How Black Hairstylists and Makeup Artists Really Want to Be Supported Right Now and Beyond

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

With a new fire lit under the Black Lives Matter movement, in response to protests against police brutality and racial injustice, it's impossible to not talk about the politics of skin color. At the core of the conversation is the very business built on looks: the beauty industry. Black hairstylists and makeup artists have moved their private talks around the subject to the forefront of social media, and are calling on their non-Black colleagues, clients, and beauty brands to show support in their actions. While there's been an outpouring of support and commitments made to helping shift the long-standing bias narrative, many Black beauty creatives are left with questions. They're skeptical about how they'll now navigate and ultimately thrive in an industry that has for so long not seen their skin tone, hair texture, and facial features as a standard of beauty. With uncomfortable discussions unfolding among the general public now more than ever, several experts were honest about how they would like to be supported not just for the moment, but forever.

Even before these protests, the beauty industry was already at the height of a recalibration. With salons forced to temporarily close or completely shutter due to COVID-19, the livelihood of many artists and entrepreneurs was abruptly disrupted. Taking to social media to host virtual salon sessions and tutorials has become reinvention of a business model so deeply rooted in personal interaction. It unfortunately has also emphasized the many divides between equally talented pros on account of their race.

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When #BlackoutTuesday challenged social media users to pause regular postings and instead share information and resources that uplift, encourage, and support the black community and black-owned businesses, hairstylist Naeemah Lafond made a contribution on behalf of herself and fellow beauty professionals with what she called a guide to "How Brands and Industry Decision Makers Can Support Black Hair Stylists." The overwhelming sentiment in the comments was that her 11 points outline was overdue and, more importantly, hopefully heard. Here are some of the points from Lafond's guide, plus, what other black industry pros tell ishonest they need the most right now.

Hire Us On Your Creative Teams

Lafond starts out her list with this call to action and every one of the pros we spoke with echoed the request. "Don't just put our work on your mood boards — put us on the call sheet," Lafond wrote. Jacksonville, Florida hair stylist, Pekela Riley further explains what she's historically experienced on her side of the business: "Black stylist are rarely given equal pay, exposure, opportunity, lead positions, art direction roles, consulting roles in portion to their white counterparts of equal or even lesser skill in the beauty industry. And when they are, it’s with the expectation of unduly levels of gratitude."

Change Your Ideology

"The beauty culture in itself is hard to navigate because our beauty is not seen as the standard, so that already starts us off with a huge disadvantage when trying to advocate for Black faces to be seen," says Joy Fennell, makeup artist, Founder & CEO of The Joy in Beauty and Creator of the All Black Everything Summit. Fennell says that there's always been an underlining and unspoken rule that as long as there's one Black person on staff, then the brand or company often times considers itself diverse. She adds that the way to break this way of thinking is by forcing people to look inward, and historically it's just been easier to not go down that road. Instead, the answer has has been to simply not hire Black people for the job.

Offer Genuine Support Over Performative Allyship

"We need allies in this fight because no movement has gotten far without real allies," says Fennell. But gauging the authenticity of these newfound allyships, she asks this: Where were you before? Why did it have to take this rallying cry to get you to finally act and speak up? And how and will this support continue and go further, will it carry into the boardrooms, the manufacturing plants, and beyond?" Fennell isn't the only one asking these question. Just about every other beauty creative we spoke with expressed similar sentiments that the sudden interest in support Black colleagues and friends, can't just be a weeklong social media trend. "There will be a heavy loss amount to pay for this insincerity," says Riley.

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Hairstylist Tippi Shorter says that for the first time non-Blacks are seeing how ugly people of color have been treated. In her opinion, while the obligatory urge to support is great she wants it to stretch further. "We are having conversations with the gatekeepers in beauty that we’ve never been able to have before and I really hope this sparks a massive change," says Shorter. What she wants most from the change directly aligns with the desire of her beauty comrades. "I want consistent and sincere representation. I don’t need or want handouts. I want all of the same opportunities that my peers have," says Shorter.

Add Natural and Textured Hair to Your Repertoire

Lafond is challenging non-Black hair stylists to make curl care and natural texture education mandatory in all salons so that services are available to anyone who walks in. Oakland, California-based hair colorist, Jessica Kiyomi, agrees: "The amount of non-black hairstylist who refuse to learn how to do black hair even when they live in areas with Black people is disgusting and disheartening," says Kiyomi. Despite the Bay Area being extremely diverse, Kiyomi says that there are only a small handful of non-black stylists that she knows of who can care for and style curly hair.

Be Intentional About Inclusivity

"We want representation on all platforms — not just the ones that you need a black perspective or a black face for," Lafond wrote. Makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff concurs. "[Brands] need to make sure they are not just culture vultures and actually hire Black people as publicists, account managers, talent bookers, and creatives on not exclusively Black and brown people shoots," says Sheriff.

Thomas would like to see this level of representation brought to the forefront as well and not just behind-the-scenes. "I want to see all hair textures, especially tighter textures, on the ads for these companies. I want to see all skin tones, especially darker skin in ads. I want to see us included because we spend billions of dollars on beauty and we are constantly getting ignored or pigeonholed into the box, and not being allowed a larger platform" says Thomas.

Let Us Into The Room

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While Fennell says that while it's a type of progress that these conversations are even happening, she adds that it's important to note this is more so about dismantling generations of systems that have been put in place to keep Blacks out of the decision-making process — and that has to change right now. "We need to be seen and heard in all parts of this industry. We demand to be a part of the decision-making process," says Fennell. "Our voices and shared experiences are powerful and we bring with us knowledge. This is not about pitying us and just throwing a bone here and there, it's about digging deep and really valuing us and our input," she adds.

Fennell also notes that there's a huge economical divide between Black creators only being paid a portion of what their white counterparts get. There's a lot to be discussed, but the first step is giving Black creatives an opportunity to contribute within the closed door, decision-making meetings.

Give Credit Where It's Due

With more than 20 years as a makeup artist under her belt, Sheriff has experienced a lot of diversity and inclusion missteps among her non-Black associates. She recalls a time early in her career when Black models would get their makeup done before a shoot by their trusted Black artist friends and then show up to set ready to go. "Even though the artist on set did nothing, it was their name that went into the magazine credits for someone else’s work," Sheriff recalls. She says this is what has led to much of the discrediting and lack of inclusion in what she calls the biography of beauty. Hairstylist Nai’vasha has experienced the same. "The biggest struggles have been my expertise not being acknowledged and respected in spaces where I am more than qualified," says Nai’vasha.

Value Skillset Differences

Riley also notes that Black stylist are often marginalized to texture-specific styling recognition. "Even if a stylist is an amazing colorist, the industry often locks them into a ‘texture’ specialty box, while non-Black artist have free range to specialize in all hair types," says Riley. Being recognized for her versatile skillset is what Nai’vasha desires most. "I am a hairdresser who does all hair types, who’s educated, and who’s equipped with all the tools. However, my access is limited because I am a Black woman." says Nai’vasha. "What I need right now and beyond from our industry is equality, the same opportunities to be shared amongst the qualified, and fair access," Nai’vasha concludes.

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