Skip to main content

Multicultural mindset: Retailers, suppliers grow their focus on diverse needs

Nora Caley

The masks are coming off, consumers are going back to stores and optimism about a recovery are everywhere. And, fortunately, it appears that the social conversations, begun during the early months of the pandemic, are continuing. 

As many know, last year the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice protests — taking place amid larger conversations about better meeting the needs of multicultural consumers — affected everything, including how people shop for their health and beauty care products. 

On the pandemic side, some of the questions had easy answers: DIY hair care at home, skin products to help relieve mask-related rashes or breakouts, and a makeup routine for video calls. The racial issues were much more complicated, but one positive result was increased awareness of minority-owned businesses, including a number of beauty brands. 

a close up of a coffee cup

Now, it appears that while the near future will see fewer Zoom meetings, the interest in multicultural and minority-owned brands will continue and, hopefully, bring more consumers into mass retail outlets and lead to not only more sales and profits for merchants but a feeling of inclusion for all shoppers. 

And, many in the industry said they hope retailers will pay attention to this growing trend. While some mass retailers have emphasized multicultural products for decades, others have paid little attention to the category, saying that their store demographics did not match. Now, with awareness growing and consumers with greater buying power demanding more and more products specific to their needs, many said that it is time for everyone to jump on the bandwagon in this category. 

According to NielsenIQ, multicultural shoppers are driving growth in beauty sales in the United States. In 2020, while total U.S. shoppers increased spending on personal care by 3.5%, spending on personal care by Black shoppers increased 5.4%. Much of that increase was in hair care, as 41% of Black women said they had to make drastic changes to their hair styling and maintenance regimens when salons closed last year. These consumers discovered a new world of products made specifically for them at retail stores, and 39% of Black consumers said they expect to purchase more products from Black-owned brands. 

[Related Content: At-home treatments, natural and textured hair products fuel mass-market beauty]

These minority-owned brands are often the products of entrepreneurs who saw an unfilled need in the market that affected them personally. Whether they are products for textured hair, skin items that contain ingredients from Africa or the hottest looks from Korea, many of these minority-owned brands are gaining acceptance and shelf space. 

a close up of a bottle

Natural Hair
When Mahisha Dellinger launched Curls in 2002, she was frustrated with the lack of products for natural, curly hair. Dellinger collaborated with cosmetic and wellness experts to develop a natural hair care line for all ages and for all textured hair needs. She soon found that funding would be a challenge. “Nineteen years ago, I couldn’t get a small business loan, even though I had exceptional personal credit and my business plan was sustainable,” she said.  

Dellinger grew the brand by tapping into her own savings and small local banks for early funding. Over the years, retailers recognized the need for textured hair products, corporations made pledges related to diversity and minority-owned brands gained support from their communities and from larger partners. “I think it’s cachet to be a Black-owned business and to align with Black-owned businesses,” she said. “I think it’s gotten a little bit easier.” 

In March, the Dallas-based brand announced a partnership with the hair care products, tools and accessories company Beauty By Imagination to accelerate Curls’ next phase of growth. Curls will soon launch a product line with sea moss, which Dellinger said has amazing benefits for skin and hair. Also coming soon is the Hair Under There collection, which contains nutrients for hair under braids, extensions or a wig. 

Psyche Terry, founder of UI Global Brands, launched Urban Hydration when she needed a solution for dry skin and hair. Today, the Urban Hydration brand of natural hair, bath and body products are sold in 10,000 retail doors nationwide. 

“Our products were clean long before ‘clean beauty’ was a trend, and our packaging has been sustainable and good for the environment since day one,” Terry said. “We make it very easy for our customers to see right away what is in our products, what the packaging is made of and the ingredients we leave out of the entire collection.” 

Recently, the brand relaunched a fan favorite, the Jamaican Castor Oil collection. It had planned to move away from this collection and focus more on styling products, but when Urban Hydration took the Shampoo & Detangler, Co-Wash & Conditioner, and Style, Twist & Curl Cream off shelves, customers asked for the products. The brand brought them back and relaunched with new updated packaging. 

In addition to its messaging about clean, sustainable beauty, Urban Hydration has a mission of saving the planet through clean beauty, and donates clean drinking water through its Giving Well Campaign with WATERisLIFE. 

“I think it’s cachet to be a Black-owned business and to align with Black-owned businesses. I think it’s gotten a little bit easier.” 
Mahisha Dellinger, founder of Curls
a close up of a bottle

Social Responsibility Resonates 
Another factor driving sales growth is consumers wanting to support minority-owned brands. According to NPD Group, Black-owned brands represented 4% of sales in 2020 in prestige makeup and declined at a greater rate than total market until the peak months of the Black Lives Matter movement in May, June and July. During that time, Black-founded brands performed 1.5 to four times better than the rest of the market.

While consumers were supporting minority-owned businesses, manufacturers were supporting various initiatives. Olympia, Wash.-based Alaffia uses ingredients indigenous to Togo, West Africa in its skin care and hair care products. The company uses a social enterprise model and funds projects with the goal of alleviating poverty in West Africa. 

“As a social enterprise, we have a lot of impact projects in West Africa,” said Lanaia Edwards, vice president of global marketing. The efforts support maternal health care, education, bicycles so girls can ride to school, eyeglasses and other programs to empower women.

[Related Content: Clean formulas, clean hair: Hair care brands emphasize ingredients]

The brand was founded in 2004 by Olowo-n’djo Tchala, who is from Togo, and Prairie Rose Hyde, who was a Peace Corps volunteer when they met in Togo. The couple moved to Washington and launched Alaffia, which handcrafts its clean and plant-based collections with unrefined shea butter, African black soap, coconut oil, neem extract, and baobab and moringa oils from the women-led Alaffia Village Co-op. The products, which are available at Whole Foods Market and mass retailers, had strong sales during the pandemic. People were doing more scalp care at home, Edwards said, and the brand also saw an uptick in hand soap sales, such as Authentic African Black Soap. “We were in the right business at the right time,” she said. “It really panned out well for us.” 

New products include Authentic African Hair Care Scalp Care Tea Tree Mint, Authentic African Haircare Extra Moisture Honey Amber and the Alaffia Beautiful Curls collection. “The biggest challenge now is how to maintain and scale the business and take it to the next level,” Edwards said. 


Ingredients Matter
For some entrepreneurs, coming up with innovative products was the least of all the barriers to success. “As a minority-owned brand, my biggest challenge has been to get an equal amount of brand awareness as other nonminority brands,” said Janell Stephens, CEO and founder of Macon, Ga.-based Camille Rose. 

Stephens started the company in 2011, when she mixed food-grade ingredients in her kitchen to develop a solution for her childrens’ eczema. Today, the skin care and natural hair products company makes items that feature blue green algae, mango butter, almond extracts, honey, coconut water and more. Among the newest product lines is the Honey Collection. 

Camille Rose is growing in all its retailers, as well as overseas. Some stores support the brand by showing the products on the retailers’ social media pages. “We have seen a change in the right direction, which is a positive when doing business with our partners,” Stephens said. “We are also constantly creating new products in our culinary beauty lab, and we’re excited to share them with everyone.” 

a close up of a computer

Ingredients also matter in sunscreen. Shontay Lundy, creator and founder of Los Angeles-based Black Girl Sunscreen, did not like the available options of sun protection for women of color. In 2016, she set out to develop a sunscreen that dries clear and that does not contain parabens or other harmful ingredients. “As a woman of the sun with a darker complexion, healthy skin has always been a priority for me, and I knew that there had to be a solution to the lack of options,” Lundy said. The solution would not leave white residue on the skin and would make women of color “feel great and look great in the sun.”

Black Girl Sunscreen, which does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, is cruelty free, fragrance free and vegan. It is also reef safe, which means it does not contain chemicals that have been connected to coral reef deterioration. There is also BGS Kids, which, like the original product, features jojoba, avocado and other ingredients. 

The brand recently launched Make It Matte SPF 45 just in time for summer. “We are looking forward to this upcoming season as things are slowly starting to open back up and people are getting more comfortable with traveling again,” Lundy said. “You will also find us continuing to engage with our followers on social media and ensuring that Black Girl Sunscreen has a voice when conversations about sunscreen protection occur.”

“We have seen a change in the right direction, which is a positive when doing business with our partners,”
Janell Stephens, CEO and founder of Camille Rose.
a slice of pizza on a paper plate

Korean Beauty 
According to Mintel, almost half (47%) of beauty consumers said they have looked for or bought from brands with diversity or inclusivity in the last year, and 24% have shopped for beauty brands that are minority owned. Also, 68% of Americans who said they would like to see diversity in beauty advertisements said they feel this way because it “reflects real life.”

Real life, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau, has become more diverse. From 2000 to 2019, the total resident population increased 16.3% in the United States. The Asian population grew at a rate of 82.2%, and the Black or African-American population grew by 23.1%. 

One of the hottest trends right now is Korean beauty, which uses natural ingredients and involves extensive regimens that consist of multiple cleaning steps, toners, essences, serums, ampoules and more. Peach & Lily offers its own brand as well as Peach Slices and other brands that the company curates from Korea and Japan. “We were one of the pioneers of Korean beauty,” said Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of New York City-based Peach & Lily. Among the newest products is a serum veil, which has ingredients that sink into the skin and other ingredients that form a protective layer on the skin. 

[Related Content: Beauty with a purpose: How brands are stepping up]

Recent innovations include sustainable packaging like aluminum and glass, Yoon said. Other innovations include products that help with hydration and micro niche products, such as serums and ampoules that address targeted skin priorities. “There are so many different innovations coming out of Korea, in an array of categories,” Yoon said. 

The Future
Shopper demographics, specifically the diversity of Gen Z, will drive continued growth in the multicultural beauty category. “They have higher expectations of how brands and products, including those in the beauty category, should serve them,” said Kelly Vanasse, chief communications officer for Procter & Gamble beauty and grooming. “They are also information seekers and digital natives, so shopping for them is a mix of education, entertainment and of course, purpose. This creates a lot of opportunity to serve them through meaningful engagement, no matter what or where their shopping touchpoint is.”

 Vanasse added that beauty, like other categories, benefitted from the racial equality movement. “Shoppers no longer look just for quality products, they expect the brands behind those products to embrace equality, inclusivity and diversity in every way,” she said. For its part P&G beauty, through its Responsible Beauty platform, assesses its brands to ensure that each is connecting with diverse consumers, from products to marketing campaigns to the diversity of the researchers and marketers.

 To meet consumer needs in hair care, the company offers Pantene’s Gold Series collection, Head & Shoulders Royal Oils, and My Black is Beautiful, a new brand inspired by P&G’s My Black is Beautiful community platform. The product ranges in each of these brands are created by Black scientists and researchers, and are designed to meet the unique needs of natural hair. In skin care, Olay Whips SPF is a lighter, more sheer formula offering the same benefits as a traditional moisturizer.

“It’s been inspiring to see multicultural beauty flourish, especially in the past year,” Vanasse said. “We are excited for that growth to continue.” 

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds