BIPOC are too often excluded from the beauty industry, an industry that is what it is today because of the work of Black and Brown creatives. From the advent of the hairbrush to the invention of conditioner, Black women are behind some of beauty’s most important innovations. In honor of the pioneering forces, we’re spotlighting 15 Black women who completely revolutionized the beauty industry. Check out these amazing creators and innovators below!
1. Madam C.J. Walker
The first self-made female millionaire in history, Madam C.J. Walker was a pioneering force in the hair health and beauty industries. The entrepreneur developed a signature line of hair products, pomades, shampoos, and conditioners specifically formulated for Black women. Walker employed thousands of Black women, taught her employees about financial independence, and consistently donated to organizations like the NAACP.
2. Pat McGrath
Beauty mogul Pat McGrath has been shaping the fashion industry for years, conceptualizing makeup looks for literally every single runway show and magazine you can think of. She has helped countless other luxury brands, from Giorgio Armani to Dolce & Gabanna, launch cosmetics lines. Vogue‘s Anna Wintour famously proclaimed McGrath to be the “most influential makeup artist in the world,” and the Queen of England awarded her the coveted title of MBE. In short, McGrath is the most important person working in beauty today. With the opening of Pat McGrath Labs in 2015, McGrath took beauty to the ultimate next level with her own line of innovative cosmetics products. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
3. Lisa Price
Lisa Price is the founder of curly-girl favorite Carol’s Daughter. What started with homemade products in a Brooklyn kitchen has skyrocketed into a nationally-recognized natural beauty brand (we actually have a full interview with the mogul here). From coveted healthy hair butters to coconut-infused conditioners, Carol’s Daughter never fails to deliver quality products specially crafted for textured hair. In 2016, Carol’s Daughter expanded into Target stores nationwide, so these killer products are now more accessible than ever.
4. Nancy Twine
This lovely lady is the creative force behind the cult-favorite hair care brand Briogeo. Briogeo is a groundbreaking brand that’s taking beauty back to the basics with a natural approach to hair care. With coveted products like the Farewell Frizz Leave-In Conditioner and the Scalp Revival Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo, Briogeo’s high-performance, high-quality hair products have something for every hair type.
5. Naomi Sims
Naomi Sims is often regarded as the first Black supermodel. She was the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Ladies Home Journal, a major moment for the “Black is Beautiful” Movement, which aimed to dismantle Eurocentric anti-Black notions of beauty. Sims went on to appear on the cover of Life and The New York Times fashion magazine, before turning her attention towards the business side of the industry, creating a successful line of wigs and authoring several books on modeling.
6. Tracey Norman
The gorgeous Tracey Norman was the first Black trans model to achieve prominence in the modeling industry. Throughout the 1970s, Norman graced the pages of countless top publications, including Vogue Italia, Essence, and Harper’s Baazar. Norman also landed a major commercial campaign as the face of Clairol’s popular “Born Beautiful” shade No. 152. The brand brought this barrier-breaking fashion icon back as the face of its “Nice ‘n Easy Color As Real As You Are” line in 2016.
7. Beverly Johnson
Supermodel Beverly Johnson made fashion history as the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Vogue and French Elle, paving the way for successive generations of famous faces to do the same. The multitalented creative went on to appear on over 500 magazine covers and had successful career turns as an actor and a memoirist. Johnson was also one of the first women to speak out against Bill Cosby, a brave move that inspired many other women to come forward.
8. Grace Jones
Who could forget a face like Grace Jones's? With a futuristic sense of style and a uniquely androgynous aesthetic, Jones has left a major mark on nearly every industry. She’s been a disco queen, a new wave rocker, a Bond girl, and a fashion model. You name it, she’s killed it. Her boundary-pushing creativity has paved the way for countless more provocateurs to challenge conventional.
9. Naomi Campbell
The 1990s would not have been the 1990s without Naomi Campbell. The British supermodel was the first Black woman on the cover of French Vogue. At the height of her career, Campbell walked on pretty much every catwalk there is, starred in global ad campaigns, and graced the covers of countless publications. Campbell has also been vocal about the pay disparity between herself and her white counterparts, calling out beauty brands and fashion houses for discriminatory hiring practices. In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious CFDA Fashion Icon Award for her considerable work in the industry.
Nine-time Grammy award-winning musician Rihanna is taking the beauty industry by storm. After a decade spent making chart-topping bops, Rihanna founded the skin-tone inclusive cosmetics line Fenty Beauty in 2017. The brand has quickly turned into a multi-faceted fashion empire celebrating people of all shades and sizes.
11. Kellie Brown
Fashion blogger Kellie Brown is breaking the industry’s stick-thin body barriers. Not only does Brown have an amazing sense of personal style, but the “And I Get Dressed” YouTube star founded #FatAtFashionWeek, an online initiative spotlighting the beautiful bigger women in the fashion industry.
12. Maria Borges
Maria Borges was the first Black model to wear her natural hair for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Her bold move prompted the brand to end its archaic, Eurocentric practice of requiring its models to wear hair extensions on the runway. Hair discrimination in the fashion industry is pervasive and specifically targets BIPOC. Borges’s VS moment called attention to these discriminatory practices and put pressure on fashion houses and retail brands to make meaningful changes.
Somali supermodel Iman is one of the most recognizable faces from the 1980s and 1990s. Apart from playing muse to the likes of Gianni Versace and Yves Saint Laurent, Iman is also an avid activist, philanthropist, and the founder of Iman Cosmetics, one of the first cosmetics lines to cater specifically towards BIPOC.
14. Alicia Keys
Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys is more than just an incredible vocalist, pianist, and activist. The Grammy award-winning musician is an ardent supporter of the No Makeup Movement, an initiative focused on emphasizing every individual’s natural beauty.
15. Jackie Aina
Beauty blogger Jackie Aina was the first influencer to take home the NAACP Image Award for her advocacy and activism in fighting discrimination in the beauty industry. With her transparent product reviews and tutorials, Aina is using her platform to challenge beauty brands to do better for Black women.