All Shade: Fenty Beauty and the ‘Killawatt’ Effect on the Beauty Industry

Let’s just be honest.

Us beauty gals are hype about the new Fenty Beauty release for a myriad of reasons.

First, its Rihanna. And we love her.

With over 91 different products, including a boast worthy 40 different foundation shades, Fenty Beauty is already the superstar amongst the high end beauty universe.

Of her new brand, Rihanna says “I wanted things that I love. Then I also wanted things that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with,” Rihanna shared. “That was really important for me. In every product I was like:

Everyone needs to hear @rihanna talk about why creating inclusive makeup shades is so important. @fentybeauty 👏👏👏

— Cat Quinn (@catquinn) September 8, 2017

“There needs to be something for a dark-skinned girl. There needs to be something for a really pale girl, there needs to be something for someone in between.” (emphasis added).

This emphasis on inclusion for all skin tones is what instantly has set Fenty Beauty apart. In fact, since its release a mere one week ago, Sephoras everywhere have been rapidly selling out of their darker tone foundations, proving the not only the buying power of black women (hello somebody) but the drastic deficit the high end beauty market has in offering products to darker women.

In fact, PopSugar reports that Sephora’s across the country are seeing more customers of color than ever before that can be directly related to the Fenty Beauty launch.

Everyone from the budding beauty enthusiast (hi, my name is Whitney and I am an actual budding beauty enthusiast) to actresses like Gabourey Sidibe are raving about the product line.

In case you’re wondering about #FentyBeauty on dark skin, issa YES for me dawg.

— Gabby Sidibe (@GabbySidibe) September 9, 2017

Model Nneoma Anosike excitedly says “Representing one of the dark shades of foundation for @fentybeauty is an amazing thing not only because it was created by Rihanna but more importantly, that the beauty world for people of color has welcomed yet another brand that goes into understanding that we melanins have different undertones and shades- not just 3 but multiple!…Thank you Fenty beauty and @badgalriri. Welcome to the makeup world! You started with a bang !!”

You would think this would be enough to set Fenty apart.

You would think people would stop at the laudability of the brand for its incredible range of foundation, concealers, highlighters, not to mention the actual quality of the products produced.

You would think due to all of this, the beauty would would be forced to take notice of the largely previously ignored deeper toned women (why they are ignored is another whole issue unto itself that has been so eloquently and colorfully addressed and challenged by the Fenty release).

You would think the discussion would open up a deeper and more worthy dialogue of why high end beauty brands have so long ignored Black Women.

However, whether due to its success or simply because people have been clamoring for the fall of the Kardashian/Jenner reign, the comparisons have gone from simple and expected beauty product comparisons to all out war between the K/J’s beauty fans and the Fenty fans.

The Daily Beast highlighted this melee, saying

“Naturally Kylie Jenner, the reigning queen of celebrity makeup lines, got swept up in this narrative when her Kylie Cosmetics social media accounts shared a promotional shot for their “Brown Sugar Matte” just two days after the Fenty launch. Since the photo featured a black model — a relatively rare occurrence for Kylie Cosmetics, with the last example being an Aug. 6 post — it was quickly assumed that the two events were related. Post-Fenty Beauty, someone at Kylie Cosmetics clearly wanted to show off the inclusivity of their own makeup line. Suffice to say, the Rihanna Navy was having none of it. RiRi fans quickly inundated Kylie’s social media with scornful Rihanna GIFs and clapbacks like, “Just admit it, ‪#FentyBeauty with all its diversity has got you shook, with your ‘one black shade fits all’ model.” Another Twitter userreplied to Kylie Cosmetics’ pandering post, “Fenty has done us black girls great, so why would we want this? Keep it.” As of Wednesday, Jenner’s brand appears to have deleted the original post.”

While shallow marketing and branding to Black women following the Fenty Beauty release is worth glancing at and as a whole, calling out, I feel that this is not the dialogue we need to have. We don’t need to “cancel” other beauty lines to prove Black buying power or that inclusion is right or that brands should cease exclusive practices due to their own archaic, incorrect, and often act their roots, racist beliefs about their demographics.

Fader seems to have caught the more worthy conversation of beauty for all (I appreciate y’all), showing how not one, not two, but how at least five different beauty brands have already altered their marketing to (finally) speak to Black women, including a post from the aforementioned KKW brand in efforts to catch up with Fenty beauty.

The Daily Beast, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head as to why “This feud is more layered than your average Twitter melee between two celebrity camps.”, saying:

“Black women may be Kylie Jenner’s aesthetic ideal, but they’re clearly not her most valued customers. Instead, she stands accused of repackaging appropriated trends, styles, and even physical features for a majority white audience. Kylie Cosmetics doesn’t feel like a beauty line that prioritizes accessibility and inclusivity, and the advent of Fenty Beauty has put that failure into even sharper focus. From now on, mainstream brands might have to dig deeper than a token black model or foundation shade if they want to impress makeup buyers — and we have Rihanna to thank for that.”

But Black women, being queens of seeing through the BS collectively, already note the intent by beauty brands following the Fenty release is aimed directly at their wallets and not at inclusion. These brands are using Fenty Beauty as social proof, not as a rallying cry for the need for inclusion, but as how much money they can make off of Black Women if they market to them correctly.

I say, keep seeing through the BS, ladies, keep buying out Fenty Beauty, and support other Black Owned beauty brands. Just because our buying power is now noticed, doesn’t mean these shallow brands should benefit from it.

This post was originally posted on The Reclaimed.

Whitney Alese is a writer, podcaster and cultural commentator. Featured in WIRED Magazine (September 2020). She is based in Philadelphia.