With a growing beauty industry focus on supporting Black-owned beauty brands, more e-tailers are emerging for these businesses with a focus on ethical brands.
The newest beauty platform to launch was Geenie on July 27, which features BIPOC-owned, culture-first indie beauty brands. Geenie joins a growing group of Black-owned ethical beauty e-tailers, including BLK+GRN, which launched in November 2017, beauty box subscription company Cocotique, and startups like Beautyocracy, which debuted this month, and Sanctuaire, which is prepping its launch.
“We think people are moving toward values-based shopping — caring about who makes products, what’s in them, where they’re making them and the stories behind the founders,” said Geenie founder Chana Ginelle Ewing.
Prior to launching the platform, she authored the best-selling book “An ABC of Equality” to teach children about social justice concepts, which was praised by Kourtney Kardashian in a blog post on her site Poosh last month. The company is starting out with five color cosmetics brands: Hi Wildflower, Kami Cosmetics, Gold Label Cosmetics, Beauté Brownie and Fempower Beauty. The concept for Geenie evolved from an earlier subscription box company founded by Ewing featuring BIPOC-owned brands across categories.
To promote the launch, Ewing participated in a campaign with Benefit Cosmetics, doing an account takeover Monday on its Instagram account as part of Benefit’s ongoing campaign to amplify Black-owned brands on social media.
The focus on featuring ethical brands means high vetting standards for these platforms. BLK+GRN, for example, heavily emphasizes natural ingredients and ingredient safety, to make sure they do not have ingredients on its “toxic twenty” list. This list is based on ingredients that are banned in other countries, as well as information from the Environmental Working Group.
BLK+GRN founder Dr. Kristian Edwards said that she was inspired to start the marketplace after reading about how “products marketed to Black people are more toxic than products marketed to everyone else.” A 2017 study found that products marketed to Black women such as skin-lightening products and hair relaxers contained chemicals “linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, reproductive harm and impaired neurodevelopment in children.”
“I thought that was absurd. I went on my own personal journey to try to find products that are not toxic,” she said.
“Because they are startups at really nascent stages,” Black-owned ethical beauty e-tailers “are more excited, more flexible and willing to work with smaller brands, which then raises the visibility of those brands and the options available to the broader market,” said Naa-Sakle Akuete, the founder and CEO of shea moisturizer brand Eu’Genia, which is sold at BLK+GRN, Cocotique and Beautyocracy. “I think that it definitely serves a purpose in that it allows more customers more access to more products.”
Eu’Genia is also stocked at a wide range of retailers including clean beauty purveyors Credo Beauty and Detox Market, with Credo serving as its largest retail partner. It is also sold at Macy’s, Anthropologie and Costco, among others. In July 2019, the brand also launched a sub-brand, Mother’s Shea, which is sold in Target. While taking up a smaller portion of overall sales than some of the larger retailers, being stocked in niche e-tailers like BLK+GRN is valuable for the brand’s insights.
“When I sell to Macy’s, that customer could be anybody,” said Akuete. “When I sell through BLK+GRN, I know that it’s probably a millennial Black woman, who specifically cares about clean beauty, and that type of of customer information is really important for a brand.”
“Being on a marketplace like BLK + GRN was a no-brainer for us from the start, in terms of the benefits and alignment,” said Raquel Nowak, the founder of Matrescence Skin. “It’s a platform that shares our mission of focusing on health, wellness and community, so we knew we’d be able to connect with our ideal customer there and appeal to her need for high-quality, non-toxic products. It’s been particularly beneficial recently with the large interest in finding and supporting Black-owned brands.”
The next step for many brands will be scaling to meet increased demand. Edwards said she has seen sales at BLK+GRN increase as a result of the social movement of the past several months; although she did not provide exact numbers, she said the growth was enough to mean formerly homemade brands are moving up to work with contract manufacturers.
“I think it’s really important for our brands to keep up with all the increased sales and also keep up with it from a production standpoint,” she said.
As the beauty industry continues to address issues around inclusivity, clean beauty purveyors have been especially called out for their need to improve. They have been called upon to stock Black-owned brands and improve the inclusivity of products in areas like shade range or mineral sunscreen inclusivity for all skin tones.
“There’s a marketing issue that, oftentimes, when we say ‘clean beauty,’ we think ‘white beauty,’” said Edwards. “Because it is marketed that way, Black women don’t see themselves as being part of it. I never use the word ‘clean beauty,’ because I don’t want people to feel left out.”
“When I first started, I had absolutely no idea what clean beauty was,” said Akuete of founding her business. This changed when Eu’Genia joined a Sephora accelerator program for socially conscious, women-owned brands in 2016. “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.’”
“It’s a source of frustration for a lot of women of color in not being able to find the exact products they’re looking for that match their shades, or not necessarily knowing where to go to find that Black- or Latinx, or even woman-owned brand,” said Ewing. “We saw that there was a lot of opportunity in the space.”
BLK+GRN’s ethos is “the way that you are made is perfect enough,” said Edwards, who noted that the e-tailer won’t carry certain types of products that go against this idea. These include hair relaxers, which have been linked to hair discrimination. “We don’t have a ‘natural’ relaxer. We don’t want women to use relaxers at all,” she said.
Both retailers and brands in the space have seen an increase in sales and investment inquiries in the recent months since the Black Lives Matter movement prompted calls for change.
“People want to partner with us,” said Edwards. Currently, her site is completely self-funded. “To be honest with you, a little bit of it is frustrating, because I’ve been out here for three, four years,” yet, she said, “it took us a tragedy” to “understand the importance.”
“Founders are feeling empowered in this moment to to come center stage and say, ‘Not only are our businesses deserving of funding, but also, our consumers that we’re serving are a huge consumer market,'” said Ewing. “Between what had already been going on in the consumer space and then what’s now happening in the wake of this protest movement, I think that people are really starting to say, ‘What I believe and how I spend my money matters. And if I want the world to reflect these values of mine, then I should start to spend my money at the places that actually reflect what I believe.'”