How defiant Iman built a $25m beauty empire – after retailers told her "black women dont buy liquid foundation"


How defiant Iman built a $25m beauty empire – after retailers told her 'black women don’t buy liquid foundation'

PUBLISHED:

21:39 GMT, 1 June 2012

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UPDATED:

21:39 GMT, 1 June 2012

Beauty message: After two decades of modeling, the 56-year-old started Iman Cosmetics in 1994, focusing on difficult-to-find shades for ethnic women

Beauty message: The model started Iman Cosmetics to focus on difficult-to-find shades for ethnic women

Iman has proven beauty retailers wrong with her successful make-up line, after they told her that 'black women don’t buy liquid foundation'.

Focusing on difficult-to-find shades for ethnic women, the supermodel's namesake cosmetic company has become a $25million business.

However during yesterday's WWD Beauty CEO Summit, the 56-year-old revealed that skeptical retailers have made it far from easy.

After nearly two-decades modelling, and mixing foundation formulations for make-up artists to use on her, Iman launched her line at JCPenney in 1994.

To take Iman Cosmetics to the mass market, she signed a deal with Procter & Gamble in 2004, but distributors like Walgreens and Target responded to it with caution.

'I didn’t understand that it was if they have 1,000 doors, only 200 are for women of color,' she said.

Retailers then tried to place her products at the back of their stores, which they see as the 'ethnic section'.

'It was a no-go. They wanted me to be
placed at the back, which they considered, like it is, for the ethnic
section, which I was totally against.'

And despite her soaring
sales, she admitted that trying to secure distribution has
been a challenge for both brick-and-mortar and online stores.

'I
approached the players – Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens – and everybody
knew about the brand and how successful it was, so everybody said yes to
it,' she began.

Model make-up: After nearly two-decades modelling, and mixing foundation formulations for make-up artists, Iman launched her beauty line at JCPenney in 1994

Model make-up: After nearly two-decades modelling, and mixing foundation formulations for make-up artists, Iman launched her beauty line in 1994

'But then there was this, “Oh we’ll test it.” Like I had just started, like there was no customer base for it.'

Since retailers would not agree to put her
products with the rest of their makeup, most of Iman's business
is now conducted online.

However because women like to look at
makeup, and test it before they buy it, having an e-commerce-based sales model for any cosmetics brand will stunt growth.

Iman says she knows this,
and would like it to be different, because 'customers need to be serviced,' she said.

Focusing on difficult-to-find shades for ethnic women, the supermodel's namesake cosmetic company has become a $25million, despite skeptical retailers.

Iman Cosmetics: Focusing on difficult-to-find shades for ethnic women, the supermodel's company has become a $25million business, despite skeptical retailers

'If only the retailers understood it. I have customers from all over
the world that look for the products, but I also have customers in the
U.S. that can’t find the product in a store near them.'

While Iman Cosmetics sells products any woman can use, such as lipstick, mascara and eyeliner, her foundation, a challenging category for many women of color, accounts for 75per cent of her overall sales.

Despite discouragement from retailers who thought no one would buy it, three months after the line was launched, the foundation was the number-one product in her brand.