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Amid Black Beauty Brand Closures, Glossier Ups Financial Support



Two weeks ago, Roya Shariat, Glossier’s head of impact, shared some news on her personal Instagram account: The Established, a Black-owned beauty brand that Glossier had helped fund, had closed.

The vegan skincare brand was one of 10 Black-owned beauty companies that had received $50,000 grants from Glossier in 2021, part of the company’s efforts to support Black founders in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by helping address historic inequities and barriers to fundraising. They weren’t the only member of Glossier’s class of 2021 that was struggling: just a week or so earlier, Ceylon, a skincare brand focused on men of colour, said it would start to wind down its business.

Shariat told The Business of Fashion that she wanted with her post to call attention to the increasingly challenging landscape for Black beauty founders, even if it was a painful moment for Glossier whose teams felt “gutted to see brands we advocated for [shutter],” she said.

Amidst the flood of responses in Shariat’s inbox was an implicit call to action for Glossier.

“NO ONE is investing in us (black founders) … Everyone showed up with their mentorship and grant money after George Floyd and vanished,” read the message from beauty founder Devin McGhee Kirkland, a past Glossier grant programme participant and founder of Deon Libra. “Thank you for continuing to do the work with the Glossier Grant. If we could apply again, I know so many of us would.”

Starting today they can.

The Glossier Grant Programme opens for applications today and closes on June 1. It will offer its usual grants of $50,000 to four emerging brands. But, for the first time, it will also provide $100,000 in funding to one of its 40 or so past grantees to help take their business to the next phase of growth through initiatives like a branding refresh, a marketing campaign to drive brand awareness, or supplying an inventory order to sustain a long-term retail partnership. These are precisely the kinds of support that could have saved Ceylon and The Established had they been available a year ago.

All grantees will go through four months of dedicated business programming and support from the Glossier team, with specific resources designed to help past alumni navigate newer business challenges such as retail partnerships, Shariat said. Importantly, the programme isn’t meant to revive a brand already in dire straits, but instead will provide meaningful support to a brand in need of a jolt forward, she said. (The $100,000 will be delivered in instalments during the four months of programming.)

The thinking behind the expansion cuts across three big themes: the general market downturn that seems to be intensifying across consumer packaged goods, including beauty; a continued but worsening decline in funding going to Black founders; and Glossier’s own desire “to acknowledge the disparity and help,” she said.

“We learned that many of our alumni are in a really tough market right now,” said Shariat. “That tough market is across CPG and beauty — but Black founders are being hit disproportionately hard.”

A ‘Demoralising” Fundraising Landscape

Grants like Glossier’s were created to address a historic lack of funding for Black-owned businesses. For some entrepreneurs, the money and attention from these programmes was crucial in catapulting them to new heights, including entry into large retailers and securing cash to purchase inventory and redesign their brands.

But there was always a fear that this support would quickly evaporate as the world’s attention moved to new causes, and economic factors caused sponsors to tighten their belts.

That’s often how it played out. Founders say they’ve also struggled to make the leap from grants, which are often set up to help a new business get off the ground, to securing venture capital funding needed to grow.

Ezinne Iroanya said her brand, Sknmuse, generated enough orders to sustain itself for six or seven months after appearing in a directory of Black brands put out by Beyoncé and stylist Zerina Akers in 2020. In 2021, she secured $300,000 in grants, including $50,000 from Glossier.

But she’s had less success courting investors. Iroanya recalled hearing “no” from 10 different investors in one day in early 2023. While she isn’t planning to shutter the business — she has had to take significant steps to cut costs, including forfeiting her own salary to reinvest in operations. In February, she pulled the brand out of Macy’s stores to reduce marketing expenses and other costs; in March, she took on a full-time job elsewhere to earn cash.

While it’s never been easy for Black founders to secure funding, It’s only getting harder. In 2021, Black-owned businesses secured a record $4.9 billion in venture capital funding, according to Crunchbase. Last year, that amount fell to $705 million, an eight-year low. The decline in capital for Black-founded companies significantly outpaced the overall decline in start-up funding — with total venture dollars in the US falling by 37 percent last year.

The Established founder, Essence Williams, said she had “run out of money three times” in the last four years and decided to shutter her business because she wasn’t willing to endure another round of painstaking rejections from investors. She believed that predominantly white venture capitalists often failed to understand her vision and that their expectations for growth were disproportionate compared to what her white counterparts experienced.

“The financial pressures were so enormous and I got tired of begging — I didn’t want to do it another time,” she said. “There’s a piece of it that’s very demoralising — and that you have to accept [if you continue].”

Ceylon founder Patrick Boateng said that while he initially counted the brand’s presence in 700 retail doors as a huge win, he quickly realised that he needed “at least a couple million dollars” to sustain these retail partnerships — a far cry from the roughly $500,000 in annual revenues the brand was generating.

“It really came down to trying to grow with very limited resources,” he said.

No Life Raft

Glossier’s programme isn’t meant “to be a life raft,” and can’t resuscitate business like The Established or Ceylon. But the hope is that a more substantial award, made to an experienced entrepreneur, can make a difference, Shariat said. At one point, Glossier considered splitting the alumni grant between two founders, at $50,000 apiece but decided that giving a larger amount to one founder would be more meaningful.

“We know that past alumni aren’t getting the funding they need and that a lot of the funding they were getting after 2020 is no longer coming in and we want to help make up for that,” said Kleona Mack, Glossier’s chief marketing officer.

Since it launched the programme, Glossier, like many of its past grantees, has had to weather its own challenges — including layoffs and store closures. Now in Sephora, and its own store count growing again, the brand is better positioned to offer new expertise to grantees and alumni when it comes to navigating a treacherous landscape, Mack said.

Glossier hopes its own expansion of the grant programme and its willingness to “pivot and be agile” rather than throw in the towel will inspire other large organisations to do the same, Shariat said.

“What we want to see from the industry is more programmes like ours because that means more founders of colour get a seat at the table and they get a chance,” she said. “We can’t do it alone and it really is hard out there.”

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