Uoma Beauty is the latest brand to join Morphe’s third-party lineup as the retailer has been expanding its selection of brands and taking diversity initiatives.
The inclusive makeup brand officially launched in Morphe’s 54 physical stores on Thursday and will be sold on Morphe.com starting September 14. This marks Uoma Beauty’s third U.S. retail partner, following Ulta Beauty and Nordstrom. As the brand has expanded into new retailers — and launched a diffusion line at Walmart in June — it’s seen tenfold sales growth over the past year. Its Morphe launch also comes after founder and CEO Sharon Chuter has been working with the company separately for over a year via her Pull Up for Change nonprofit, to help shape its diversity efforts.
“I would not have entered into the partnership, even if the strategy made sense and the commercial opportunities made sense, if I didn’t believe in Morphe as an organization, in terms of the work and the journey they’re on,” said Chuter. She was contacted by Morphe in June 2020 when she created the Pull Up For Change organization in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Morphe submitted its corporate diversity numbers to Pull Up For Change and partnered with the organization for its February 2021 Make it Black campaign to support Black beauty founders.
Chuter said Morphe has been “taking a lot of initiatives to actively start doing the work.” In July 2020, Morphe discontinued its Jeffree Star collaborations and stopped selling Jeffree Star’s beauty line after several Black beauty influencers cut ties with the brand over its connection to Star.
“When Morphe made the decision to drop Jeffree Star last year, that was really important,” said Chuter. “It was a business taking a move that was morally sound over money, because you can understand how much money that decision would have cost the organization.”
“Morphe has long awaited the arrival of Uoma Beauty by Sharon Chuter,” said Meredith Schroeder, director of third-party merchandising at Morphe, via email. “At Morphe, we are focused on building a unique multi-branded experience with an inclusive portfolio of brands. Sharon and Uoma Beauty exemplify ‘rewriting the rules of inclusivity,’ and we couldn’t think of a better brand partner to complement our ethos of celebrating diversity and inclusion.”
The products launching at Morphe are the brand’s BadAss Icon Concentrated Matte Lipstick, Dramabomb Mascara, Stay Woke Concealer and Say What?! Foundation that comes in 51 shades. “We don’t have palettes in there because it didn’t make any sense. Morphe already is the queen of eyeshadow palettes,” said Chuter. Other Black-owned brands stocked by Morphe include Beauty Bakerie and Danessa Myricks Beauty, while BIPOC-owned brands make up 30% of Morphe’s portfolio.
Uoma Beauty has been expanding its retail footprint beyond Ulta Beauty since its one-year exclusivity agreement with Ulta Beauty ended in April. Chuter said that, while the brand has been in talks with almost all major retailers, it is being selective with who it chooses to partner with. The strategy is to “take our time and make sure that nobody’s using us as a token,” and is a “partner with us and our values, because we’re a values-led brand,” said Chuter.
The brand is also sold in the U.K. at department stores including Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. “We’re in a lot of retailers in the U.K., versus the U.S.; we’ve kept it super tight here, [because] the U.K. is quite fragmented, in terms of the retailer stronghold,” she said.
Following the launch in Morphe, the brand will focus on production to scale up its business, she said. “We can’t make product fast enough right now.” Along with its sales growth, the company expanded its team size by tenfold in the past year and is bringing on more C-suite talent.
Like with Walmart, the expansion to Morphe is aimed at reaching a Gen-Z shopper.
“The Morphe launch was a very deliberate decision,” said Chuter. The Morphe shopper is “younger than the shoppers that we have elsewhere, [and] they have that shopper organically.” While millennials are the brand’s current largest customer base, Chuter sees big potential in the values-focused Gen-Z beauty shopper.
“More of what we’re doing is just continuing to amplify and continuing to grow into more places where we know they are,” she said of Gen Z. “We just need to make ourselves more accessible in places where they organically are going to.”
For marketing to this consumer, the brand is focused most heavily on Instagram and is starting to get into TikTok, where it posted its first video in June. While Gen Z is “heavily indexing on TikTok,” said Chuter, they are “going to TikTok for entertainment.” The brand continues to see the YouTube beauty world as a big priority. “They’re still going to YouTube for information, because TikTok does not hold long-form videos.”
Retail is a significant part of Uoma Beauty’s distribution strategy. While DTC sales rose to 80% of Uoma Beauty’s total sales during the height of the pandemic, Chuter said that store sales have quickly gained back share. “As we move into the future, I still expect to see about 80% of the business in brick and mortar and 20% DTC,” she said. Despite the importance of e-commerce during the pandemic, she predicts that physical retail will remain relevant.
“People have been predicting what was called the ‘e-pocalypse’ for a long time, which is that there will be no retail in existence,” she said. “I always said that’s absolute B.S. And the reason that’s B.S. and the reason why you see a lot of analysis that way is that a lot of the guys who are running beauty companies are all men, and a lot of analysts are all men. And the one thing they’re not doing is talking to women and people who will actually consume.”
“You’re not going in there for the functionality. It’s not that I can’t buy online, but how am I going to swatch online?” said Chuter. “I don’t see a world where people will still not go into physical retail to get that experience.”