities being included in different brands to promote the idea of inclusivity but the actual development of those modifications is falling a bit behind.
“For example, I can’t go to a public place without someone asking me who does my makeup for me. That isn’t something you would ask an able-bodied person wearing makeup – people just assume they do their own makeup,” she recalls. For her, the attitude speaks to a lack of products designed to be used by disabled people. If such products existed, it could discredit the false assumption that the person couldn’t do it themselves.
“Innovation is happening, but on a small scale,” says Yee. Brands leading the way include British start-up Kohl Kreatives, which created The Flex Collection, a set of easy-to-grip makeup brushes tailored for people with a motor disability. Makeup artist Veronica Lorenz developed The Vamp Stamp after a benign tumour on her spinal cord led to a loss of feeling and strength in her hand. Her VavaVoom winged liner stamp was launched in 2017 – and promptly sold out.
With a potent market opportunity and increasingly loud calls for inclusivity that doesn’t end with skin tone, but rather encompasses a diverse range of physical and mental needs as well, the mainstream beauty industry should act now. If it doesn’t, it can be sure that new disruptors will seize the opportunity first.
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