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Beauty brands can’t fight racism if they continue working with problematic influencers

Summary List PlacementThe beauty industry has collectively worked toward becoming more inclusive in recent years. Companies have started moving away from the construct that makeup is exclusively a hobby for women, and expansive shade ranges are becoming the norm. Big industry players also said they would take action against bullying,...

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Summary List Placement

The beauty industry has collectively worked toward becoming more inclusive in recent years.

Companies have started moving away from the construct that makeup is exclusively a hobby for women, and expansive shade ranges are becoming the norm. Big industry players also said they would take action against bullying, racism, and other forms of discrimination in 2019 and 2020.

But this year, some of those activism-inspired promises appear to be falling short. Brands like Elf Cosmetics, Sephora, and Morphe have made such promises, and yet they’ve continued to work with controversial influencers who have made racist remarks and spread dangerous conspiracy theories throughout their careers.

Now, beauty fans say they’re heartbroken watching their favorite companies seemingly choose sales and publicity over allyship. And experts argue that brands should cut ties with problematic influencers — regardless of their fame — to back up their words with action.  

Beauty brands keep partnering with problematic influencers

At the start of 2021, Sephora was heavily criticized for sponsoring a YouTube video made by conservative influencer Amanda Ensing. Beauty fans quickly cited Ensing’s history of spreading QAnon conspiracies, seemingly supporting the Capitol insurrection in January, and “blackfishing.” Some even wrote #BoycottSephora on social media.

The retailer later cut ties with the influencer, telling Insider that it did so as soon as the company was “made aware of concerning behavior” from Ensing on social media — not as a result of her political or religious views.

A similar scandal occurred weeks later, this time involving makeup mogul Jeffree Star. On February 12, the influencer shared a photo of Elf Cosmetics’ new Mint Melt collection on Twitter and said he’d be trying the line, to which the brand replied, “Can’t wait!”

Soon after, Star uploaded a glowing review of the collection to his YouTube channel.

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In the past, Star has been recorded making racist remarks, photographed with hate symbols, caught insulting minors, and accused of being a bully on numerous occasions. And in 2020, several people accused Star of sexual assault, physical violence, and hush-money offers while speaking with Insider’s Kat Tenbarge.

Beauty companies partnering with problematic influencers has also been an issue in the past.

Sephora continued to work with Kat Von D after she was criticized for seemingly mocking disabilities and sexualizing young girls with her makeup shade names, and accused of being an anti-vaxxer and anti-Semitic. The brand stopped working with the tattoo artist in 2020, however, when she stepped down from her makeup brand, which has since rebranded as KVD Beauty.

Makeup retailer Morphe continued to work with Star throughout his controversial career, only cutting ties with him in the summer of 2020. Around that time, Morphe also worked with Nikita Dragun — and faced backlash for doing so — after the influencer was accused of blackfishing on numerous occasions and partying throughout the pandemic.

Representatives for Elf Cosmetics and Morphe did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.

The same cosmetics companies have promised to fight racism

In the summer of 2020, numerous beauty brands took action against racial injustice after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others.

Elf Cosmetics said it donated $25,000 to the Color of Change organization, Morphe said it donated to Black Lives Matter, and Sephora created an option for its Beauty Insider members to redeem their points as donations to the National Black Justice Coalition.

More recently, brands including Elf Cosmetics and Sephora spoke out against the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes via Instagram.

Morphe, Elf Cosmetics, and Sephora — as well as numerous others — also participated in the #PullUpOrShutUp challenge, created by Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter for her Pull Up For Change organization, in 2020. Through the challenge, Chuter aimed to bring awareness to the “underrepresentation of Black people in corporate America, especially in leadership roles.”

To do so, she asked people to avoid purchasing from their favorite brands for 72 hours to demand that companies, especially those that have released statements in support of Black Lives Matter, release the number of Black employees they have in leadership.

The three brands mentioned above all released percentage breakdowns of their staffs at the time, with Morphe reporting that Black employees accounted for 3% of its leadership and non-Black people of color accounted for 51%; Sephora reporting that Black employees accounted for 6% of its leadership and non-Black POC accounted for 45%; and Elf reporting that 14% of its leadership is made up of Black employees, while other POC accounted for 45% of the company overall.

After participating, Morphe said on Instagram that it had “more work to do” and was committed “to progressive steps forward for Black representation in all areas” of its business, among other plans.

Sephora also shared a variety of its goals online and noted that it was “ready to do the work” needed to “create meaningful and long-lasting change” throughout its business.

Sephora declined to comment on the percentage of Black and non-Black POC employees in leadership when reached by Insider for up-to-date numbers. Representatives for Morphe and Elf Cosmetics did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on the same matter.

Experts say beauty brands need to listen to their fans and make necessary changes

Maude Okrah and Simone Tetteh cofounded the online beauty platform Black Beauty Roster.

The group works to create opportunities for Black beauty creatives in the television, film, and editorial industries, while also providing education to the public on textured hair and makeup for all skin tones.

Speaking with Insider over email, Okrah said that community is “very important to BIPOC beauty fans.” She said members of the community “crave authenticity,” and often decide whether they’ll be long-term supporters of brands and influencers based on how genuine they believe they are.

“Brands are measured by their partners’ actions as much as their own,” Okrah said.

England-based Adrian Beautee and Alabama-based Adriana H. are two of those fans. 

Beautee told Insider that he found Elf Cosmetics’ recent support of Star to be hypocritical. He also said Sephora’s sponsorship of Ensing was, in his opinion, the result of a lack of “research” and “due diligence.”

Adriana H., who asked to use her last initial over privacy concerns, agreed.

“A brand can’t take a stand for discrimination, racism, and other prevalent issues if they’re collaborating with influencers who embody the very things they are campaigning against,” she said. “That’s not being an ally. That’s being a fraud.”

That’s why Okrah says beauty brands “must fulfill their promises to fight racism” — because “shareholders, employees, and consumers demand it.” 

And according to the Black Beauty Roster cofounders, that goes beyond solely creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion team. Instead, Tetteh says brands “have to move from statements and donations to measurable and lasting actions.” 

Some of those include looking within their organizations, determining what they’re doing “to actively fight racism and bias internally,” and committing to working with more people of color, she said.

“We won’t see change without action,” Okrah added.

SEE ALSO: Conservative beauty fans are boycotting Sephora after the retailer cut ties with a pro-Trump influencer

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