In the world of beauty, the word "inclusivity" has been the battle cry for all of us ready to see the barriers of "normal" standards be taken down. Some brands, like Pat Mcgrath and Fenty Beauty, are remaining true to the cause and rightfully showcasing women of color in an empowering light. And then there are some brands that, well… aren't. The new Black-owned Afropolitan beauty brand, UOMA Beauty, is stepping on the scene to do for the culture what so many other beauty brands claim to be doing. Founded by former LVMH executive, Sharon Chuter, UOMA Beauty commits to celebrating and inspiring everyone — no matter your skin tone. With a make-up range including foundations, eyeshadow palettes, liners, and lipsticks, UOMA — which means beautiful” in the Nigerian language Igbo — must now be apart of the conversation of beauty brands changing the game.
I had the extreme pleasure to speak with Chuter on how she intends to redefine inclusivity, why it's important to support Black businesses, and what beauty lovers can expect when joining the UOMA Beauty world.
- Check out our interview with Sharon Chuter below. And sis, be sure to sign up here for the chance to win an exclusive UOMA Beauty Makeup package!
21Ninety: How did the concept for UOMA Beauty come to be? What inspired you to create a makeup brand showcasing inclusivity and your African heritage?
Sharon Chuter: I've been in the beauty industry for my entire career, so I've always loved beauty. For me, beauty is more than lipsticks and foundation — I've always understood that, for women, beauty has a very strong place in our lives in terms of how we feel about ourselves. I knew that for me, as a woman of color, there were a lot of times when I had to walk into a meeting and needed to feel confident because it's a room full of Caucasian men, or men in general, and I don't want to feel intimidated. It takes that right color lipstick to give me that courage to walk in and say, "yeah! I can do this." For men, they're motivated by money, power, status, because they want to get the girl. For women, the way we feel about ourselves — especially when we feel beautiful — impacts the way we come off to the world. So I've always seen beauty from a very different light. I've never seen it as something that is superficial because I know that for women, it's really deep. I came into the industry because I love the idea that I'm able to serve the world by helping people to feel good about themselves, or give that person the confidence they need. The inspiration to create UOMA came out of frustration. You sit there and think that over time things are going to get better, and then you realize, no, they're not. Nobody should have the right to decide who's beautiful and who's not. I've been in the industry for so long, and the industry has not moved forward. Right now we live in a time when it's all about diversity — it's like a trend — everyone wants to get involved. But they have no idea where to start. I wanted to create a home for all the misfits, regardless of color, who the beauty industry has decided wasn't good enough.
For me, the true meaning of diversity and inclusivity is not 50 shades of foundation. It's not, let's get a picture of a Black girl, a white girl, an Asian girl and call it inclusivity. Inclusivity is the ability for everybody to show up for themselves and get a seat at the table. The fact that you can I say, "I'm Black," and that doesn't mean that you're weird or you're different or you're angry — it means, "wow! That's amazing!" What does it mean to be Black? And the whole world can explore that. That's my view on inclusivity. And that's why I decided to showcase my heritage. For the rest of the world, it almost seems like it's a dichotomy. How can you say you're inclusive but not include the African heritage? True inclusivity is when we can all be ourselves. We don't have to be anybody else. If we can't get a seat at the table, then throw the damn table out and bring in a table that fits everybody.
21N: You conceived your forward-thinking and radical ideas under the banner term “Afropolitanism.” Why is it important to be an Afropolitan Beauty Disrupter in this industry?
SC: Yes! I use "Afropolitan" because I feel that it is a very uniting word versus using "African." When people think Africa, they think of a geographical location, but that's not correct. Imagine if a mother birthed three children and then they were forcibly, or for whatever reason, separated from each other — if the children meet each other 50 years later, does it stop them from being brother and sister? It doesn't. You're still family. If you think about where we are as a tribe, as an Afro-tribe, when you say "African," people sort of get eliminated because referring to Africa as the continent. African-Americans don't feel like they're Africans. And I think that's the need for the word "Afropolitan" because it allows all of us to unite under one banner. It also allows for a fusion of heritage and now. If we go back to the same analogy where the children got separated from their mother, by the virtue of that separation, each child's experience is going to be different. So when they finally do unite, their family will have very different takes and very different perspectives. And that's what has happened with the Afro-community. The idea of "Afropolitan" pulls that all together and says, "it's okay." It's okay for us to be different. It's okay that we've all had different influences that have shaped us. And we unite because of what brings us together. We may have had different influences but it all comes back to the same thing. So I decided to take that and channel to beauty because that's the way I can communicate. I can't communicate through fine arts because I'm not an artist. I can't communicate through music because I'm not a musician. So I'm bringing this concept through beauty to allow the world to really explore what it means to be "Afro." And I hope in doing this, it really brings a divided community together.
21N: According to a recent report by Neilsen, Black women spend $63.5 million dollars on beauty products a year. Ultimately, making us the top group to spend the most on beauty products per capita. Yet, Black women have higher levels of beauty-related chemicals in their bodies compared to white women. In your humble opinion, why is the beauty industry treating Black women as an afterthought? Why is it important to represent women in color in a positive and frequent light?
SC: Right! I've had to work my way up in the industry, and when I got to the top, I was overlooked. How can fix a problem when you don't even know it exists? Within the beauty industry, there aren't that many women of color. How are they going to pay attention to us when they don't even understand what it means to be us? Sometimes we need to see it that way. These are all Caucasian women, mostly. They understand straight hair. They understand caucasian skin. They understand hypersensitivity. They understand redness. But they don't understand anything about keloids, hyperpigmentation, ashy skin — all these things are brand new to them. So it's been a real problem about lack of representation within this industry. That's why my solution to this problem is inclusivity. It starts with bringing up the right people into the corporation. Also as a Black community, we have to start supporting each other. Supporting Black businesses. We can't expect a business that is run by a person who is not you to understand you. I don't know what it's like to be a white woman. We live in a world where they treat Black men bad, and Black women, we get it the worst because we have the double standard of being Black and female as well. As a woman of color, it's really important for me to create an ecosystem so we have the right environment and the right structure for women of color to have a voice. The beauty industry has failed us, and it is what it is. They are going to do what they do. We keep talking about, and I'm going to keep talking until the day I die, to make sure we get equality everywhere. But the most important thing we can all do it build our communities and support each other. We've got to stop waiting for Dior and Chanel to do it for us. We've got to start buying Beauty Bakerie. We've got to start buying Juvia's Place. We've got to start supporting Supacent's The Crayon Case. That's the only way we're going to bring inclusivity into this industry. But also by telling our own stories, and not waiting for other people to communicate it for us. OH! And I forgot to mention Pat Mcgrath and Fenty Beauty! We need to support all these amazing Black brands in the market.
21N: And now UOMA! We have to support your brand as well! [laughs]
SC: [laughs] Yes, please! You know, sometimes I forget that I have my own brand. I can't forget to plug my own brand. The beautiful thing is that there is plenty of room for all of us, and we have the power as a community to unite all of us.
21N: Before founding UOMA Beauty, you’ve worked with big name brands like L’Oreal and LVMH, what has been the most rewarding aspect — as an entrepreneur — since creating UOMA Beauty?
SC: The ability to be my true self. That's been really liberating. When you're doing what you really love, when you're doing something that is of service, it fuels you every day. I loved working with those companies, but working with companies that were releasing concealers in only three shades or working with companies where I couldn't use 80% of their products, but at some point, you can't live with that anymore. We all want to get this bag, we all want to get that money, we all want to get that check — but at a point, there's no amount of money that you get will be worth what you're seeing what's happening to your community. I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. I'm the busiest I've been in my life, as well. But it's just so rewarding doing things that you know is, even in a small way, contributing to the world that you believe in and value.
21N: UOMA Beauty launches on April 25th on UOMA Beauty, Ulta in select stores and online, and Selfridge in store and online. Can you briefly describe the collection of makeup and skincare products beauty lovers can expect to drop their coins on?
SC: Yeah! Oh my God! [laughs] Okay, now I have to talk. I'm a product girl! For as long as I've been working in the industry, one of the things I love doing is product. It was actually one of the gifts that lack of diversity gave me — I wasn't able to have my makeup done because makeup artists had no idea what to do with my skin, which meant I had to learn how to do my own makeup. I had to get really good at product and formula and understanding. Now to have my own brand is phenomenal. The style of my range is a foundation range — which truly redefines what inclusivity is. We've gone into true customization. The needs of dark skin are completely different than the needs of light skin. So why is every brand creating one formula and pushing us all to use it and love it? A woman with fair skin has hypersensitvitiy, she has redness, she has dryer skin. You come to the browner skin profiles, you're looking at hyperpigmentation, keloids, oily skin. So we created a formula that is 51 shades of high-performing foundation. And when I say "high-performing," I mean a foundation when you put it on your skin, it feels like your skin. It's super lightweight. And 51 shades for all, everyone gets matched. We've tested over 250 women, and 99% of them found their foundation the perfect match. On top of that, we didn't just create one formula, we created six formulas to further customize to each skin type. So when you come into our world, you know you're getting a formula that was built specifically for you. And also has been supercharged with skincare ingredients. It's a whole new level in foundation. What I love about being Afro is our ability to come into any industry, look at something, and remix it to make it better. And that's only with foundation! We have 108 products in the collection, spread across 8 different ranges. We're here to make a statement! And have fun doing it while creating products that every woman — regardless of age, race, or gender — can actually use.
21N: In addition, you partnered with us to lead a UOMA Beauty Giveaway opportunity that kicks off April 26th. To the one lucky subscriber who will win your beauty package, what can they expect to find inside?
SC: I'm telling you, our package is going to make them scream! It's every beauty junkie's dream. We give this package to influencers, and even these influencers are squealing by how incredible it is. It is that good, I can assure you! They're going to be getting half of our collection, and getting something that is on everybody's wish list. I can gurantee them they are going to be screaming for like 30 minutes [laughs].
21N: Do you have any final words of encouragement for Black women who struggle to see themselves represented in the beauty industry?
SC: Yeah! I would say to them you are perfect. Beauty started in Africa. The first makeup products — from eyeliner to the brow products — started in Egypt. So you are so special. You are worthy. You are enough. That's the most important one. Everything about you is enough. And I want them to own that. Don't try to be everyone else, be you! Beyond beauty, you can be anything you want to be as long as you just own it.
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