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News & Views

The rise of genderless beauty

Last year, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line lit a fire under the cosmetics industry when it released products in skin tones for all users, highlighting an underrepresented consumer segment. Now, shifting attitudes towards gender are driving innovation in the beauty market.

Munroe Bergdorf was L’Oreal’s first trans spokesmodel, before the company terminated her contract last year after she used her Facebook presence to speak out against racism in the beauty industry. She has since become a well-known social activist, and most recently is the face of Illamasqua’s Human-Up campaign, alongside gender fluid model Rain Dove.

With holiday taglines like “celebrate without chromosomes” and “open minds, not boxes,” Human-Up explores the idea of a genderless beauty, and encourages people to “forget the biology,” stating: “It’s not about being a girl and it’s not about being a boy… It’s about being free to explore your individuality, celebrating who you are today, and who we all want to be tomorrow.”

New makeup brand Jecca has been developed with a genderless user in mind. For instance, its concealer can be used to cover up shaving rash as well as the usual breakouts. “Jecca overlooks gender and celebrates individuality — we’re not just a brand that concentrates on women,” says founder Jessica Blackler.

This hasn’t happened overnight; trans supermodel Andreja Pejíc was walking the runway back in 2011. More recently in 2016, CoverGirl made makeup artist James Charles the brand’s first male spokesmodel, and 2017 saw Hari Nef star in a L’Oreal campaign and Laverne Cox collaborate with Orly Nails.

Meanwhile, genderless “kei” has been a wildly popular style subculture in Japan for the last few years, and the ulzzang phenomenon which encourages both young men and women in South Korea to put their “best face” forward (often via the makeup counter) has spread to beauty consumers across the Asia-Pacific region.

“That men can be the face of a global make-up brand underscores how large consumer goods companies like L’Oréal and Coty, which respectively own cosmetic brands Maybelline and CoverGirl, see diversity as an increasingly powerful market,” says the Financial Times’ Lindsay Whipp,

While male grooming isn’t expected to match the women’s market any time soon, it is still a $50 billion industry, and the lines between male grooming and the traditionally female-oriented cosmetics market continue to blur. “Scope for growth exists in dynamic markets such as the US, India, and Brazil in the longer-term,” says Euromonitor analyst Nicholas Micallef. “It is a key area for all industry players, and their focus is now to understand what motivates men to use beauty items, and what makes them comfortable to shop.”

Consumer goods companies are embracing the possibilities presented by a genderless beauty market and long term success is to found among those that understand the place unisex beauty holds as part of a much larger, on-going conversation about how we perceive gender.

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