New lines for women of color broaden the spectrum of beauty

Actress Thandie Newton has a website devoted to beauty products for women of color,, co-founded with makeup artist Kay Montano.
Actress Thandie Newton has a website devoted to beauty products for women of color,, co-founded with makeup artist Kay Montano.
(Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images)

There’s a growing power player in the American beauty business, and it’s the female consumer of color. Add up Latin Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans (including Southeastern Asians), Pacific Islander Americans, Native Americans and those the Census Bureau defines as people of “two or more races,” and that’s a lot of potential foundation and “nude” lipstick sales for tan and brown-skinned women. Savvy entrepreneurs are launching beauty sites that not only offer curated products for darker skin and curlier hair but also a place where these women are visible — and visibly beautifully.

The numbers

According to the Census Bureau, in 2012 there were an estimated 313,873,685 Americans, of which 37,999,878 were Californians. Nationally, 63% were labeled as “White alone. Not Hispanic or Latino,” but in California that number is just 39.4%.


One of the biggest shifts is in whom the government labels as “two or more races,” citing 57 possible combinations, including the option “some other race.” The “multiple-race” population grew by 32% from 2000 to 2010, compared with only 9.2% “single-race” growth, according to the 2010 census.

For those who believe race is a man-made construct, it’s an awkward conversation but one that sheds light on the present and future beauty consumer. Market research firm Euromonitor reports 2011 global beauty sales were a whopping $426 billion.

Buying power, opportunity

“Because of the growing populations of women of color, who often control a large percentage of what the household spends, this is a demographic beauty companies have to pay attention to,” says Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, a senior vice president at Nielsen whose purview includes consumer engagement.

Nielsen, an information and measurement company, reported in 2013 that African Americans have $1 trillion in buying power, while U.S. Latinos have $1.2 trillion in buying power.

Nielsen reports Asian Americans (especially in women’s fragrance and skin care), Latinos (especially in women’s fragrance and hair care) and African Americans (especially in women’s fragrance and hair care) spend more money on beauty products than average.


Many products incorporating the latest technology and trends now come in shades and formulations good for women of color, but they can be hard to find.

“A store might carry the brand she’s looking for but not the whole line. Or a brand’s deepest color may be something for Halle Berry,” says celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine, author of “Fine Beauty.” “These consumers really want to know they get the same thing their white counterparts get — BB creams, foundations, nuanced undertones … they are looking for brands that speak directly to their needs and are their champion.”

Although “ethnic aisle” packaging could use updating, African Americans are, according to Nielsen, nine times more likely to purchase ethnically marketed beauty products than those not ethnically marketed. “‘Curly’ could translate to me as ‘kinky,’ so I may give a [mainstream] brand like Pantene a try,” says Pearson-McNeil. “But that may not translate that way to another woman of color, so she may not give that same product a chance.

“We’re trying to show corporations there is market growth opportunity not just outside of the United States but in your own backyard if you reposition your marketing strategy,” says Pearson-McNeil. “It makes sense that a site that targets my hair and skin care needs is where I’ll feel comfortable purchasing products.”

Enter the entrepreneur

Jodie Patterson went from fashion public relations to launching a skin and hair line called Georgia by Jodie Patterson and opening a beauty boutique in downtown New York City. “My customer was so varied and multicultural I started to get this idea of a global woman and global beauty,” says Patterson, who has African, African American, Native American, Canadian, Vietnamese and Swiss family members.


She maximized her brick-and-mortar experience by getting to know her customers’ cultures, spending habits and favorite brands. Then, with former cosmetics executive Benjamin Bernet, she co-founded, an online site for the chic beauty shopper that mirrors the ethnic diversity of New York. “Not all brown skins are the same. Not all curly hair is the same,” Patterson says.

At, “the theory is beauty without struggle,” she says. The site offers cherry-picked, sometimes hard-to-find products from brands across the planet, including PhytoSpecific, Becca, Caudalie, Iman Cosmetics, Rahua, NCLA and Fashion Fair, as well as video tutorials and expert advice.

The sleek, upbeat videos are a key element. “Women of color had to self-define their beauty. It wasn’t something we found in magazines. We didn’t see it on television, so we self-defined how we feel and look,” Patterson says. “We understand how important the lifestyle and conversation is, not just the lotion and the potion.”

Other beauty sites aimed at women of color include,, the Birchbox-like subscription service and, founded by actress Thandie Newton and makeup artist Kay Montano.

“Thandie and I want to reflect the world the way we see it and the way we would like it to be,” says Montano.

Although perceptions are evolving (Allure magazine’s 20th anniversary beauty survey reported that 64% of respondents think “mixed-race” women represent the epitome of beauty, and People magazine recently declared the ebony-skinned actress Lupita Nyong’o its “most beautiful person of 2014”), women of color still “aren’t being reflected in the way they see their lives on mainstream beauty sites,” says Montano.


“Notions of beauty and self-esteem are very powerful. It’s very much a cultural thing, isn’t it? ... If you don’t see yourself represented, I think deep down you take away a message growing up that you’re not pretty,” she says.

Montano says a goal is to challenge the mainstream notion of beauty, present other ideas of beauty and inspire. “There’s women of substance on our site, not just perfect models.”

In a statement on the ThandieKay website, she explains that beauty is much more than skin deep: “Beauty can be used to erase or embrace cultural diversity, perhaps even be a self-affirming ritual of our growing years. Beauty=Life=Love.”