After years of working in corporate beauty, Sharon Chuter reached a turning point. "I was seeing these brands that I knew weren't inclusive, and realized there was such a thing as culpability through complacency," she says. "Understanding that, it got to a point where there was no way I could sit and do nothing." In founding Uoma Beauty, as well as her newest initiatives, Pull Up For Change and Make It Black, Chuter (who is one of our 2021 Changemakers) is unquestionably kicking complacency to the curb.
When Uoma Beauty launched in 2019, Chuter's mission was to create a safe space for people who had traditionally been ignored by the beauty industry. "Beauty was a space where we just weren’t welcome," says Chuter. "Everybody’s been left out—beyond just being Black, [people] have been left out because of the size of their bodies, who they love, or their gender—because it’s become so westernized and anglocentric... For me, it was about standing up against that and creating a community of misfits, for all the people who have been rejected by a place where everybody should feel at home."
That purpose is resonating: Uoma Beauty has won countless awards for its product offerings, and Women's Wear Daily named Chuter as one of the "50 most forward-thinking executives shaping the future of the beauty industry." But the journey hasn't been easy. "For me to have been able to raise multi-millions of dollars is very fortunate, but that doesn’t take away from the struggle it took to get here," says Chuter. "It doesn’t take away the prejudice you encounter at all places, like from retailers who just assume that when you say 'inclusive brand' you mean 'ethnic brand.'"
Chuter's experience is reflective of that of many Black founders, who face an uphill battle in getting their brands off of the ground. Of the $130 billion that was invested into businesses in 2019, less than 1 percent went to Black-owned businesses—and only 0.2 percent went to Black women. The average amount of investment given to a white man starting a business is $2.1 million, while Black women only receive $42,000. In addition to fighting for shelf space, Black employees are also highly underrepresented behind the scenes in the beauty industry. As of June, Black people held only 6 percent of leadership roles at Sephora, and many brands had no Black executives at all.
This is something that Chuter, herself, helped shine a light on. In response to #BlackOutTuesday, she challenged brands on Instagram to #PullUpOrShutUp, and publicly reveal how many Black people they employ at a corporate level. “Your favorite brands are making bold PR statements about their support for the Black community,” she wrote. “Please ask them how many Black employees they have in their organization (HQ and satellite offices only) and how many Black people they have in leadership roles. For the next 72 hours DO NOT purchase from any brand and demand they release these figures."
The movement, called Pull Up For Change, has since earned more than 127,000 followers on Instagram, and major players like Sephora, Ulta Beauty, and CoverGirl have all shared their workforce data and vowed to do better in their hiring practices.
The movement, called Pull Up For Change, has since earned more than 127,000 followers on Instagram, and major players like Sephora, Ulta Beauty, and CoverGirl have all shared their workforce data and vowed to do better in their hiring practices. "It was a really good time to have that conversation and get it into action," says Chuter. "The start of it was accountability because you can't improve what you don't measure. Then, it was about getting a public commitment to actually make a change."
Now, she's taking her mission even further with the launch of a new initiative, called "Make It Black." Chuter has partnered with nine beauty brands—Briogeo, ColourPop, Dragun Beauty, Flower Beauty, Maybelline, Morphe, NYX Professional Makeup, PUR, and Ulta Beauty—to celebrate the beauty of being Black and raise funds for Black founders. Brands will repackage some of their most iconic products into black packaging as a means of changing the negative perception that's traditionally been associated with the word "black," (like that it's "wrong and violent and threatening and oppressive," says Chuter). The proceeds from these sales will go to the Pull Up For Change Impact Fund. "I want every Black person to feel amazing, and in doing that, also raise money for the founders who need it the most," says Chuter. "The agenda of systemic racism attacks language, because they know it's the foundation of shaping our collective consciousness. But if you redefine 'Black' as a positive, it solves a lot of these problems."
In eight short months, Chuter has already impacted major change throughout the beauty industry—and she's only just beginning. "We’ll continue this partnership beyond Black History Month, and we’ll continue to turn iconic products black, because that’s really the engine to continue to empower Black founders," says Chuter. "From the first batch of brands that came forward during #PullUpOrShutUp, you could see that it was only the Black businesses employing Black people, but unfortunately, we don't have very many of them. So we have to accelerate this at a crazy rate, because if we get more Black businesses, it's going to help build Black employment, and ultimately, Black wealth."
To hear more of Chuter's thoughts on the current state of the beauty industry, check out the video below.
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