Sephora revamps 2021 Accelerate program to underscore diversity efforts

Since the wave of support for Black Lives Matter swept the U.S. this summer, the beauty industry has seen an influx of mentorship programs supporting Black-owned brands. And now, Sephora’s 5-year-old Accelerate program kicks off with an emphasis on inclusivity.

Applications open today through October 15 for the six-month program that offers a bootcamp, mentorship, grants and funding, and ends with a pitch event. It is open to U.S.-incorporated, early-stage makeup, skin care, fragrance, wellness, hair and accessory brands, and this year has an “exclusive focus on POC-founded and owned brands,” according to Sephora.

The emphasis on POC-owned brands this year is aimed to support Sephora’s efforts to meet the 15% Pledge that it agreed to this summer. The retailer has launched other efforts to improve inclusivity, as well, including creating a Racial Bias in Retail Study that it will release results from later this year. 

As beauty retailers are pushing to stock more Black-owned brands thanks to the 15% Pledge and Pull Up for Change, founders are focused on growing their businesses sustainably as they take the next steps with major retail partners. A recent Bloomberg report pointed out that major retailers often take a 50-60% cut of sales. They also have stringent requirements for maintaining inventory supply, which is especially challenging during the pandemic. Marketing costs also go up when a major retailer is involved.

Amid the push for greater beauty industry inclusivity as a result of the Black Lives Matter social movement, a range of new mentorship and grant programs have been launched to support BIPOC-owned brands. These include programs by individual brands and retailers including Glossier, Shea Moisture, Credo Beauty, Glow Recipe and Peach & Lily. Other programs have been launched by multi-brands collaborations, including the Clean Beauty Summer School started by Tower 28 founder Amy Liu and a program created by KNC Beauty founder Kristen Noel Crawley. 

These initiatives are aimed at increasing visibility and resources for a wider range of brands, but there has been some overlap among the brands selected for and participating in these programs. African-inspired moisturizer brand 54 Thrones was selected for Glow Recipe’s Community Mentoring program and as a finalist for Clean Beauty Summer School. CBD brand Brown Girl Jane was named a recipient of the Glossier grant and serves as a co-creator of the $250,000 #BrownGirlSwap fund in partnership with SheaMoisture.

Black-owned and female-owned companies face a massive funding gap. A recent opinion article by investor Jesse Draper, who focuses on female-owned businesses, warned against treating funding for under-funded groups as a “charity.”

“Just because I invest in women-led and women-founded companies, that doesn’t mean I’m running a non-profit,” she wrote, pointing out that Morgan Stanley has calculated that a lack of diversity in investment means missing out on a $3 trillion opportunity.

Sephora’s Accelerate program was created in 2015 to help develop female-owned startup beauty brands. Black-owned, female-owned brands in previous years’ cohorts have included Eu’Genia Shea, Mented, Bread Beauty Supply and Kreyol Essence. The 2020 iteration featured 13 female-owned brands from around the world, including France, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Germany, the U.K., Singapore, China and the U.S. 

The benefits of mentorship can help founders shape their brand messaging. Eu’Genia Shea founder Naa-Sakle Akuete, who participated in the 2016 program, has credited her mentor with inspiring her to focus on clean beauty messaging. 

“When I first started, I had absolutely no idea what clean beauty was,” she said. “My mentor was like, ‘Your products are clean, and this is like a burgeoning demographic that people are really passionate about and really care about, so this is who you should be going after.” Her brand is now stocked at a wide range of retailers including Anthropologie, Macy’s, Credo Beauty, BLK + GRN, Costco and Detox Market, and its sub-brand Mother’s Shea is sold through Target.

Sephora plans to launch all participating brands in Sephora in 2021 after they complete the program. Participants from previous years’ cohorts currently stocked at Sephora U.S. include Skylar and Bread Beauty Supply, while others have been sold through Sephora in Mexico or France. Others have gone on to wider distribution: Kreyol Essence can now be found at major retailers including Ulta and Whole Foods. 

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