Anyone into makeup— following Instagram beauty influencers, or just watching a bunch of YouTube tutorials— knows that Rihanna's new makeup line, Fenty Beauty, is blowing up.
It dropped during New York Fashion Week in September of this year and since then the color-poppin' highlighters, matchstixs, and lip gloss have created a buzz on social media.
But the most notable thing about the line is the range of foundation shades— there are 40 to be exact.
And many of the deeper shades were sold out in stores and online within days of the launch, which is bananas because how often do you hear about darker shades of makeup being sold out?
For a long time, the beauty industry has neglected women of color as consumers, but our bad gal RiRi's incredibly successful makeup line has challenged the notion that the market for deeper shades isn't profitable for cosmetic companies.
It also raised an important question: why haven't most companies had the same kind of inclusivity or the success to go with it?
"Well, the interesting thing about Fenty is that it's not the very first time that a beauty line has had expansive shades."
That's Tiffany Gill, Associate Professor of History and Black American studies at the University of Delaware.
"Before the Fenty Beauty line launched, Make Up For Ever— another cosmetic company that caters a lot to professional makeup artists — launched a campaign that also had a lot of skin tone inclusivity."
Other mainstream brands like Covergirl, Revlon, Maybelline, and L'Oreal also attempted to cater to the broader market of complexions.
But it's quite easy to see where mainstream brands have fallen short.
I went to several drugstores and a major department store and I saw a clear trend.
There were 50 shades of beige to choose from.
This looks really pale; I'm not, I'm not that pale, I'm...
But, the darker shades were limited to a handful of options.
When I tried to match my own skin with the available shades of foundation, you can see how these few products weren't gonna work for me.
Is it really that hard to get it right?
Tasha Brown, a makeup artist based in LA, who's worked with a number of Hollywood stars, doesn't seem to think so.
"As a makeup artist, it is the same technique I would use that for anyone from Karen Elson to Alek Wek."
"I would first look at the undertone of the skin, then I look at the actual shade range, and then I pick the correct texture for their skin tone."
"So, there is no extra difficulty in understanding deeper skin tones."
So it's easy to find a foundation match, if you know your undertone, which is your underlying skin tone on a spectrum of cool to warm.
But finding deeper shades that actually offer the right undertones for women of color has been incredibly hard.
Maybe product development is where it really gets tricky?
"Yeah, actually, it's not very difficult to make deeper shades."
"Depending on the base, all foundations have the same basic base."
"So for example, if we're talking about a standard foundation, which would be a water-and-silicone base—it's an emulsion where the water phase is surrounded by silicone— that basic emulsion would be the same."
"The only difference between a lighter shade and a darker shade is the ratio of pigments."
"And all foundations contain the same 4 pigments."
"It's titanium dioxide, iron oxide red, iron oxide yellow, and iron oxide black."
"So you just play with the ratios of those pigments to get to a lighter color or a darker color."
The trouble with finding the right shade isn't limited to foundation.
"Yes, it's not just foundation, you know? It is blush; It is lipstick where it's a beautiful color, but it's a light wash."
"And deeper skin tones tend to demand a little more pigment."
It's a problem that can be solved with an understanding of deeper skin tones.
But overall, in 2014, only 18% of American Chemical Society members were people of color.
In 2015, Black, Hispanic and Asian women made up 16.3% of workers in the personal care products industry.
"As a consumer, you want to have options in comparison; you want things to be easy. I want to be able to walk into a store and see myself represented."
Over the past few years mainstream beauty companies have been making an effort to be more inclusive.
But why is it taking them so long to get it right?
"When it comes to beauty, they're usually based on very narrow ideas of what constitutes beautiful."
"And even if there are a wider range of women who are demanding products, a wider range of consumers who want to see themselves reflected and are willing to pay money to get these products, many brands are unwilling to cater to them in fears that it will damage their brand."
"In fears that it will make their brand less glamorous, less beautiful, if it's attached to black women, if it's attached to darker skin women."
The beauty industry has a long history of catering to a very specific type of person.
In the late 1940s, makeup for black women was available, but beauty companies still focused on skin lightening products for black women.
"We begin to see, really in the 1970s, an attempt to begin to show a wider range of beauty when it comes to makeup products."
It's when the cultural movement “Black is Beautiful” began to rise as a celebration of blackness in the African American community.
Robert Williams, a leading figure in American psychology, wrote, "The Black is Beautiful movement" and the all-out effort to instill racial pride in black people have done much to neutralize and offset much of the damaging effects of oppression from being black.”
The movement was not only a response to colorism in the Black community, but also the prevalent racism in wider American culture.
That movement brought a change in the beauty industry too— more products were being created for the black community.
"And a lot of that really came from a lot of black-owned companies themselves."
"Companies like Fashion Fair cosmetics, which was developed by the Johnson Publishing company, which was the publishing company behind Ebony, for example."
Drugstore brands like Maybelline had Shades of You in the 90s; Black Opal had products that catered to women of color starting in 1994; Iman began selling in discount retailers in 2004; and Covergirl had the Queen Collection in 2006.
Then you had luxury brands like NARS, MAC, Bobbi Brown, Black-Up, and Make Up For Ever offering even more shades of brown at higher prices.
But it hasn't always been a smooth ride for all of these brands.
L'Oréal faced controversy when it was accused of whitewashing Beyonce in its 2008 campaign.
In 2016, MAC launched their “Vibe Tribe” collection which at worst is cultural appropriation and at best is pretty culturally insensitive.
While mainstream brands have missed the mark, independent beauty brands have successfully filled the gaps, brands like koyVoca, Cocotique, and The Lip Bar all offer extensive products for women of color.
The gap between mainstream and independent brands is also evident in the way they reach their audience.
While major brands still turn to traditional advertising on TV and in magazines, a lot of independent creators rely heavily on social media.
"Social media has changed the beauty industry in tremendous ways."
"What is really interesting is that if you go on social media there are lots of women, some of whom are professionally trained makeup artists, some are just women who like make up and have sort of taught themselves and have huge followings."
"And they have followings of people who will listen to what they say."
"And so it's much more intimate than having, for example, just a celebrity at the front of your campaigns, which is often what Covergirl, and L'Oréal, and many of the big companies have done."
Brands can try to copy Rihanna's marketing, but there's more to it than that.
“If I love it, I'm gonna to go all the way to the end about it."
"And I dabbled in makeup before, but this is like my vision from the ground up, from the textures to the foundation shades, to the names."
"I have a 100% involvement in this process."
Even if Rihanna's makeup line doesn't live up to the hype over time, there's no denying that Fenty is causing a much-needed stir in the beauty industry.