Leaders in retail beauty lines and fashion agree that while the industry has grown more racially diverse and inclusive in recent years, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
A panel discussion titled “L’Oreal: Representation in Beauty” took place at the Momentary Saturday as a part of NWA Fashion Week.
Angel Beasley, director of specialty hair for Walmart, who also leads diversity and inclusion for all of Walmart Beauty, moderated the discussion.
Beasley first asked panelists to discuss what it’s like to be a minority in the beauty and fashion worlds and what keeps them leaning in and continuing their craft.
Korto Momolu, a fashion designer who was on the fifth season of “Project Runway” and now resides in Little Rock, said she feels it’s important to use her voice to represent herself, other immigrants and Arkansans, too.
As a Liberian, Momolu says she sometimes comes up against negative attitudes about her background as an immigrant, but she would like more people to understand that she sees Arkansas as her home and a place that she works hard for.
Kendall Dorsey, a celebrity hairstylist who worked backstage at NWA Fashion Week, said he’s definitely been in spaces where he felt different and was the only person of color in the room.
“At first, it felt like I had ‘made it,’ but then I had to find my way through this way of life,” Dorsey said. Now that he’s reached a certain level of acclaim, he hopes to stand up for others in a similar position, other Black creatives from small towns or rural parts of the country, in hopes that they can find platforms and places to cultivate their talent.
“I’ve worked so hard for every nook and cranny that came my way,” Dorsey said. “I wanted to be seen.”
Each panelist faced their own challenges as they established themselves in the beauty business. For Dorsey, one of those moments was an unwelcome comment about his personal style. He was called intimidating and aloof, which affected him for years until he made peace with not having to “fit in” everywhere.
Tenaj Ferguson, director of marketing for Loreal, specifically in multicultural beauty, said she spends a lot of time thinking of how to approach diverse consumers and welcome them to the brand. She felt defeated in past work when she would have an idea, bring it forward but then not be heard.
Ferguson said there’s a difference between inviting diverse voices to the table and actually asking them what they think, as well as acknowledging and empowering them.
Momolu’s most difficult moment came when she had an opportunity to present a collection to buyers at Neiman Marcus in New York. She had placed all her funds back into her brand to make it happen and was left with a shoestring budget, but the meeting was dismissive, telling her to return with a different collection next season. It spurred her to stick to her gut and do things her way.
Let’s “be stronger with our voices,” Momolu said. “When we go into those rooms, if there isn’t a table for us, let’s create our own out of scrap fabric. I’ve done it my own way. Artists, stand by what you believe in.”