What Beauty Brands Can Learn from Colourpop’s Product Colorism Issue

Colourpop came under fire for the offensive names of its highlighting and contouring Sculpting Stix. Darker shades of the collection were given names like “Typo”, “Yikes” and “Dume”—the latter was supposed to be a city name, but its colloquial term has synonyms like “stupid” and “dumb.” Backlash kicked off on Twitter, with users of all shades calling out the company for the faux pas. “IDK why ColourPop would think naming someone’s skin tone “Yikes” or “Typo” would be a good idea. My skin tone is not bad or a mistake,” wrote one user. “Please don’t buy from Colourpop if you’re Black. Apparently your skin color is a “Typo” in their eyes,” another user wrote.

The brand has since changed the product names and issued an apology. “On behalf of ColourPop, we are sorry and are extremely grateful for our customers’ feedback,” a rep told Buzzfeed News. “We have taken immediate action to change the shade names and review our naming process to ensure this does not happen again.”

In the words of Ntozake Shange, I can’t use another sorry. H&M was sorry for defending their colorless campaign models line-up with the justification that non-Black models had a “positive image.” Giuliana Rancic was sorry for commenting that Zendaya’s faux locs made her look like she smelled of “patchouli” and “weed.” Cosmopolitan magazine was sorry for listing all of the Black women on the “RIP” side of their beauty do’s and don’ts list. The New York Times was sorry for terming actress Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful.” Apologies do nothing to end the daily war Black women find ourselves waging with mainstream beauty standards. Why not go for prevention instead of damage control?

Brands would do better to promote diversity and inclusion more proactively. What Black women could benefit from more than side-eye worthy apologies is companies who will step outside of embracing diversity in theory and make it a deeply integrated part of company culture.

As evidenced by Colourpop’s ill-named shades, inclusion alone is not enough. Pair that inclusion with consideration and respect. Hire more people of color in your offices –not to meet an ethics quota but to actually bring them to the table when editorial decisions are being made. Create or outsource a full-blown diversity team that provides trainings on culturally sensitive behavior. Establish a checks-and-balances approach that ensures all branding materials receive a proper once-over.

It should be as easy for these businesses to brainstorm ways to brush the bias out of their branding, as it was for me to write up these ideas off the cuff.

Brands who don’t take that time aren’t worth ours. Or our money. Women of color deserve beauty products from companies that include us and take pride in the fact that our chocolate hues are in their count.

If not, then they should keep their “sorry”. Black women will just keep our coins and we’ll call it even.