Category Archives: black history

Dear Fashion Fair…, An Open Letter

Dear Fashion Fair,

When are you gonna step up to the plate and be the black version of Estée Lauder, LVMH, or better yet the beauty industry’s answer to “Wakanda”?

It is the last day of Black History Month, and while I have spent months thinking long and hard about the importance of having more than just representation and inclusivity for blacks in the world of beauty, I can not help but think about you!

Fashion Fair, your company started in the Windy City (my hometown), and in 1958 you hit the ground running! You created a traveling fashion show which showcased black beauty all over the world ( even my cousin had an opportunity to slay the Fashion Fair runways)and from your super successful fashion shows you created a cosmetics brand.

Your products were distributed in Macys, Dillard’s, Belk, and several other high end department stores which was no small feat! That accomplishment was major because your brand was the first and only brand created for and by people of African descent that was showcased and distributed by major mass department stores. Your cosmetic counters showcased beauty campaigns with beautiful black models and hired black women and men as makeup artists making women of color feel welcome in an otherwise cold industry where people of color are often ignored. You always had an amazing shade range in complexion products which still in 2018 is a major problem in the beauty industry at large.

In the last five years I have witnessed the sad decline of your brand including watching your loyal customers be forced to shop with other brands because they grew frustrated and tired of not being able to purchase their Fashion Fair products on numerous occasions due to stock issues. I have also watched your counters be removed from many Macys stores, which to my surprise has left me with a personal feeling of defeat. Recently, I grew angry and frustrated when I learned about Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty partnership with LVMH because I could not help but think of what that partnership could have looked like if it was with you, and what it could have done for your brand.

The movie Black Panther and the fictional African nation, “Wakanda“, helped me and many people of African descent across the globe understand that ownership over representation and inclusion is of great importance, and it also gave us a visualization of what that ownership could look like.

I know given your amazing history, and great products, that Fashion Fair cosmetics has the potential to be our “Wakandan” version of a large beauty conglomerate, and I am writing this open letter to let you know that you have many beauty soldiers willing and ready to help your brand do what is necessary to realize your fullest potential!

On this last day of Black History Month, I truly hope you read this letter and absorb all the love and concern that I tried my best to articulate.

Sincerely,

@makeupinblackandwhite

Hidden Figures:Why Black Women are Flocking to Makeup Brushes Like Black Men Flock to Basketballs

We are three days into 2017, and this post is long over due!  Now some of you might have read the title of this post, and thought to yourself “Now what in the hell does the movie Hidden Figures have to do with makeup or basketball?  My answer is pretty simple, one word even.  The word is exposure.  Keep reading to smell what I’m cooking!

I went to high school in the suburbs of Chicago, and when it was confirmed that I was going to that suburban high school, I was not excited.  I had gone to public schools in Chicago for most of my life, and I was afraid to attend school in a totally new environment.  Luckily I had a mother who was very active in my life and made sure that I went to good public schools with magnet programs and teachers that cared about their students.  I also had classmates that were mostly black, and came from middle class backgrounds like me.  Now I was considered a little different because I was a dancer and occasionally traveled to perform in different states and in one instance outside of the country, but other than that and my natural hair (got my first “perm” in the eighth grade) everything was gravy.  I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class, but I was one of the smartest, and we had several teachers, who also happened to be black, who pushed our little brains to their capacity. Long story short, I was privileged and I ain’t even know it!  I had educated teachers who looked like me and cared about me, and at this point we all know that is not common in many urban cities especially as far as children of color are concerned.

Upon entering high school in the burbs, I had to take a placement exam so that I could be “placed” in the proper classes.  I tested well, and it was recommended based on my results that I take a few honor classes, English and Science were two.  While my test scores said one thing, my white female counselor sang a different tune.  She argued that because I came from a city school that perhaps the level of education that I had was not up to par, and that I should take all basic level courses.  Chile, she clearly did not know my mother! My mom came up to the school, demanded that I be placed in the classes I tested to be in, and that was that.  I ended up taking honors English, and I cannot remember what happened with Science.  Even though I knew that there was an attempt to deny me a certain level of education at this new suburban school, I still did not grasp all of the implications of what had occurred.  Some time in grade school I had gotten the idea that  because I was a girl, could dance my ass off, act, write poetry, and sing if forced, that math and science did not matter as much. I heard someone say that if you were good in reading and english that you often were not good at math and science, so thats what I chose to believe.  Oh and I also learned that girls were mostly good at those first two subjects, and boys were good with the later.  Anyways, I took highschool somewhat seriously, but I was lazy. Real lazy.  I remember taking Chemistry my sophomore year and daydreamed pretty much every class.  I never did my homework on time, I never really studied for pop quizzes, and I did just enough to get by.  The one saving grace was that somehow I always managed to get A’s or B’s on the mid terms and finals.  I remember my white male teacher always looking at me with a ton of dissappointment in his eyes, and I knew that it was because he wanted me to put forth more effort.  He must have seen potential in me(which went way over my head), but he never articulated his frustrations in a way that I could understand.  I was a teenager kind of going through the motions to get through high school, and graduate.

I was an artist!  Everybody who knew me knew that while I kept to myself, and did not have a ton of friends, I could out dance/perform anybody, and I was cool with that.  While my mom did not allow me to slack too much, she made it very clear to me that the choices and decisions that I was making as far as my academics were concerned were mine to make and that I would have to live with the consequences of those choices and decisions.  She also made it very clear that I would be attending somebodies college immediately following high school graduation, so I knew I had to get it together, or I would have hell to pay!  My mother did not play!

Fast forward to 2017 I am a full blown freelance make up artist living in the nations capitol, which also happens to be one of the most expensive cities to live in. Technology via social media has changed the whole entire landscape of what I do and many other creatives, and people are flocking to the creative fields and  becoming make up artists faster than you can say highlight and contour!  The most celebrated make up artists or “make up marketers” as I like to call them have millions of followers, and tons of brands clamoring to get their products in these social media gurus hands.  Many women now rely on Youtube and Instagram tutorials to teach them how to be “self taught muas”, drugstore brands are now creating cosmetics that can compete with and in some cases surpass high end department store brands for a fraction of the cost making makeup way more accessible, and reality stars and celebrities have given make up artists who in the past lived behind the scenes and in the shadows the biggest spotlight the world as we know it has ever seen!  With so many people and especially black women seeing make up artistry as this new golden hustle, we have started to flock to make up like flies flock to honey.

To be a make up artist in today’s world, you just need some money to purchase a “kit”, a strong selfie game, a decent camera, and access to social media.  As a black women who may come from humble beginnings or  be an “artist” in high school that could care less about math and science classes, this make up artistry game is our basketball otherwise known as our way out.  The “golden hustle” is not why I started doing make up.  It was just a natural progression from the other art forms I practiced, and while I think the physical part of make up artistry is cool,  it is also hard and ridiculously competitive.  The retail jobs that you used to be able to depend on to make a living in the past are drying up due to Department stores not being able to compete with the internet. With so many people seeing make up artistry as this new golden hustle there is more supply than there is demand.  Enter the importance of the movie Hidden Figures.

About eight years ago  I started teaching myself about ingredients in skincare and makeup.  I became obsessed!  I would read magazines like Allure and New Beauty because they would always have amazing articles about these new technological advances in skincare and ingredients, and would explain in lay mans terms why these “breakthrough’s” were a good thing. I would visit the Library of Congress and read medical journals about certain skin issues and case studies just because. Now I hoard Beauty Inc magazines which only come out quarterly because I have to know about the new beauty innovations, gadgets, and formula’s, as well as the changes to the retail landscape because of social media, millennials, the economy, etc…While I still rely on make up application to make my living, my interests are shifting and have been shifting for a long time.  I have become extremely interested in what I know now as cosmetic chemistry, aesthetics, coding ( I feel like I could have created at least ten apps by now), and mechanical/ electrical engineering (I once took steps to create a device that would make make up artists jobs much easier but didn’t have the capital to follow through).  I am also interested in business as it pertains to the beauty industry at large, and would love to consult.  What has frustrated me for at least a year are the “what if’s”.

What if in grade school I was told that I could be great at reading, english, and math and science?  What if it were made clear to me that even though I was an artist,  there was still room for me to flourish in other areas of study?  What if my high school chemistry teacher had taken the time out to express to me how great I was at chemistry even though I didn’t know it at the time?  What if I were in high school or better yet grade school when the movie Hidden Figures came out?  I didn’t know that there was such a thing as cosmetic chemistry until I was in my late twenties.  It did not occur to me that I could go to school to become an engineer and make all the cool beauty gadgets my heart desired until I was thirty.  Sadly, I know that many of my fellow black sisters  do not equate science, technology, engineering, or math to beauty, and while Hidden Figures was about three black women who used S.T.E.M fields to send the first American to the moon and outer space, their story could have and will plant seeds in the minds of women all ages and races.  In an extremely over populated industry, I hope that many of us start to embrace the subjects I know we were never encouraged to embrace and create products, and apps, and gadgets, and companies that can compete on a global scale!  There is always more to do and learn, and for all the folks flocking to the new “golden hustle”, know that hidden behind make up artistry can be a window to something much bigger, more valuable, and more profitable i.e figures.

 

 

 

On the Black Hand Side:Why Black Women Should Consider Voting for Hillary

Last July was one of the most amazing times in my life.  I went on a “real” vacation for the first time in eight years and got to work an event where the first woman to be elected the democratic nominee for president happened. I was chosen by Diane Stevens, a fabulous hair stylist and salon owner of Cole Stevens salon and my great friend and amazing makeup artist Lola Okanlawon aka @lolasbeautymark to be apart of the official Democratic National Convention glam squad. The experience was life changing to say the least. When I arrived I had no clue what to expect, the first day I met the rest of the squad, and received three security badges giving me the freedom to move around the Wells Fargo center and go wherever I wanted which was a huge deal.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Everybody who had anything to do with politics and the democratic party was there.  Bloggers, celebrities, senators, state representatives, congressman and women, mayors, athletes, former presidents, the current president, rappers, comedians, you name it, they were there!  As far as the glam squad was concerned, I was one of two black female makeup artists, and several of the black women who came backstage to be glammed up were shocked as hell to see two black bald girls dressed in all black ready to slay them(I could not resist) with our skills.  It was obvious that having black artists or hair stylists at these type of events was not the norm, and my counter part and I observed that fast.  It wasn’t my first time filling the “only black girl” role, so I did what I always do, and I kept it moving.

The first day I provided my artistry skills for a very diverse crowd of men and women.  When asked who they were, or what they did, they all had some amazing stories, and were extremely passionate about the work that they were doing.  I guess they had to have been, because these people had been invited to stand and speak at a convention in front of thousands of people and potentially the first female president.  Later on in the afternoon, a group of black women, noticeably all aquaintences came back and sat in myself and Lola’s (the other black girls) chair.  They seemed to be just as excited to see us as we were to see them, and from that day on, we became their personal glam squad.  They were mayors, news correspondents, state representatives, congress women, senators, etc… Besides those titles, they were smart, funny as hell, very candid, and intimidating to those who needed to be intimidated.  The were also well educated, and focused on one main goal which was to handle their roles within the democratic party and convention, and get things done.

These women in the four days that I had the pleasure and honor of doing their makeup worked around the clock doing television interviews in what seemed to be every news station in Philly, preparing speeches, delivering those same speeches, cleaning up Wikileaks spills, and strategizing all while dismissing ignorance and racism when those things came in to play.

My makeup chair allowed me to witness a group of women who looked like me, sounded like me,  and shared my same tastes in music and humor take on the world like a bunch of female warriors fearlessly chopping down barriers with amazing wardrobes, hair, and makeup.  They were humble and kind and even with their hectic schedules, took the time to get to know me and my story, and share a little of theirs.  Given the challenges that I know this group of women faced as individuals and as a group based on the color of their skin and of course their gender,  they  gave me a reason to strongly consider voting for Hillary, not necessarily because “I’m with her” but more so because I see a lot of myself in them.  

So to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, current mayor of Baltimore, MD, Donna Brazile, political analyst and interim chair at the 2016 DNC, Marcia Fudge, State Representative for Ohio, and Karen Carter Peterson, senator from Louisiana, and countless other black women working extremely hard behind the scenes I thank you all!!

What I Think Wednesday:Nigerian Weddings and the Nigerian Economy: Can one save the other?

In 2005 I moved to DC to go to grad school for African studies at Howard University.  In the two years of course work, one of the things that I remember vividly are all of my professors, i repeat all of my professors who happened to each be from a country in Africa saying that all of Africa was waiting for Nigeria to step up to the call/challenge of being the African super power to help lead the continent out of colonialism and debt and into real political freedom, progress, and economic security.  It makes sense, Nigeria is the most populated country on the continent, its people are amongst the most educated in the world, and the country itself has tons of natural resources including oil, petroleum, natural gas, zinc, limestone, etc…

Fast forward to 2016, Nigeria’s economy is suffering immensely, and according to Dan Steinbock from Valuewalk.com, “without aggressive economic moves and harsh security measures, the economy could face a disastrous free fall.” One of my best friends, who happens to be Nigerian has shared stories with me of brick and mortar businesses being bulldozed by the government without warning to the business owners because of unpaid rent.  In some cases, the rent had been paid, but the landlords of the properties never gave the Nigerian government their cut, so innocent business owners are now taking the hit literally!  International investors are fleeing, the naira is about 315 to a US dollar, and people’s human security needs i.e. food, water, shelter are not being met.

Im sure that folks who are reading this are going, “Okay Michanna, what does this have to do with the beauty industry or makeup?”  My answer? Its bigger than makeup!!  Over the last year and a half, I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to work side by side a well respected Nigerian American make up artist and provide artistry services for some Nigerian weddings that make the wedding scenes in my favorite movie Coming to America seem like a little shot gun wedding with a $100 budget!  From the decor, to the locations and venues, designer dresses, suits, and shoes, etc… the money spent on these occasions is just mind blowing. According to bloomberg.com, $17 million US dollars have been spent on parties in Lagos, Nigeria over a five month period this year so far, and at least one fifth of them were weddings.  Forget about the parties,  I have heard of brides paying some Nigerian makeup artists $1,000-$1,500 just for doing their makeup alone!  Now before all of you start packing your kits and purchasing tickets to Nigeria, please note that the market over their is already over saturated, attorney’s and doctors have quit their full time jobs to open makeup studios, and it has become a survival of the fittest environment.

nigeria1

While I have observed all of this with my own two eyes, I also have observed something else.  Every Nigerian bride and groom that I have met doing the makeup for these weddings are educated with great careers.  They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers and economists, and have attended great schools either in the US or Europe.

Back to Nigeria being a super power.  When I put all of these things together a very glaring question always comes to mind.  What if Nigerians who were preparing to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on their wedding figured out how to somehow funnel the money back into their own economy with checks and balances for how the money is managed?  With all of the education, and money, and number of Nigerians having these opulent weddings, surely it could make a difference!  Lets look at this thing in more detail.

nigeria2

When I am doing makeup for some of these wedding I notice that the whole wedding party has designer shoes, I mean there are “red bottoms” everywhere!  Lets say that on average, the bridal party is 16 people and at least 12 of the women in the bridal party have designer shoes.  If each pair of shoes equals roughly $500(i googled average cost of designer shoes in 2016) and you multiply that by 12, that equals $6,000 and 1,890,000 naira! If you add another $6,000 from the groomsmen which is another 1,890,000 naira, that is a nice sized chunk of money, and all that we have calculated were shoes!  Based on the stats of money spent on shoes alone, I think that my point has been made for how much money is spent on Nigerian weddings.

nigeria3

Now no diss to Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Chanel, or any of the other European designers, but the last time I heard any of those companies discuss police brutality(Nigerians who live in the US no matter how educated can be pulled over because of the color of their skin too), inequalities in education for people of color, brain drain on the continent of Africa, or the failing Nigerian economy was … let me see… um never!!  Way back in 2005 when my professors said that Nigeria had the potential to be a super power in Africa, they got it wrong.  Nigeria has the potential to be a super power for the whole entire African diaspora!  Right now people of African descent are having to rethink many things, one of those being whether or not we want to continue to live in a country  where we risk being gunned down for trivial things like driving, selling loose cigarettes, and walking down the street no matter whether we are educated and can afford expensive weddings or not. In the large scheme of things, if Nigerians started to really plan and focus on channeling some of the money from these opulent weddings into the Nigerian economy where they could control how the money is managed once it gets there, that could very well be the start of an economic revolution!

Imagine if young couples getting married organized a way to do this by only supporting Nigerian vendors abroad and stateside for everything including dresses, shoes, fabric, photography, cakes, food, planners, rings, venues, airlines, hotels, travel agents, and  all entities involved agreed to invest a portion of the money made back into the economy in a controlled way weeding out mismanagement of funds.  International investors would come back, jobs would be created, and the young couples could essentially create a new infrastructure dismantling corruption, and the absence of checks and balances.  As it is related to those of African descent like me who may be looking for a new place to reside, Nigeria could be the place to be!

Now I know that I am being very opportunistic, but our countries have to be our priority.  It  saddens me to know that while we spend billions of dollars to celebrate one day, a potential super power of Africa and of the African diaspora suffers greatly.  It is time for us to be selfish and support our own!

 

 

What I Think Wednesday:Gifts With Purchase, Do Black Lives Matter?

Given everything that has happened in the last week, well past 300 years, my heart is pretty heavy.  The only way to be triumphant in anything is to keep pressing.  Since my blog is called “Make up in Black and White” and addresses gender, class, and race as those topics apply to the vast world of beauty, I thought it would only be right if I discussed race this week.  I  am going to be very specific, and discuss one uber frustrating thing.  Gift with purchases that major companies give out for earning points, birthdays, holidays or for spending a certain dollar amount never include products that women of color can use when it comes to color!

Every year when Christmas season pops up, I am always working in a retailer that provides amazing goody bags chock full of skincare, haircare, and makeup.  When ever I service a client that has a deeper skin tone who has earned one of those goody bags, they always ask if the bag is even worth them spending the extra money to earn.  Depending on what brand/retailer I am working for, the bag is 25-75% useful, and obviously if they can use only a small fraction of the products, they choose to pass on the gift or GWP as we call them in the retail world.

Out of sheer curiosity, I would love to know how much it costs a company to make lets say a tinted moisturizer sample?  I happen to freelance for a company that makes the best tinted moisturizer but when ever there are samples made it is always in the third to lightest shade that the company offers.  Realizing that the shade is the most popular, I can’t help but to wonder what would happen if that same company made a test run of a deeper shade, put it in magazines geared towards women of color i.e. Ebony and Essence to see what kind of return on the initial investment of making the samples in the first place.  I tell people all the time that just because you build it doesn’t mean “they” will come.  So for all of the cosmetic companies that offer make up for deeper skin tones, samples must be made in a broader range of shades, and marketed specifically to the demographics that speak to those women who have deeper skin.

To put it plainly, all lives matter so companies should do whatever they can to accommodate all people who do and could potentially become loyal supporters of their brands.  This for many of these companies would appeal to demographics that have tremendous spending power and have the ability to positively impact their bottom lines.

Bottom line?  Make the samples in a broader range of shades and market the hell out of them, its time!

Lips that broke the internet: MAC’s Instagram page and the image that revealed everything

Lips

When I first interviewed for MAC cosmetics, I did tons of research on the company so that I would be prepared for my interview ( which turned into like five!).  Anyway, while researching the company I learned that the slogan was “Makeup for All.  All ages, all races, all sexes.” That slogan meant a lot to me mainly because I had never really seen women of color working for make up brands like MAC, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, Lancome, etc…until I moved to Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C in 2005 was still chocolate city, and because of the high population of people of color, I saw more diversity within the world  of retail in D.C, Maryland, and Virginia than I had in my whole life!  D.C also had a high population of gay, lesbian, and transgender folks who also came from various ethnic/racial backgrounds, and I saw all of the above working behind the counter at MAC cosmetics making their slogan legitimate.

Fast forward to February 18, 2016, MAC cosmetics posts a photo of a black woman with a deeper skin tone and full lips on their instagram page, and all hell breaks loose!  Folks obviously not knowing the slogan for the company commented writing awful things like “fish lips“, “Jay Z lips“, and “N!gger lips“, just to name a few.

I couldn’t help but thinking about Kylie Jenner and the uproar that she caused when she started getting collagen injected in her lips so they could look similar to the model MAC posted on their instagram page a few days ago, and how subsequently she has been able to capitalize on her surgically enhanced lips and create a liquid lipstick line that sells out in seconds whenever they hit the internet.  Not only that, after she revealed her “new” lips, young women everywhere started putting their lips in plastic bottles and other contraptions to interrupt circulation creating a temporary swelling effect that made their lips look larger.  If we go back five to eight years, Angelina Jolie was celebrated the same way because of her naturally full lips.  There are countless other examples of women of European descent being celebrated for having full lips, large butts, tan skin, etc… but comments still pop up like “N!gger lips” when women of African descent are put on platforms to celebrate their features.

What I would love to see happen are “lean in” conversations amongst people from all different racial backgrounds regarding this reoccurring phenomenon.   There is an obvious double standard as it relates to celebrating African features on people of African descent vs. people of European descent, and the glaring question is WHY?? (nobody seems to have the answers Sway!)

Why do we think full lips on Kylie Jenner are beautiful but not on a women who is obviously of African descent?  Why are Kim Kardashian‘s “box braids” considered trendy and fashion forward when women of color are often considered “ghetto” for wearing the same cornrows?  Why did every man on the planet go crazy when J’Lo came on the scene with her large butt? If we truly sit down and attempt to come up with honest answers to these questions, we will inevitably face an ugly truth about the world that we live in.  Admitting the problem/s is the first step right?

 

Black Models Matter!!(Zac Posen says so!)

IMG_2021

After Beyonce shocked America with her political Super Bowl performance, Zac Posen decided to make a statement of his own.  During this months New York Fashion Week, Zac Posen made the choice to use mostly black models for his show proving that black models are just as valuable to the fashion world as any other.

Like Viola Davis said in her speech at the 2015 Golden Globes, “The only thing separating women of color from everyone else is opportunity.”She followed by saying “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

In this case, roles are replaced by runways, but the message is still the same.  Zac Posen you are appreciated!!