Rihanna's Fenty Line is a Wake-Up Call for the Retail Industry

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Rihanna's Fenty Beauty line is part of a broader move to offer products that appeal to a variety of races and ethnicities.
Rihanna's Fenty Beauty line is part of a broader move to offer products that appeal to a variety of races and ethnicities.  Credit: PRNewsfoto/Fenty Beauty by Rihanna

Consumers thirsty for non-Caucasian-targeted products are starting to get their due from retail brands.

Earlier this month, for instance, Rihanna debuted Fenty Beauty, a "Beauty for All" collection that offers products for every skin tone -- think 40 different shades of foundation. The line, the latest from the trend-setting singer/designer, was met with immediate enthusiasm from consumers who were used to being ignored.

Rihanna continued Fenty's momentum on Thursday by using Instagram to preview the brand's holiday Galaxy Collection, which drops Oct. 13. Since the beauty label launched Sept. 8, it's managed to attract 1.4 million Instagram followers. "From a reach perspective, it's impressive," says Jane Fisher, associate director of client strategy for beauty at L2, which tracks digital performance. However, she notes that Fenty has room for growth: brands built on social media have several million more followers. Anastasia Beverly Hills has 14.6 million, for example.

Fenty reflects a broader recognition among marketers that there is unmet demand for products that appeal to a variety of races and ethnicities.

Along with beauty and food, underwear brands have begun to offer products in more colors in recent years. Smaller underwear labels such as Naja, Nubian Skin and Nudz sell multi-hued collections to darker skin tones. Last year, Naja ran a subway campaign to tout its Nude for All collection.

The U.S. population is expected to grow to 350 million people in 2026 from 324 million last year, with more than half of the increase comprising Hispanics, followed by Asians, African-Americans and Caucasians in that order, according to a report due out Monday from strategy and management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

"This used to be a niche and it's not niche anymore," says Hana Ben-Shabat, a partner in the consumer goods and retail practice of A.T. Kearney. Multicultural buying power is expected to grow to $5.9 trillion in 2016 from $3.5 trillion in 2015, she says. *(A.T. Kearney did not calculate comparable figures for the overall market.)*

"We have more people in the population that need this product … and their spending power is increasing," Ben-Shabat says. "There's more recognition that you can't continue just ignoring this population by treating everyone in a one size fits all [way]."

Indeed, black consumers' spending power alone should reach $1.5 trillion by 2021, according to a Nielsen report released on Thursday. Black women specifically are often trendsetters, brand loyalists and early adopters, Nielsen says in the report. They have also "taken social media and adopted it for higher purposes" more than any other demographic group, according to Nielsen. "Whether they are buying cars, jewelry, smartphones or beauty products, the advice, referrals and feedback they receive from friends and community play an important role in Black women's purchases," the report says.

Products to match the ads
Some brands previously emphasized ethnic diversity in their advertising more than in their product development. That's gotten harder in the era of social media, which is quick to surface complaints from consumers.

"The ethnic audience has always existed, but in recent years, the power dynamic has shifted because of the internet and different forms of social media that audience now has a voice," says Cary Leitzes, founder of Leitzes & Co., a 10-year-old brand consulting firm based in New York City. "This is this cataclysmic shift—the reaction of companies listening to the consumer."

Over the last several years, designers at New York Fashion Week, long chastised for their all-white model lineups, have begun to respond to the outcry. At the twice-annual event in early September, 36.9 percent of the models who walked the runway were of color, a record-high, according to Fashion Spot, which found that 31.5 percent were models of color at the last Fashion Week in February.

Ben-Shabat expects more marketers, both small and large, to continue to expand their offerings. "We are about to see a big increase in these types of products and services for this particular market segment," she says.

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