As we're (finally) making more efforts to support Black-owned businesses, we should inevitably be wondering why there have been so few of them visible to mainstream consumers.
Within the astoundingly white-washed beauty industry, Black-owned brands account for a shamefully small fraction of the industry. This is especially egregious considering that, on average, Black women spend nine times more on beauty and hair care than white women. In 2017 Rihanna's Fenty Beauty released an inclusive range of 40 shades of foundation to wild acclaim, and the industry began to reckon with its lack of diversity.
Major brands like Dior, Rimmel, and CoverGirl have attempted to release more diverse shades, but their tactic of "diverse" advertising often commodifies and objectifies non-white skin tones. As writer Niellah Arboine critiques, "There is something really dehumanizing about calling [products] chocolate, caramel, mocha and coffee while all the lighter shades are porcelain or ivory."
The Birth of Juvia's Place
But there have always been small beauty brands catering to dark skin tones without using diversity as a marketing gimmick.
In 2014, Nigerian-born business owner Chichi Eburu launched her cosmetics company, Juvia's Place, with just $2,000; it would become one of the fastest growing Black-owned brands in the industry. Designed with dark skin tones in mind, Juvia's Place's eyeshadow palettes became known as some of the most pigmented products on the market.
In 2017, Eburu said in an interview, "When I was creating my palettes I wanted each palette to be representative of the African culture and art. I took a look at the beauty industry and there was nothing that truly represented the black culture as a whole. I feel like the market is here, we're here [black women] and we're beautiful. It just doesn't make any sense why we're not represented fully in the cosmetic industry."
Among Juvia's Place most popular palettes are "The Saharan," "The Nubian," "The Zulu," and "The Afrique." Eburu said she's inspired by all aspects of African culture when she names a new product.
"Most of our palettes are very vibrant and colorful," Eburu said. "Anytime I have to create a new palette or new product I think of culture, the food, the spices, everything. That's what inspires me creatively. African festivals, music, clothing, the artwork, the environment."
Juvia's Place rose swiftly in popularity thanks in part to Instagram. When asked what's the biggest lesson she learned in the first three years of operating her company, Eburu said, "We always knew social media was powerful, but we didn't know how powerful. Instagram has really grown our business, so we've had to learn to be really protective of our brand and always put our customers first."
The Racist Known as Jeffree Star
Sadly, like the tragic flaw of a Greek play, the brand's Instagram presence would be what briefly crippled their reputation in 2019. The brand's online popularity resulted in attention from prominent beauty YouTube, such as NikkiTutorials (touting over 13 million subscribers)–and also Jeffree Star.
What can we say about the influencer who released a Jeffree Star Cosmetics product called "Cremated" amidst a global pandemic? At 36 years old, the ex-MySpace star and failed singer has amassed over 16 million subscribers on YouTube and a net worth of approximately $50 million.
Remember when he released an apology video for all of his past racist remarks? Aside from the fact that he called the video "RACISM." and referred to his discriminatory remarks as an "issue I've been dealing with for a long time" (emphasis is our own), he phrased his apology more as a defense than anything.
Star said, self-pityingly, "I think it's time for me to get my side out and hope that people listen to it and absorb it. If you watch it and you still hate me after, that's okay. At least I got to say my side of the story."
Or perhaps you've seen infamous Jeffree Star Twitter feuds, footage of him harassing individuals in public (including screaming the n-word at a group of women), or from fellow famous influencers (from Kat Von D to Jackie Aina) accusing him of racist or even outright illegal behavior. As Buzzfeed News pointed out, "Somehow, all roads in the YouTube beauty world seem to lead back to Star."
. @jeffreestar https://t.co/5VUyCzfMf4— Naira Banks (@Naira Banks)1538187339.0
Unfortunately, Juvia's Place was no exception. In 2019, Star posted a review of the brand's foundation, concealer, and setting powder. He gave the products a glowing review, saying, "For an indie brand that has just come on the market with their first ever foundation, they're killing it, let's just say that right now...I'm throughly impressed."
However, the public was quick to point out the hypocrisy of a white man with a history of racist rhetoric and behavior reviewing a Black-owned beauty brand that catered especially to Black demographics.
But what was more damaging was Juvia's Place's public acknowledgement of the review, expressing gratitude to the problematic influencer. They posted Star's review on their Instagram page, writing, "We're Speechless...Thank you, @jeffreestar."
Why Juvia's Place Was "Canceled" (Sort of)
The result? Juvia's Place was swiftly "canceled" for betraying their customer base. Many Black consumers accused the company of abandoning the community by supporting Star.
One ex-customer critiqued, "Why do some of these brands and influencers go against all that is good to be in his good graces? He's NOT the God of makeup. He's a continuously problematic brand owner and influencer that people have given far too much power to. It's gross."
Other prominent Black beauty bloggers like Jackie Aina and Alissa Ashley accused Juvia's Place of ignoring them and choosing more prominent white beauty bloggers to endorse their products over them. Aina, in particular, critiqued the company for selling out and using "pro-black imagery to lure black [money], only to step over them on the way to the top and reject them when you get there."
“all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk”🙁 I can’t align myself with any brand, black-owned or not, that purposely taunts their… https://t.co/vUfSaI0Lov— Naira Banks (@Naira Banks)1560657850.0
Ultimately, critics overlooked the fact that Juvia's Place didn't send Jeffree Star the products, nor did they ask him for a review. He heard about the brand's exceptional quality from fellow beauty blogger NikkiTutorials and sought out the products at his local Ulta Beauty store. Star was not paid nor given a commission, as Eburu later explained on Instagram.
So how was Juvia's Place supposed to remain "loyal" to its customers? By rejecting free exposure to millions of new customers?
Eburu soon made it clear that her company is about representing Black culture in a major mainstream industry that's historically overlooked (and commodified) the Black community. Her products are designed to embody African culture, vitality, and pride–so wouldn't the disservice to the Black community be to refuse mainstream attention?
It's ironic that in 2017 Eburu commented on the fierce scrutiny Black-owned businesses are subjected to, not knowing that her company would be targeted in the coming years. She said, "I think Black-owned brands get the most heat for minor issues. We have to realize as people of color we don't have the same resources as most commercial brands."
The Juvia's Place founder added, "I strongly believe resources are limited in the Black community, however, togetherness is the strongest quality any group of people can have. If we come together as a Black community any challenge can be conquered. It's that simple. Togetherness is key."
Despite the backlash, Juvia's Place is still going strong in 2020. With over 2.5 million followers on Instagram, the brand is known for producing some of the most pigmented eyeshadows on the market and putting its signature image of Queen Nefertiti (which Eburu calls a symbol of "Black beauty, black power") in the hands of millions of customers.