Independent Black Beauty Brands Gain Clout, Sales Fueled by Instagram Influencer Culture
As the old adage states, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but for cosmetic brands, beauty resides in the hands of the Instagram user. Recently dubbed as the “new shopping mall” of the internet, Instagram continues to establish its foothold as the premier outlet to shop and discover new brands. At the same time, Black beauty brands are using the app to rise to prominence through cultural means in an industry where they’ve traditionally been shut out.
The appeal of Instagram has evolved from a platform full of artfully scenic pictures to a hub where users and their lifestyles are at the center for billions to see. Black beauty brands are known to operate at the intersection of two main movements: Black Girl Magic and Buy Black. In 2017 alone, Black consumers spent $54.4 million on ethnic hair essentials and beauty aids. Nielsen’s eighth annual report on digital habits and the economic impact of Black consumers shows Black Americans spend the majority of their time on Facebook and Instagram. Black American spending power is estimated to grow from $1.3 trillion to $1.54 trillion by 2022 and Black beauty brands are utilizing Instagram to cash in.
To thrive as a beauty brand on Instagram, forming a community and leveraging paid advertisements are essential to connecting with and building a loyal customer base. Sixty percent of Instagram users discover new brands on the platform. The photo-sharing app is home to numerous beauty communities, where enthusiasts gather over product recommendations and reviews as well as makeup tutorials. Hashtags like #makeupforblackwomen, #melaninpoppin, and #naturalhairstyles are housed under millions of posts. To generate sales, even as a relatively well-known name, both content and platform know-how are important to stand out on the typical user’s busy feed.
Since its inception in 2012, lipstick company, The Lip Bar deploys aggressive social media campaigns to promote and sell its products. According to the company’s social media manager, Donyale Walton, social media is the main driver of the brand’s sales. The company did not disclose its annual revenue earned on the platform but does assert that with over 150,000 followers, Instagram is the brand’s most popular of all its social media accounts. With the addition of enhanced features like IGTV and non-stop changes to its algorithm, the key to finding success on Instagram requires adaptability.
“You can’t really stick to a formula for too long because they change it so quickly, so you just have to keep informed and making sure we’re keeping up with whatever Instagram is doing,” Walton, told ThePLUG. “You never know, it might move onto something else and we’ll have to adjust there too.”
Putting the entrepreneur at the forefront as the face behind the brand is another way Black beauty entrepreneurs are connecting with customers to grow their businesses. For Niambi Cacchioli’s Pholk Beauty, her personal presence on her business profile is about raising visibility to the diversity of blackness and reaching underrepresented customers.
“I love all the brands —I love them. I’m a customer, but I don’t always see myself in their visual culture either because everything is so styled all the time, and everybody is wearing beautiful makeup and I’m like, damn—where are the nerds?! Where are the awkward black girls, where are we, where am I?”
As a licensed esthetician and ingredient-lover, Cacchioli’s says Instagram drives around 70% of her overall sales to her skincare brand. Her overall strategy comes from a place of wanting to connect with Black women and affirming diversity in skincare as part of their overall wellbeing.
“In many ways, I think the women of color beauty niche is held in Instagram,” says Cacchioli.
Inspired by her lackluster makeup experiences as a model, Tomi Gbeleyi originally created the Instagram profile ‘Makeup for Melanin Girls’ to share inspirational make-up looks for dark-skinned women, organically growing the profile to an audience of 170,000 followers. Her followers began sharing suggestions and ideas of what they would like to see from a beauty brand inspired by the community. Gbeleyi took notice and created the profile turned beauty brand, MFMG Cosmetics. While the beauty range is an Instagram success story, Gbeleyi says the social media app is just one aspect of her overall business and points to the wider trend of new brands forming direct relationships with their customer community.
“It’s not necessarily just Instagram, but I do think 10 to 15 years ago, a brand like mine would have never stood a fighting chance because we now have tools to go direct to consumers. So it’s not even just Instagram, it’s platforms like Shopify, things like MailChimp or Klayvio—tools that you can reach your customer directly where you don’t always have to go through a third-party retailer to reach success,” Gbeleyi told ThePLUG.
For Shemika Harmitt, her company, Prime Beauty Cosmetics, prides itself on putting women of color over everything. Harmitt estimates that 60 percent of her customers have found her either directly or indirectly through Instagram. She cites “Instagram Takeovers” where popular beauty influencers take over her account posting ephemeral Instagram Stories videos, which she notes is the most popular type of marketing collaboration for her business. Utilizing the IG story feature comes with payoffs as Instagram says businesses generate one-third of the platform’s most-viewed stories.
“Beauty is such a visual industry, and with Instagram being such a visual platform, it was the perfect fit,” she said.
Prime Beauty Cosmetics’ “Brownzer” product was recently featured by Jackie Aina, a popular beauty influencer with nearly 3.1 million YouTube subscribers and over 1 million Instagram followers. Aina, who uses her platform to champion for more representation for Black beauty, matches closely with Prime Beauty Cosmetics’ ethos and described the makeup as her “perfect shade.” Aware of the impact the endorsement could have, Harmitt’s brand posted the rave review.
As more Black beauty brands leverage the direct-to-consumer ecosystem, Instagram is the virtual shop window powering connectivity, personalization, and relatability to women of color who see themselves in the values of the brand’s culture.