There’s a very enlightening feature in WWD from Iman, a former model with a beautiful make-up range for women of colour. The feature focuses on her struggle to go mass market with the same space and prestige as other make-up brands, regardless of the skin colour the products are meant for. It’s interesting because I’ve just been asked to answer some questions on a US site about British women and their beauty rituals. I had to think really hard about what a typical British woman is and came to no real conclusions. However, what was pretty obvious from the questioning was that the interviewer had a preconceived idea of British women, and it seemed to me that the idea was white. Which, it certainly is not. I had to point out at various stages that Britain is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country and the notion that a blonde, white woman, dipping her porcelein skin in May dew for softly rosy cheeks is so far from where we are as a country as to be a thing of fairy tales. 

Reading the feature from Iman about retailing cosmetics for women of colour in the US just served to make it even more blatantly obvious that cosmetic retailers and manufacturers have forgotten that there isn’t one colour for Britain. Way back in history, yes, we were predominantly white, but more recent history tells us that the landscape has changed for ever. One of Iman’s more telling comments from the feature is, They (the beauty retailers) wanted me to be placed at the back, which they considered, like it is, for the ethnic section, which I was totally against it for no other reason but ’cause also I never considered myself an ethnic brand.” Now, here’s the thing. For as long as make up is divided into ethnicities then it plays a part in division. Which is ridiculous. These days, make up for women of colour can’t be considered an ‘ethnic section’; there are women of all colours, all nations and all creeds united in their love of cosmetics, and what do the brands do? Go and divide us all up again. Every make-up brand should have an appropriate amount of colour choice for all skin-tones and the absolutely stupid thing is, that if they did, they’d have more customers! Isn’t that what every beauty brand wants? 

It’s really time for retailers to properly step up to the changing face of Britain and not just slot make-up for all tones into their own designated ethnic doors (in areas with a higher proportion of ethnic women) and place it everywhere. Because we are all everywhere, regardless of colour. It’s also time for brands to be producing make up for all skin tones as standard. Just as standard. Not as a puny, limited section, but as standard to reflect the Britain this really is. 

I’m not black and I’m not quite white either, I’m a kind of amalgamation of Mediterranean and British heritage and my skin reflects that. But, it would not occur to me to in a million breaths that I might have to go to a specific area or store to get a good enough selection of products that I could actually buy something. And yet, that’s what faces many British women today. My experience of buying a BB cream in Hong Kong gave me a little taster of exactly what that’s like. I was easily the darkest skinned person (I must point out that I am not dark skinned; I am, I guess, olive toned) in the store and they had to go into a special drawer to bring out the one dark-toned BB they had. And, come to think of it, are there any BBs for black skin? I know a lot has already been written on this subject, but it makes no sense at all for brands to be excluding great chunks of society at the counter. 

Do you want to sell make up or not?

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