A Year of Fenty: 5 Beauty Industry Insiders on How Rihanna Changed the Game

“Now, ‘40’ is the new magic number”

Rachel Chen

When Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty in the fall of 2017—with an unprecedented 40 shades of foundation—she was validating a need that people with darker-than-beige skin tones have had for years. Namely, a high-quality product that actually matched their complexion. Of course, the response was *massive*. TBH, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year, because in the months since mass market and niche brands alike have raced to replicate Fenty’s success with their own expanded shade ranges, totally revolutionizing the beauty game. It’s hard to overstate the impact it has had both for the industry and for individual women. Here, five Canadians in the industry open up about the Fenty effect, and what it has meant for them.

Tomi Gbeleyi

(Photo: Tomi Gbeleyi)

Tomi Gbeleyi, 27, founder of Makeup for Melanin Girls

“What we see typically in the beauty industry is [brands] come out with their key products, and then only when people complain  do they come out with, like, two more shades for the darker skin tones. Fenty had them from the very beginning—and then the models that were used [in the campaign] had all different skin tones, were different kinds of women, including multicultural women. I think that was very important because it showed [diversity] was in the DNA of the brand. A lot of brands are now answering to that, but I don’t see their lines doing as well if they’re not coming off as authentic—and many of them aren’t, to be honest.

Because Fenty is owned by a conglomerate brand, LVMH, it showed the other large brands in the industry that diversity isn’t just a bunch of women complaining on social media. It is the future. If we look at the stats, 42% of the 75 million millennials in the US are multiethnic. So that’s where the future of the industry is going. It’s going towards personalization and it’s going towards inclusion. Some people ask me, ‘If there is Fenty, is there a need for your brand?’ I’m like, ‘I’m excited for what Fenty did because it proves that my model works.’”

fenty anniversary: Mishal Cazmi

(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

Mishal Cazmi, 31, fashion and beauty editor for Hello! Canada

“Fenty Beauty made women realize that they can wear foundation and there’s a colour out there for them. While it’s important to remember that there were beauty brands making strides with inclusivity in makeup (like Vasanti and Monika Deol’s Stellar Beauty, which are both Canadian), it took Fenty—backed by Rihanna’s major star power—to really make an industry-wide change and push companies to create more foundation shades. Now, ‘40’ is the new magic number. But not all brands have noble intentions—some are simply jumping on the bandwagon and creating less-than-stellar formulations because they don’t want to get left behind.

Fenty has also made brands pay attention—serious attention—to women of colour. A few years ago, I assigned a story that examined why foundation shades were so lacking and one of the reasons given to me by a brand’s publicist was that women of colour simply didn’t purchase foundation, which led to the discontinuation of darker shades. But here’s the thing: By not giving women a wider shade range, or simply offering your standard ‘Light,’ ‘Medium’ and ‘Dark,’ you’re telling them that they don’t matter as a consumer and you’re making them believe that there just aren’t any options out there for them. Another excuse I’ve heard: WOC don’t have the same purchasing power, which is a reason that’s not even worth the time or explanation.

Make more colours, create good formulations, give women options and they will come. Fenty Beauty did just that and it changed the game.”

fenty anniversary: jennifer francis-smikle

(Photo: Jennifer Francis-Smikle)

Jennifer Francis-Smikle, 33, business owner and blogger

“For a long time, I did not wear foundation because I couldn’t find my colour. I would try a brand; it would be too grey, or I’d try a brand and it would look good but then two hours later it would oxidize and it would be too dark, so I stopped because I was like, ‘What’s the point? It’s going to have me out here looking crazy.’ But when I went into Sephora [for the Fenty launch], I was colour matched [and] found my shade immediately.

There are a lot of companies out there now trying to do the whole Fenty model thing: ‘Oh look, we have 40+ foundations this year that would suit your tone, come look at us, pay attention to us.’ To be honest, they should have been doing that in the beginning. People are trying to catch up… I feel conflicted because sometimes I want to support them but then I feel like, ‘Oh man, you guys should have been there a long time ago.’

“I’m just still waiting to see where the whole industry is going to go. I see a shift going towards [diverse] foundations and it all depends on price points and wearability. I’m just curious to see what’s next after this.”

fenty anniversary: joel louzado

(Photo: Joel Louzado)

Joel Louzado, 21, designer and beauty Instagrammer

“As a man who wears makeup, I already felt like the beauty world was not marketed to or made for me. And as a person of colour, it felt even more excluding. I’m a Rihanna superfan, so I knew that I was most likely going to buy her products regardless. But when I saw the campaign strategy and how important it was to her to create products for all skin tones, I was 100% on board.

Although I was happy to be included and find shades that worked for me, I did feel a tad bitter. It was great that companies started investing in more foundation shades, but some companies just changed their marketing strategies to promote their existing darker shades—whether or not those shades were actually good matches. It suddenly felt like my skin colour was a trend, and at the end of the day, trends come and go. My fear was that once the original hype faded, companies would stop caring about shade ranges, and resume not caring about people of colour. But to my surprise, consumers today still call out brands like Tarte and BeautyBlender, that tried and failed to match the standard set by Fenty. I’m excited to be in a time where makeup is truly becoming increasingly accessible.”

fenty anniversary: Grace Mahary

(Photo: Skai Blue Media)

Grace Mahary, 29, model and founder of Project Tsehigh

“Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS to Fenty on their first anniversary! The brand has shined a giant flashlight on inclusivity and diversity in the beauty world. Personally, it has been so warming to see the influence of an icon like Rihanna, a woman of colour who embraces her people and followers alike, a pioneer for diversity in the beauty industry. Fenty gave us of all different shades—and bodies, with its recent lingerie show—representation and confidence to be proud of who we are in our skin. Other beauty brands are now thinking more diversely, and I’m glad that Fenty has been able to influence the entire industry to step up and include a broader range of beauty. It’s about time, and let’s make sure it’s here to stay!”

Related:

Fenty Realness: We Had 40 People Try All 40 Foundation Shades
Why Women of Colour Need Our Own Online Beauty Forums
This CEO Launched a Beauty Brand from a Homeless Shelter

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