ColourPop faces backlash for ‘Harry Potter’ collab due to J.K. Rowling

For any consumer brand, scoring a collab with “Harry Potter” was once the business equivalent of catching the Golden Snitch. But as ColourPop learned with its Harry Potter collection launched yesterday, J.K. Rowling’s longstanding positions on the transgender community appear to have broken the spell of one of the world’s most valuable media franchises.

Last valued at $25 billion in 2016, “Harry Potter” has served as a cash cow for countless brands tapping into a passionate fan base eager to scoop up Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and even Slytherin merch. But when ColourPop announced its new Harry Potter-themed makeup set last week, the reaction was decidedly mixed. Some fans rejoiced at the announcement of products that include highlighters featuring Dobby and Hedwig and lip products for each of the four Houses. But thousands more, along with beauty influencers with millions of followers, have critiqued a collaboration that would financially benefit Rowling.

After ColourPop’s September 2 Instagram Reels post teasing the new collab, multiple influencers have spoken out to express their frustration with the choice of partner. On the teaser post, TikTok star Chrissy Chlapecka (@chrissychlapecka, 5 million followers on TikTok) commented that she was “disappointed” in the collaboration. She followed up with a comment on the brand’s September 8 Reels post about the collection, stating that “Harry Potter” was a “transphobic franchise.” 

Multiple beauty influencers who frequently feature ColourPop looks in their posts have spoken up against the collab. Eye art influencer Vanessa Funes (@cutcreaser, 320,000 followers on Instagram) posted on her Instagram Stories, “I’m not supporting this collection or anything involving the Harry Potter license.” Earlier in the week, beauty YouTuber Shae Shukla (388,000 subscribers on YouTube) took a similar position, posting an image of the transgender equality flag on her Stories and saying that she would not be doing one of her usual swatch videos of the collection. 

Makeup artist and trans advocate Lilly Teel (105,400 TikTok followers) stated on Twitter that she won’t be using the brand anymore.

“ColourPop was one of the first brands I purchased when I got into makeup and I loved them. I still love the products but I feel betrayed,” she said via DM. She added that this new development makes her feel like the brand’s support for the LGBTQ+ community was a “marketing tool for them during Pride.”

The brand’s September 7 Instagram post announcing the collection has over 8,800 comments, with most of the top-voted posts critical of the collab.

On its teaser for the collection, ColourPop responded to one comment on Instagram asking whether it still supported the queer community with a statement that said, “This release is our most highly requested (it has been asked for almost weekly by our community!) and as you know, we are here to create magic for you all by listening, and responding to, what our community dreams of,” adding that “Acceptance, inclusivity, and love for all is our biggest priority and that will never change.”

Beauty blogger Christine Mielke, who runs the blog Temptalia (217,000 Instagram followers), wrote a post on the issue, criticizing ColourPop’s response as “a fluffy bit of nothing.”

On September 7, the brand also posted that, for Suicide Awareness Month, it would be donating to LGBTQ+ organizations including The Trevor Project, Trans Lifeline and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, as well as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

“When preparing for this launch, we spent a lot of time discussing how to show up for everyone in the best way we possibly could–and the donations we made were always a part of that,” said a ColourPop spokesperson via email. “We deeply care about the LGBTQIA+ community and wanted to be sure that we were continuing to support them in a tangible way alongside this launch. We knew that not every person out there would be able to separate the art from the artist, and while we hoped our community would be excited to see a collection come to life that was requested (almost weekly!) for many years, we knew that, as a brand that speaks about being focused on inclusivity, we must acknowledge and financially support the trans and LGBTQIA+ communities so that our actions can continue to be aligned with our brand values and priorities.” The spokesperson said the company does not disclose donation amounts, as of a 2020 company policy.

According to the spokesperson, the collaboration has been in the works for “over two years,” as “some collections, especially with external partners have a very long path from idea (and community ask) to launch.”

Rowling generated controversy over her statements in June 2020 on Twitter and a blog post that complained of opening “doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman” and accusing the trans rights movement of  “offering cover to predators.” That month, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint all released statements in support of the trans community, in response to Rowling. Warner Bros., which owns the Harry Potter franchise along with Rowling, also released a statement, as a result, saying that it upholds the values of “a diverse and inclusive culture.” 

“We created this collection, and many of our other collections, because they are asked for — and we want our actions to align with our words. So here we find ourselves, bringing those highly requested dreams to life. We didn’t know what would happen in the world, and on Twitter, between the day we began investing in this collection and today. It has been a completely unprecedented few years,” said the ColourPop spokesperson.

Rowling’s statements on transgender issues were fresh in the news again this week, thanks to the publication of her new book, “The Ink Black Heart,” which features a character who is “persecuted” after being accused of transphobia. Several commenters on the ColourPop Instagram post pointed out the timing. 

Some LGBTQ+ influencers expressed feeling conflicted about the collab. Beauty influencer Skelotim (106,000 YouTube subscribers) addressed the collab in two videos, stating, “Just because you say that you love Harry Potter does not mean that you support J.K. Rowling,” noting that he had just been to the Orlando Harry Potter theme park and that the franchise “holds such a special place in [his] heart.”

While a wide range of consumer brands have launched Harry Potter franchise products since Rowling’s initial statements, ColourPop has received the lion’s share of criticism for supporting the franchise. Instagram posts about Harry Potter-themed Le Creuset Dutch ovens, Pottery Barn bedding, Swarovski crystal Hedwig owls, a Vera Bradley bag, and Alex and Ani jewelry do not appear to have many critical statements, if any. 

“I believe the beauty community made such loud noise about this collab because of how many LGBTQ and queer-identifying people are in the beauty community,” said Teel. “It is a very large and safe space to many LGBTQ people.”

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