Before there was Fenty Beauty, there was (and is) Black Opal. When it comes to ethnic beauty brands, Black Opal is a 24-year-old legacy. Launched by two women of color during a time when mainstream beauty brands catered strictly to the white woman, Black Opal filled a void within the industry, subsequently paving the way for the inclusive beauty landscape we see today. With the sole mission to empower and inspire people of color, the beauty brand has now expanded to 30 countries, including Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.
BeautyMatter had the chance to catch up with Marion Bokata, Director of International Sales at Black Opal. Read on for our Q&A:
When Black Opal was founded in 1994, what was the landscape for women of color in the beauty industry?
General-market brands were not acknowledging women of color at the time. Brands that attempted to be inclusive had such a poor understanding of the nuances of black skin that they adopted an unfortunate one-shade-fits-all approach in their shade lineups. The beauty industry only targeted one consumer and it was not the woman of color.
What compelled you to launch the brand during that time?
Early on, Black Opal understood the needs of woman of color. She desired to be seen and acknowledged by the beauty industry. She desired to affirm the uniqueness of her beauty by wearing cosmetics in shades formulated with her in mind, not as an afterthought. By launching Black Opal, we answered our community’s needs and have been beautifully serving our audience ever since
When starting the company, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was convincing major retailers that there was a need for an ethnic brand such as Black Opal and make them excited about carrying it in their stores. So yes, women of color need highly pigmented lipsticks, shadows, and blushes. No, they cannot just wear any foundation shade from any brand to avoid looking ashy and more importantly, and yes, they will spend money to buy the right makeup when it is made available. She is out there waiting for beauty brands to notice her and Black Opal is set to doing just that.
What was your vision for the brand when you launched?
We wanted to establish a connection with our audience in every state she resided in. We wanted her to see in Black Opal, the solution to her skincare and color cosmetics issues. We wanted her to understand that her hyperpigmentation, oily skin, and blemish scars issues would be better, thanks to Black Opal’s dermatologist-formulated skincare products. We wanted her to trust that her foundation would now be a true match (no longer look ashy), thanks to our carefully formulated and tested True Color shades.
How do you think the beauty industry has changed for women of color?
Today, with social media, women of color will not be ignored. Influencers and beauty leaders have “shade shamed” brands that lack diversity or have a poor representation of multicultural shades. Conventional mass and prestige brands now recognize the substantial demand for the very same shades which Black Opal has always offered, and have finally joined us at the table to communicate directly to women of color.
Why drugstore beauty? How has your distribution evolved since launching?
Lack of ethnic, targeted brands and products in drugstores were very apparent and Black Opal sought to remedy that void. We reached out to mass retailers and beauty stores throughout the country where we knew she was shopping then, and still shops today.
What role does direct-to-consumer play in your distribution strategy?
Through our E-Commerce business, now a critical retail channel, we have been able to offer our consumers a better shopping experience. Where we are not able to control the way our products are sold in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, we have been able to execute tactics on our site to entice our consumer to purchase more, to better understand our products, and present our brands in its entirety. E-commerce also allowed us to obtain valuable consumer data and insight that help our go-forward strategies.
Marketing today is very different than in 1994. How has the business changed with the introduction of e-commerce, social media platforms, and influencer marketing?
New channels have brought unfiltered consumer feedback to the table of beauty brands. That consumer is unafraid and extremely vocal in her support (or rejection) of brands and/or products. Marketing campaigns can no longer be executed in the vacuum of a boardroom. Brands must be cognizant of perceptions, opinions, and nuances when launching products, crafting their messages and selecting brand spokespersons, or they will be called out.
Do you feel brands are finally moving past lip service and truly addressing the need for diversity in beauty?
Brands are definitely being more vocal about being inclusive and diverse. Black Opal has always offered a complete portfolio of foundations, powders, and concealers for women of color, not only a few extra shades in limited lines. When ethnic consumers in any state can shop their shades in drugstores or prestige stores, only then will we be able to talk about true diversity.
What sets Black Opal apart from other brands catering to women of color?
At Black Opal, we understand the tone, undertone, and skin needs of our consumers. We have long understood that women of color deserve makeup that is true to their complexion and delivers beauty, not a grayish cast. Moreover, we don’t just have one line with a few extra shades. We feature multiple foundation lines for different needs and skin concerns. Our multicultural audience has all the same concerns as anyone else. There’s no one-size-fits-all, if you want to be as successful as Black Opal.
In the industry, we’ve seen an uprising of brands who aim to enhance their customer experience. What do you do in order to ensure your customer feels heard? What kind of conversations do you want to facilitate with your customers?
We want our customers to know that Black Opal listens to them and values their feedback. We want to maintain a constant dialogue with her and gather insight on her lifestyle, the trends she likes and dislikes, and what she would like Black Opal to offer. We want to continue reaching out to her through surveys, focus groups, consumer events, social media, etc. As a brand, we take consumers’ feedback very seriously. This has led in the past to formula and packaging updates and brand innovations. Black Opal will continue to champion our customers’ needs for targeted products that make her feel truly beautiful and special.
As a brand how are you a voice for women of color in the beauty conversation?
Since its inception, Black Opal has been the voice for women of color. Our mission has always been to tell her that no matter her shade, tone, and heritage, she is beautiful and we celebrate her. The beauty industry did not acknowledge her for years, so we are thrilled to see brands today emulating Black Opal and creating broad ranges of foundation colors to vie for her business. This is competition we wholeheartedly welcome to continue raising our voice in support of the uniqueness of her needs. We will continue to use the power of all media, the makeup artist community, influencers, and bloggers to impress upon our audience (and the world) that Black Opal is not a fad and that we will always be about her and embracing her beauty.
What are your plans for the brand? Can you share with us what the next 20 years will look like?
Black Opal will continue to be THE voice for women of every shade of beauty. We will continue our dialogues, be innovative to preempt, meet, and even surpass her wants and needs. Black Opal fully intends to maintain our position as global leader and champion for cosmetics for women of color for years to come.