Jennifer Norman spent 20+ years in the beauty industry working across categories. Known for her strategic thinking and creativity, she was disheartened by witnessing management decisions that valued profits and short-term gains over people, safety, and honesty, so she decided it was time to strike out on her own and build a business that would put humanity first. The Human Beauty Movement (HBM) was established to embody the heart and soul of beauty, not the superficial aesthetic that has historically been put forth by the industry.
Norman discussed her commitment to creating a positive social impact as well as achieving financial results.
Can you share how your background and your son have informed your work today?
At the age of two, my son suddenly showed signs of extreme illness. He fell into a coma for three months, and upon miraculously awakening, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic mitochondrial disorder for which there is presently no cure. At that time, I was VP of Marketing for a prestige beauty company that had just been kicked off QVC because the founder could not stop making false claims on air. The dichotomy of these two experiences left me in a complete state of trauma. On the one hand, my little boy was barely surviving. On the other hand, the brand that I proudly worked for in the industry that I loved was a total sham. It made me rethink the types of companies I wanted to work with, the types of bosses I wanted to work for, and the relative importance of things like perfect skin, perfect lips, and perfect hair when so many people were really, truly suffering. I decided to quit my job on the spot and take care of my son until he was well enough that I could work again. Not long after that, I discovered that the man I was married to had been cheating on me for 10 years, exacerbating said trauma. I felt old. Ugly. Stupid. Exhausted. Self-loathing. I spiraled into depression.
One day, I woke up and looked at my beautiful son. He was (and is) non-mobile, nonverbal, ventilator dependent, and g-tube fed. Suddenly, my perspective changed. He inspired me to realize the gift I had been given. I said to myself, “I could be better, or I could be bitter. I choose to be better.” It was at that moment that I started journeying toward self-love. Since then, I’ve been living more consciously, and I’ve been awakened to compassion as my life’s purpose. That’s what led me to founding The Human Beauty Movement.
The bio on your website says you believe “the global beauty industry needs a wake-up call.” That’s a loaded statement. Would you unpack it for us?
As you can imagine, I do an awful lot of pontificating. I believe that the way beauty has been sold to women and men in the past has been completely backwards. It has arguably done more to harm human wellness than to help it. Numerous studies have proven that unrealistic model imagery led to increases in depression and body dysmorphia. Astronomical product hype and churn has led to obsessive purchasing behavior and increased consumer debt. Business models that value fiscal growth and profit at any cost has jeopardized management ethics.
I believe that the beauty industry surged, because it preyed on people like me. I was once a girl who was abandoned, adopted, and raised by a family in a neighborhood where people didn’t look like me. I had no idea who I was, and I turned to media for clues. Beauty media made me feel like if I donned the right clothes and bought the right brands and wore the right shades and did my hair the right way, I would be accepted. It never once told me that in order to really feel accepted, I must first love and accept myself. Real beauty is an inside job.
Business built on making people feel envy, jealousy, or unworthiness is not healthy. Business built on making people feel hyper-insecure about their pores, wrinkles, spots, zits, scars, sags, skin tone, grays, and frizz is not healthy. Business built on duping people into buying their products based upon false claims is not healthy. Business built on products formulated with toxic ingredients or careless packaging decisions is not healthy. Business built on treating employees with less dignity than your average flea is not healthy. These practices are lessening (thank goodness), but I believe they are still rampant. They do not lead to a thriving, sustainable society.
Can you share the mission and business model for The Human Beauty Movement? The brand name implies a vision that is far larger than brands and products.
You are right. The name is intentional. The Human Beauty Movement is an entity with a vision that extends beyond brands and products, because it is about shining a light on real beauty, which starts with self-love and self-acceptance. Any resulting brands, products, art forms, etc. all then become culture-enhancing expressions of that core message. The last thing I want is for the message of inner beauty to come off as trendy. This is not some overnight fad or marketing lingo. This is a really important message that we need to teach our daughters and sons about right now and forever. As Lin-Manuel Miranda so aptly wrote in Hamilton, “It’s not a moment, it’s a movement.”
Your company is incorporated as a PBC (a public benefit company) and recently became B Corporation Certified. Becoming a Certified B Corp is an involved process and requires an ongoing commitment. Why was this certification important to you?
When I founded The Human Beauty Movement, I knew I wanted it to be a Certified B Corporation. To me, B Corp is the gold standard of ethical business practices. You are right that the actual certification process is rigorous and that the commitment is ongoing, but it is exactly the kind of stakeholder accountability I want to hold myself and my business to now and forever. The entire process of becoming B Corp Certified was positive beyond my wildest dreams. It opened my eyes to just how outdated the notion of competition is. Every B Corp business cheers for the success of other B Corps. When good, ethical businesses succeed, the whole world wins.
You recently just launched Humanist Beauty! What is your plan for Humanist Beauty!?
Yes! Humanist Beauty just debuted a couple of months ago. I had to be flexible and patient due to COVID’s impact on my original launch plans, but I’m delighted that the first product, Herban Wisdom Facial Oil, was just honored with the NEXTY Award for Best New Personal Care / Beauty Product by New Hope Network. I am starting the brand as DTC online native and will be looking to expand distribution in 2021. I am being thoughtful about the timing of new product introductions. A mindful build is perfectly fine by me. I’m presently self-funded, so I’m empowered to be more patient than if I had investors.
What role does the incubation of brands play in your business model?
The HBM will most certainly extend beyond the launch of Humanist Beauty to introduce and/or support efforts promoting radical inclusivity, wellness, and sustainability. These may be brands, humans, books, art, film, music, or other possibilities that align with our mission.
For better or worse the beauty industry has had a hand in shaping the narrative around femininity and gender norms. Gen Zers and Millennials are forcing a more inclusive perspective of beauty. Do you feel real change is happening in terms of inclusivity and diversity? How can brands do better?
You are absolutely correct. I’m completely aligned with the revolution that Gen Zers and Millennials are having against archaic femininity and gender norms, because those norms were born out of shame and forcing external acceptability of self. The democratization of media has helped foster the groundswell of this important progressive narrative. It’s true, the outcry for society to be more inclusive and accepting has gone viral, yet I wonder how many people are really going inward and discovering self-love and self-acceptance as they post their 100th filtered selfie on Instagram. I think there is still so much more healing that needs to take place inside every human being. It needs to be realized individual by individual.
I believe it is problematic when beauty marketers say, “How can our brand capitalize on the BLM trend / the diversity trend / the gender identity trend / the body positivity trend / COVID / (fill in the blank with a very serious social topic) trend?” By immediately eradicating this thinking from the mindset, brands will immediately be doing better to serve their customers with the dignity, integrity, and trustworthiness they deserve. That being said, representation matters. Empathy matters. Putting money into giveback programs that truly help improve the narrative around self-love, self-acceptance, and holistic wellness matters.
You’ve been a part of the beauty industry for a couple of decades. What about the industry inspires you at this moment?
I am really inspired by the beauty industry’s apology to the Black community this year. I have seen true introspection, hard conversations, sincere remorse, and immediate commitments to do better and be better to honor our BIPOC sisters and brothers. It is hard not to be brought to tears when thinking about the pain and suffering that systemic racism has brought about in neighborhoods and workplaces all over the world. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve turned a corner and will continue on the path of compassion without looking back.
If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about the industry what would it be?
Poof! I would create a zero-waste industry. How beautiful would that be?
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