This story appears in STYLECASTER’s Activism Issue, starring Jurnee Smollett. Click here for more.
So you’ve purchased an item or two, put a Black square on your Instagram, and name-dropped brands in your Instagram Stories. Now what? If you want to know how to support Black-owned beauty businesses, remember that it’s not a one-and-done deal. Optics are great, but there are so many other ways to put your money where your mouth is. Now more than ever, we need to reexamine everything we thought we knew about equity in the beauty industry. And right now, few are doing the work better than Sharon Cuter.
Earlier this year, the founder of UOMA Beauty unveiled Pull Up for Change, a direct action movement that challenges brands to share the demographic makeup of their companies and provide plans for improvement. Admittedly, I had little hope for the number of brands who would actually answer the call, but lo and behold, I eventually found myself glued to this Instagram page and constantly refreshing to see who would #pulluporshutup next.
Like the genesis of UOMA Beauty, Pull Up for Change grew out of an emotional response to social injustice. Specifically, the generally unfair treatment of Black people, as well as the uphill battles endured in corporate settings. “There wasn’t really time to think it through,” Cuter told me. “This was just, ‘Oh this is ridiculous. We have to do something about this. We have to start talking about this. We actually have to now advocate for real change, and create a channel for that to come too.’ I could’ve just done a video ranting, and yes my followers would’ve gone, ‘Bravo,’ and liked it, and I would’ve gone home and slept. But what would that do, right? It does nothing.”
Today, Pull Up for Change is moving into a “solutions phase” that will include follow-up reporting for companies who promised next steps, educational resources, events and eventually, a website the initiative can call home.
“[The] website is where the action really starts, in terms of being a resource to connect employers with employees, connecting mentors with mentees, creating masterclass-style content from really amazing and dynamic people within the ecosystem,” she said. “Everything that we do, do it from a pro bono lens. Because a lot of these things exist, but they’re collecting money from everybody. And I think this is such a human rights issue. We need to do this for free. This is not about, ‘Oh, let’s make money by connecting employers with employees.’ Who cares? I just want them to get hired.”
Thanks to initiatives like Pull Up for Change and the general demand for transparency from brands we invest in, the spotlight on Black-owned beauty businesses, in particular, has been magnified. But even as products sell out and brands see their follower count go up, certain ill-advised myths and missed opportunities have fallen through the cracks. If you’re truly invested in supporting beauty brands owned and operated by Black entrepreneurs, here are just a handful of ways Cuter recommends deepening your commitment to the cause, whether you’re a consumer or store owner.
Our mission at STYLECASTER is to bring style to the people, and we only feature products we think you’ll love as much as we do. Please note that if you purchase something by clicking on a link within this story, we may receive a small commission of the sale.
Remember Black-Owned Brands Are Allowed to Be Expensive
Okay, this first one is from me. Even I’ve been guilty of complaining when I go to buy a product and it’s not drugstore price. It’s simply unacceptable. Part of decolonizing our mindset is rejecting the idea that certain products need to stay within a threshold that makes us comfortable. Solidarity isn’t about comfort.
Stop Assuming Black-Owned Products are Exclusive to Black People
“The bigger thing that needs to happen is the eradication of unconscious bias. Immediately, a brand is Black-owned, people assume it’s an ethnic brand. I’ve seen it. I have a counter in Selfridges and white women run away from my counter like they’ve seen a ghost. Why? Because we’ve proudly shown that we’re Black-owned and we have images of Black women. We have images of white women too, but it’s almost like, ‘No, the balance is off. How can you have that many Black women in one photograph? This must be an ethnic brand.’ And they run away.”
Don’t Pigeonhole or Group Black-Owned Brands Together
“I was even having one of those conversations with a new retailer who is coming to me and saying, ‘Oh my god, because, we want to bring in all these Black-owned brands, and we’re going to do a whole special section for them in the store.’ And I said to them, ‘That’s very problematic.’ Because you’re going to be taking brands with completely different DNA, completely different mission statements, completely different purposes, completely different price points, and cheapen all of them. This is all you want people to see about them. That they’re Black-owned. But they are beyond Black-owned. You have to make sure that even in this whole, ‘I want to be pro-Black,’ you don’t start creating more of these problems.”
Because ‘Black’ Isn’t a Category
“It shouldn’t be a category, because now you’re perpetuating that same stereotype of, these are ethnic brands, right? That is essentially an ethnic aisle that you’re creating. Put us where we belong. You are taking a $39 brand, and putting it right next to a brand that’s selling stuff for $5, in some of these cases. You cannot do that. It’s not an insult, or trade-off that anyone is better [than the other]. It’s just that why, as a retailer, you segment your store by sections driven by price. If you want to do justice to Black businesses, put them where they are worth, where they need to be, yes? Don’t create a whole token space for me. Retailers need to really go talk to founders.”
Think Before Moving Into Retail If You’re a Brand Owner
“It’s not something you just blink and do. It could destroy your business. I wish I could grab all the Black young founders and tell them, ‘Don’t be carried away. Take your time.’ We’re having retailers reaching out to founders and saying, ‘Give me an answer within two days because I want to make an announcement.’ They’re not thinking about if the brand is ready. And if they’re not, you should be incubating them to be ready. That’s a more useful thing to be doing. They’re giving them really bad deal structures.
This retailer comes to say to you, “My standard fee is XYZ percent.” Sometimes they will tell you, ‘This is the standard terms we give to everybody.’ So, an inexperienced founder could translate that to, ‘This is non-negotiable,’ and you’re so excited to have the privilege to play with that retailer. You sign that deal, and you sign your brand to death. I think everybody really needs to think things through. And even in this moment, where we’re trying to make change, make it properly.”