"I love being a woman of color and there is no other woman that I'd rather be but me. For if I secretly long to live in someone else's skin or hair, I'll never truly see the beauty that I've been uniquely given in this life of mine."
-Brandie Gilliam, founder of Thoughtfully Magazine
Being women of color in the beauty industry has not always been easy for entrepreneurs like Barbara Jacques, the founder of Jacq’s Organics, and Brandie Gilliam, founder of Thoughtfully Magazine. Yet it is also something that has never held them back from carving their niche in the green beauty world.
With February as Black History month and March as Women’s History Month, it seems timely to celebrate the changes we are witnessing in the beauty space but also herald in greater expansion and diversity.
Fashion and beauty have come a long way in embracing the black, cocoa, caramel, yellow, and red skin tones that dot the catwalks and the high gloss pages of Vogue.
But face it. It is still largely a monochromatic field and there is a lot of room to grow to reach true equality.
Atticus Finch’s quote in To Kill a Mockingbird rings as true today as it did when Harper Lee wrote it:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
As a woman of color, Jacques often finds herself being grouped together with other African Americans, even though her blended heritage hails from the Caribbean island of Haiti and she grew up in Florida among the Cuban population.
The facets of her culture inform who she is and trickle through to her product line, symbolized in Carrot con Leche cleansing bar and in the Caribbean-inspired notes of her candle collection: La Lune and Le Soleil. When asked, she actually considers herself a fusion of American, Hispanic, and Haitian.
Grouping her together with every other dark-skinned person is just one of those things that happens when a person merely sees a color and overlooks the multi-faceted person underneath. How many more Oprah/Whoopi mistakes need to happen before we take a good look and see?
It’s a little like flipping through the Magic Eye books and missing out on the magic. The image shifts when you take time to witness the three dimensional picture leaping off the page.
Every person comprises this multi-dimensional image that’s woven together by the rainbow hues. Though the spectrum of colors appears outwardly diverse, refracted light actually stems from one source, a source that transcends color, differences, races, and creeds.
Humanity is bonded together yet separated by these colors, yet some people still refuse to see the point of connection.
Try establishing a business as a woman of color, as Jacques did in 2012. This savvy entrepreneur looked for other successful women of color for support through the pitfalls and joys of starting a business.
One of those women was Kitiya King, founder of Mischo Beauty. In Barbara’s words, she’s “pretty badass.” Barbara found that her encouragement and fearless attitude were just what she needed as a young startup.
Kitiya King mom, chemist and innovative business woman behind Mischo Beauty
“I wanted to reach out to her and find out how she was able to achieve success and overcome some of the barriers indie brands and black brands have when first launching a company,” Jacques explained.
“She has helped me stay focused and to understand my market. She's given me really good advice on business, consistent words of encouragement, and she does all with style and grace. I know whenever I need help she's one I can always call on.”
If there were one defining trait that a woman of color possesses, it is pride. Pride in her skin color. Pride in being who she is. It is this pride that courses through her veins and gives her courage and strength.
When you’re a minority in the world, you must have pride to face adversity. You must saddle pride and ride it to build a dream. In some ways, pride is universal and in some ways it belongs like a secret treasure to the people who have faced a history of bigotry and hatred, of slavery and oppression.
“I've never thought twice about being a woman of color,” Gilliam said. “From as early as I can remember, I've loved everything about it. Rich, diverse skin tones of golden to dark browns as well as different lengths and textures of hair has always captivated my attention and caused me to be in awe of its beauty.
“As I entered the organic beauty industry over a decade ago, I found that diversity was nearly non existent. It can be difficult and frustrating at times to shop for non-toxic makeup and hair care knowing that your own shade of skin or someone with a darker complexion was never even considered or thought about at all. I have tried to fuel that energy into remaining positive and encouraging. It's been beautiful to watch the rise of some really wonderful brands celebrate diversity in their product offering.
“My hope is that beauty will stop being so segregated. I long for the day when the gorgeous rainbow of women's skin colors are fully represented in the majority of clean makeup lines and that hair care will celebrate the different needs of women's hair textures all in the same aisle or space.
“If we're going to serve the needs of women then let's make sure we're doing so by truly serving ALL women, and not just a segment of women.”
Developing an awareness of what is still missing, of people we are still overlooking, is key. We need to open our eyes and really see.
How perfect that March pays tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society. Women like Barbara Jacques, Brandie Gilliam, and Kitiya King are making inroads on paths that have not been carved before. Let’s open our eyes and really see them.
As Gilliam says so eloquently: “We need to wake up and give thought to what we're putting out into the world and what we're saying to women about themselves in the process. Let's make all women feel like we see them and that they matter and deserve healthy options, because they do.”
About Sarita Coren
Licensed social worker Sarita Coren is a holistic mom of five with more than 20 years of experience in the health and wellness field. Dubbed “the godmother of green beauty” by industry insiders, she writes the clean living blog Edible Facial (soon to be the eponymous site Sarita Coren). When she’s not capturing green beauty products on her popular Instagram account, you’ll find her connecting industry tastemakers, offering small brands her photography and social media consulting services, and writing about all things healthy living for various publications. She loves being 45 and (mostly) stopped counting her grey hairs, even the two in her eyebrows.