Halima Aden has only been in the industry for a few years but the Somali-American model has already redefined the standards in fashion. And now, she is setting out to make a change in the beauty industry, too. "When I'm on set, I notice that makeup artists have to blend multiple foundations or concealers to match my skin color," she tells Refinery29. That's proof that even in 2019, there's more work to be done when it comes to serving women of color in the makeup aisle.
That's why when she met with Sharon Chuter, the founder of the new beauty brand UOMA — pronounced OMA — she was all in. "I fell in love with the concept," Aden says of the new brand that aims to take inclusivity to the next level. "It was very exciting for me, because it's the first Afropolitan line of cosmetics." In addition to providing an extensive shade range, Chuter, who has worked in the beauty business for years with companies like LVMH, wants to reinvent the foundation category in another way.
While other brands are simply adding on more shades to their foundation collections, UOMA is creating completely different formulas for different skin tones. So, within the 51 available shades, there are six custom formulas that will address the most common skin-care needs of each shade range. For example, the deeper shades have ingredients that help with hyperpigmentation, and the fair shades have ingredients that help reverse redness. Along with the foundation, the brand will also be launching at Ulta with concealer, a contour-and-highlight stick, liquid eyeliner, lipstick, lipgloss, and eyeshadow palettes — all created to serve a variety of skin tones.
In addition to Chuter's next-generation formulations, she also created a brand D.N.A. that is rooted in inclusivity. The name UOMA means beautiful in Igbo, the native language of southeastern Nigeria. The campaign, which features Aden, was shot in Nigeria. And even the product names play homage to culturally influential women (like Cleopatra, Angela Davis, Miriam Makeba). Chuter is setting an example of how to define inclusivity beyond shade availability.
Representation doesn't just matter on the shelves, it's also important in the way the brand is presented on social media and in campaigns. "Anytime I have a campaign, I always get the flood of direct messages from girls like, 'Wow, this is what you're inspiring me to do,'" says the 21-year-old, who made history as the first Miss Minnesota USA pageant contestant to wear a hijab and a burkini on stage. "There are girls that never thought there was a space for them and so when they do see someone who wears the hijab, who is Somalian, who is Black, who they can just relate to personally, it gives them that extra boost of confidence — which is what has been so moving for me and what keeps me motivated."
And the best way to create even more change in the beauty industry is to give dollars to the brands that are doing it right. Aden emphasizes that we need to let the numbers hold these companies responsible. "We don't need to hold brands accountable, because now more than ever, brands are recognizing the power of being inclusive," says Aden. "What holds these companies accountable is when they get their year-end statements, and if they aren't being representative and inclusive, that's where they see the outcome."
While there is still room for improvement for the beauty industry, Aden is proud of where it is going, especially when brands like UOMA are coming to the market to raise the bar with inclusivity. "I can't wait to see what the next couple of years is going to look like, because just two to three years into my career and I've seen so much change," she tells us. "I went from being one of the only hijab-wearing models to now, just this year, I counted already 10 hijab-wearing models in campaigns. Women are challenging the norms and being fearless."