By Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, Brand Storytelling
The world of cosmetics has long overlooked the needs of women of color. With rarely ever more than three shades relegated to the end of the color match lineup, darker women have historically been treated as an afterthought. Recent times have seen a shift toward greater inclusivity from major brands like multinational beauty product retailer Sephora. What sets Sephora apart from the rest, however, is the way in which it demonstrates its commitment to inclusivity as a brand, having done so most recently with a documentary film.
Sephora “believes in championing all beauty, living with courage, and standing fearlessly to celebrate our differences,” as is written in the company’s manifesto. “We will never stop building a community where diversity is expected, self-expression is honored, all are welcomed, and you are included.” Sephora commits itself to this manifesto in many ways, one of which is partnering with other cosmetics companies to support its brand building efforts.
Such is the case with Fashion Fair, a Black-owned legacy beauty brand beloved in the Black community for carrying products for all shades of melanated skin. Sephora and Fashion Fair partnered to initiate a relaunch of the legacy brand and, in the process, recognized the brand’s origins and the story of its return to be so integral to the identity of Fashion Fair that they made storytelling central to their partnership. The result: “The Beauty of Blackness”, an inspiring, informative, and eye-opening documentary about the history of Fashion Fair, the story of its revival by its new Black female founders, and the truth of the historical marginalization of Black women in beauty and fashion.
At Brand Storytelling 2022: a Sanctioned Event of Sundance Film Festival, Fashion Fair CEO Desiree Rogers, Sephora Director of Campaigns and Content Candace Payne, and the film’s co-directors Kiana Moore and Vox Media’s Tiffany Johnson sat down with moderator Angela Matusik to discuss the making of the film and the importance of a brand not just speaking its ethics, but living them through action.
Since the early 1970s, Fashion Fair had been a favorable cosmetics choice in the Black community for its many color offerings and association with elegance and elevated beauty. But, despite its popularity, the brand struggled to keep up with the changing times and eventually went up for sale in 2019. That is when the brand came into new ownership by Desiree Rogers and Cheryl McKissack. McKissack and Rogers sought a partner to support their relaunch and found one in Sephora.
Sephora quickly recognized the opportunity to tell the story of a legacy brand that strikes squarely at the center of its manifesto. “You have to have a story in general,” Said Candace Payne, “but this story for the brand was not manufactured. This already had a built-in legacy, a built-in master class in building a brand (when it launched with no blueprint), how to find space in the industry, how to make space for yourself, how to make waves and make a real difference and it did.” This all-too-rare story of a beauty brand for women of color founded by a woman of color and relaunched by women of color had to be told.
The film goes back and forth between sharing a history of the founding of Fashion Fair by Eunice Johnson, a pioneer and icon in her own right, and the relaunch with Rogers and McKissack at the helm, two modern day role models exhibiting their grit and business savvy in the face of a difficult market with even more difficult consumers.
“There were many months of thinking through product that had already been created,” said Rogers, “figuring out ‘how are we going to be innovative, how are we going to make certain this is vegan, how are we going to make certain we have the best quality Ingredients?’” All the while, it seemed just as important to ensure the preservation of long-standing elements of the brand as it was to update it. “So many people are proud about the history (of Fashion Fair), have participated in the history, if not themselves, their families… share these amazing lifetime stories that happen to be wrapped up in what were these little pink packages.”
The film and the refreshed brand both succeed in preserving the 50-year legacy of Fashion Fair with its balance of personal accounts from original employees and models, images and footage from the ’70s and beyond, and testimonials from Fashion Fair’s modern leaders and ambassadors. And while Fashion Fair’s story is its own, ultimately the brand’s influence, products, and history will reach a greater audience than ever before due in large part to the brand’s strategic team-up with Sephora.
“The Beauty of Blackness” is a testament to Sephora’s commitment to its manifesto that goes beyond words; it demonstrates their celebration of differences in an observable, measurable way. By investing time, money, and energy into the making of “The Beauty of Blackness”, consumers can comfortably stand behind Sephora as a brand that champions diversity. And while partnering with Fashion Fair and carrying its products does plenty to prove that point, creating the space to tell the story at the heart of “The Beauty of Blackness” drives that point home in a way that no traditional advertisement could.