The launch of Fenty Beauty (and its diverse shade range) was a necessary wake-up call for the beauty industry. But now what?
The launch of Fenty Beauty in September 2017 signalled the beginning of something that has since been dubbed The Fenty Effect—a movement within the beauty industry that saw (and continues to see) brands of all sorts, from prestige to drugstore, rush (and in some cases, scramble) to increase existing foundation shade ranges to the new ideal: 40.
And it’s not hard to see why. Right off the bat, Fenty Beauty launched in a big way, with a whopping 91 products, featuring a skin primer, 30 chubby sticks, in both matte and shimmer finishes to contour, correct, conceal, highlight and blush, six powder highlighters (each featuring two shades), blotting powder and paper and a universal lip gloss. It’s the type of massive first launch that makes it clear that a brand means business. And business it commanded. At the beginning of 2018, WWD released Fenty Beauty’s sales numbers only four months into its launch, and they were staggering. In its first 40 days alone, the brand brought in $100 million in global sales. LVMH called it “the first-ever global beauty launch in history,” adding that it became available both online and in 1,620 stores in over 17 countries on the very same day.
Impressive numbers aside, it was the brand’s foundations that the industry and consumers alike zeroed in on. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation was available in 40 shades. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Following the immediate success (and overwhelming, near-deafening praise on social media) of the foundation, many brands followed suit. In 2018, Dior launched Dior Backstage Foundation in 40 shades, Linda Wells launched Flesh Beauty with 40 shades of foundation, CoverGirl’s Trublend Matte Made Foundation comes in, you guessed it, 40 shades, and Lush upped their offering to 40 shades, too. Even brands who were offering wide shade ranges before Fenty Beauty, like Estee Lauder and NYX, increased foundation offerings to 56 and 45, respectively.
While many are—rightfully—quick to point out that some of those brands, along with the likes of M.A.C and Cover FX, have long offered diverse and inclusive shade ranges, it’s hard to deny Fenty Beauty’s impact when it comes to the urgency with which the beauty industry reacted. Less than two years ago, a brand which offered 40 shades of foundation was considered a nice, reliable option for makeup artists and consumers who were unable to find their shade within the usual eight to 12 shades. Today, it’s nearly a requirement for a makeup brand to be successful—especially on social media, where users are quick to point out which brands fail to meet this criteria. In fact, accounts like @EsteeLaundry, which claims to be “airing out the beauty industry’s dirty laundry,” has taken to regularly calling out brands who don’t cater to all skin tones.
“In terms of shade count, one third of the top selling foundations [of 2018] had shade ranges from 20 to 29,” says Amy Chung, Canada beauty industry analyst at market research firm The NPD Group. “And although many companies are launching more medium and dark shades, [sales] growth is higher in the lighter shades.” Considering the fact that medium and dark shades have historically been the areas that have lacked nuance and range within makeup companies, this is confusing at best, and troubling at worst.
This year we’ve seen that some brands, while adding darker shades to their ranges, are lacking true diversity by failing to consider different undertones within medium and dark skin tone categories. And many brands who either launched foundations this past year or upped the total number of existing shades were swiftly called out for still mainly catering to consumers with light skintones. By inexplicably offering many light foundations that are hardly distinguishable from one another, while selling only a handful of shades that are meant to cover skin tones from medium all the way to dark, we’re forced to wonder, who asked for this?
While many lessons in shade ranges have been learned (the hard way) this year, what could 2019 have in store? Will 60 shades become the new 40? Not necessarily. “For 2019, I think that we’re going to see one of two things pan out in terms of marketing diversity for complexion products,” says Chung. “One is that a handful of companies will continue on the path of 40+ shades because the visuals are so impactful.” (Who can forget the striking campaign images from Fenty Beauty’s initial launch?)
The second, Chung says, is that “companies will work harder to make better universal shades that blend with more skin tones.” She explains that this option might call for more innovation, like “light-refracting molecules with less pigment, but that even out skin tone.” There’s also hopefully going to be innovation on the consumer side, making it easier to determine your own shade. “I also think that a lot of the guesswork is going to be taken out of purchasing foundation with Artificial Intelligence and colour-matching apps,” says Chung, “brands and retailers may also work on educating consumers about how to colour match (e.g. skin tone vs. undertone).”
One thing that will hopefully disappear in 2019? Faux diversity. Whether it’s the “30 shades but 25 of them are light” method, or brands that Photoshop models’ arms in swatches to appear darker (rather than hiring models of colour), we can be sure that social media’s watchful eye is not going to let anything less than true diversity, that actually pushes the industry forward, slide.