In the 1970s and 1980s, Fashion Fair, the iconic makeup brand launched by the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, was about the only option for black women looking for cosmetics made to flatter their skin tones.
In April, Johnson Publishing went bankrupt, along with the Fashion Fair Cosmetics brand, which has struggled for years.
Last month, former Johnson executives Desiree Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack bought Fashion Fair for $1.85 million with the help of Alec Litowitz, founder and CEO of Illinois-based hedge fund Magnetar Capital.
They are promising to breathe new life into the brand but also are dealing with a much-changed industry than when the brand launched in 1973.
Growing up in Trinidad in the ’80s, Patrice Grell Yursik, a well-known beauty blogger based in Chicago, remembers her mother popping the Fashion Fair pink compact into her purse before leaving for work. Sometimes, she organized her mom’s collection of pink-lidded Fashion Fair lipsticks lined up on a mahogany dressing table. The lipsticks and powder matched her mother’s skin perfectly.
Yursik, who has more than 247,000 followers on her Facebook page, regularly tries out beauty brands and shares her thoughts with her audience. She said she’s excited to see what her 80-year-old mother’s favorite makeup has in store for her.
“Fashion Fair will have a different road ahead of them,” Yursik said. “They could benefit from celebrating what they used to do and partnering with influencers in a smart way.”
Unlike in the 1980s, women of color now have an almost mind-numbing selection of makeup brands in drugstores, specialty stores such as Ulta and Sephora and on the internet to give their lips that perfect tint and their complexions a smooth, polished look. By next year, black consumers are expected to spend $2.25 billion annually on beauty products, according to research firm Mintel.
That creates a challenge for Rogers and Mayberry McKissack, who will compete against the likes of megawatt celebrity Rihanna, who has successfully wooed women to her high-end Fenty Beauty brand, a partnership with LVMH. Fenty turned the industry on its head in fall 2017, introducing 40 shades of foundation — there are now 50 — highlighters, lipsticks and other makeup products designed to illuminate a diversely hued cosmetics audience that was often ignored or marginalized by other beauty brands. Forbes predicted Fenty’s sales would soar to more than $200 billion by 2025.
Rogers and Mayberry McKissack say they are undaunted, armed with a brand rich in history that will deliver products designed for black women by black women.
They also purchased Black Opal, a mass-market cosmetics brand for women of color, for an undisclosed amount in September. Among other places, it is sold at Walmart and CVS. Rogers and Mayberry McKissack, who work out of an office in Merchandise Mart, said they plan to have new Fashion Fair products on the market by the holiday season.
“We think it’s important for women of color to not only be consumers of the product, but we need to have a seat at the table by owning these products,” said Mayberry McKissack, 64, who served as chief operating officer and digital media chief at Johnson Publishing from 2013 to 2016.
“For us, it’s a bit personal,” added Rogers, who was CEO of Johnson Publishing from 2010 to 2017. “We are old enough to remember when we couldn’t find our own shades of [foundation].”
“We’re not doing makeup for everyone,” said Rogers, 60. “The fact is that women of color are still having trouble finding the right shade.”
The duo have been tight-lipped about their plans for Fashion Fair.
The brand, which previously was sold by well-appointed women at department-store beauty counters, is starting from scratch, Rogers said.
The two said the ultimate goal, between Fashion Fair and Black Opal, is to provide options for a range of budgets.
To succeed and attract younger consumers, industry insiders say Rogers and Mayberry McKissack will have to embrace the realities of the beauty industry.
Today’s beauty ecosystem is ruled by influencers like Yursik who share their thoughts about products and demonstrate their application on websites and YouTube channels with their thousands, and sometimes millions, of followers.
While older consumers of black beauty products rely on advertising to help them decide what makeup to buy, younger consumers — the coveted “GenZennials” between 18 and 34 — are buying what their friends and family are wearing and favorite beauty bloggers are buying, said Toya Mitchell, a consumer analyst at Mintel.
Sales channels will be another challenge. Fashion Fair, Mitchell noted, was primarily sold in department stores, many of which have closed.