After launching its Black Beauty is Beauty campaign on Aug. 4, Sephora announced on Tuesday two additional steps to support the Black-owned brands on its shelves and BIPOC customers at large.
During a Sephora-hosted virtual event called “A Conversation on Black Beauty,” the retailer said it would launch its first-ever Sephora Black-Owned Brands Favorites Kit on September 14 with an undisclosed percentage of proceeds going to the 15 Percent Pledge. The included brands are Bread Beauty Supply, Adwoa Briogeo, Pat McGrath, Fenty and Shani Darden Skin Care. Favorites Kits, which launch throughout the year, have historically been a calling card for Sephora, serving as a multi-brand product for discovery and are well-known as a giftable holiday item. Sephora also plans to relaunch its Color iQ foundation matching with new in-house AI technology, to make it more accessible to BIPOC skin tones which have been underserved by skin tone-matching technology. The Tuesday event featured guests like Aurora James, Brother Vellies founder and creative director and the 15% Pledge founder, and Desiree Verdejo, Hyper Skin founder and CEO.
“One of our main pillars at Sephora is product differentiation. It’s our job to always deliver an evolving assortment of products, brands and category trends,” said Priya Venkatesh, Sephora svp of merchandising, skin care and hair. “As we began the work to meet [the 15 Percent] Pledge, we took a look at our entire business, from top to bottom, to understand how we can better support Black-owned brands.
Vankatesh said the kit will help introduce these brands and products to a broader audience. Though the Buy-Black movement isn’t new, it has demonstrated lasting power with corporate America following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. But Black-owned businesses have continued to struggle in the wake of Covid-19, even as the economy is rebounding. According to a Federal Reserve study published in January, 77% of Black business owners said their financial condition was “fair” or “poor,” and 26% said weak demand was their biggest challenge.
But, on the flip side, weak demand is only one of the issues that Black-owned businesses face. In the same Federal Reserve study, 30% of respondents said getting access to credit was their biggest challenge. In 2021, Sephora retooled its Sephora’s Accelerate Program to focus specifically on BIPOC founders. Accelerate’s curriculum offers mentorship, merchandising support, potential funding and investor connections to participants. This BIPOC founder focus will continue for the class of 2022, and applications have opened. Bread Beauty Supply is one notable brand that partook in the 2019 program and was added to Sephora stores.
“Launching Bread with Sephora, as a new brand to market, was a huge moment for us. A year later, we could not be more thrilled with what we’ve accomplished together,” said Maeva Heim, Bread Beauty Supply founder and CEO. “Through their Accelerate Program they’ve made it a mission to champion the work of new brands and bring their vision to life. We are excited to continue our partnership and be a part of the Black-owned beauty kit.”
Venkatesh added that Sephora also funded for the smaller indie brands the deluxe sample sizes in the kit, but declined to elaborate on the specific brands. Ulta Beauty, meanwhile, said in February that it would commit $4 million to market its Black-owned brands, alongside increasing its own representation on its shelves to 15%.
“Representation is something that is so important to me and close to my heart,” said Shani Darden, Shani Darden Skin Care founder. “There wasn’t a lot of representation in beauty when I was growing up. Highlighting Black-owned beauty brands is a positive step in the right direction for a more inclusive future. My hope is that, with more representation, it will set a positive example for our youth to be fearless and follow their dreams.”
Aside from increasing exposure of Black-owned brands, addressing BIPOC customer concerns in its shade-matching technology is also a focus for Sephora. Sephora first launched Color iQ in 2012 in partnership with the Pantone Color Institute to help shoppers find the foundation and concealer that are the best scientific match for their complexion. Sephora employees are equipped with a handheld device that can scan a shopper’s skin, and since its launch, Sephora stores have generated 14 million Color IQ matches.
But the new version of Color iQ, which is expected to launch around the end of September, adds the ability to measure saturation, which addresses the more nuanced intensity of someone’s skin tone. Venkatesh said the industry standard, however, is only accounting for skin depth and undertone. In order to keep pace with brands that expand their shade line, Sephora’s Color IQ system now has five times the number of skin tone match colors than it had before, though Sephora declined to share the total figure. Based on this, Sephora is now able to match an “infinite number” of skin tones due to the level of accuracy, Venkatesh said.
“Ultimately, the new Color iQ technology helps Sephora better cater to all of our clients’ needs. Our mission is to champion all beauty and create a more inclusive environment. The Color iQ foundation matching will help us do just,” she said.