Discussion: Q&A with black Up Cosmetics

Q&A

It’s always exciting when a makeup line many of us have coveted from afar for many years becomes more easily accessible. For those of us with darker skin tones, when that company is one that is dedicated to carrying our various shades AND undertones as well as having rich pigments and color options that provide perfect harmony with our coloring, it’s kind of a really big thing to be excited for. French luxury makeup company black Up Cosmetics who once had a footprint in U.S. stores about ten years ago and came back to our shores virtually with an online presence some years after, is now in ten Sephora stores across the United States and online at sephora.com (get details here). But for years and most recently in the immediate present, there has been a lot of questions about the company and what happened to Fabrice Mahabo, the Black makeup artist who founded black Up.

There’s been a lot of blog posts and news stories written about what is thought to have happened with the company—many of which were written after Blaq Vixen Beauty‘s story which you can read here.

See black Up posts and reviews here

The other day I got an email from a PR company that I’ve worked with tons of times and also know some of the reps from working together over the last 4-5 years announcing that their firm would be representing black Up. So because I, too wanted to know what happened, I reached out and asked if the brand would be open to doing a Q&A with me where the questions were an open forum for you guys to ask what you wanted to know about the brand. They were up for it so I posted on my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and you guys came through with the questions.

Some things to note before reading the Q&A:
1. This interview was done via email and there’s a five hour time difference between NYC and Paris. If I had a follow-up question, it was emailed and then answered back by email. This wasn’t a face-to-face or telephone interview where questions can be answered back to back. Also, a good 90% of the interviews I’ve ever done as a blogger were done through email and is actually my preferred method of interviewing for most stories on the blog.

2. There are some things we may never get to know because of legal parameters.

3. If you have further questions, please leave them below and I’ll try to get them answered (please also note that if you’re reading this and a good time has passed since it posted, there is the possibility of the brand switching PR firms or brand reps and me no longer having a contact).

4. The responses below come from both Lionel Durand, the current CEO, and Valerie Saint Amand, the US Director who has been leading the US expansion at Sephora. Valerie is a trained makeup artist who best speaks to the specific needs of women of color.

Q&A

TSABD: (intro) For centuries, women of color—particularly Black women with deeper skin tones—have been excluded from MANY parts of the beauty industry. Black women don’t see themselves being represented in magazines, beauty campaigns, and even the social media accounts of brands nearly as much as white women are. In recent times, with so many instances of police brutality, utter disrespect, and extreme lack of diversity among mainstream brands, women of color (myself included) have become even more conscious of the brands we support with our hard-earned money. We want to support brands who support us—who have our foundation shades with undertones that actually suit us and makeup that is pigmented and complements our various skin tones. We are also very eager to support brands that are Black-owned. And there’s also a huge amount of understandable upset when brands that once catered to our beauty needs are sold or transferred to non-Black owners or companies because in the past, most times the new owners don’t continue making quality products for women of color or stop making them altogether.

Q1. When it comes to black|Up in particular, there are a lot of us beauty bloggers and consumers who are very concerned about what happened to the brand’s original owner Fabrice Mahabo. Can you explain what happened to Fabrice and how Lionel came to be the new owner? {popular reader question}
A1. “Mr. Mahabo founded black|Up with an investor in 1999 and then later parted ways with the company, both legally and mutually. I joined the company in 2008, and at that time a financial agreement was made among all shareholders – including Mr. Mahabo – to fully compensate him for his remaining shares in the company,” says Lionel Durand, CEO of black|Up Cosmetics Paris. “Mr. Mahabo’s role in the company was not replaced by one single person – his role was replaced by a stellar team of black makeup artists and research and development professionals. All of our products are developed by a team of women of color, for women of color. We’re very proud of that.”

TSABD: Are you able to elaborate on what happened with Fabrice?
black Up: “Legally, we’ve said all we can in regards to why Mr. Mahabo left the company. His departure was a legal, mutual agreement, and we wish him all the best.”

TSABD: Why isn’t he (or wasn’t) named as the brand’s founder on the website?
black Up: “We are very proud of our brand history, and openly celebrate the fact that we were founded by a professional makeup artist. The company has evolved and we are proud of the team of black makeup artists who over the years have majorly contributed to the success of our brand. They are truly the crux of our business.”

Q2. Since black Up is no longer black-owned, could you explain how the company’s current structure will continue to meet the needs of the Black makeup consumer? There are concerns that the product will expand to cater to a wider (white) audience and then the products for women of color will be phased out. {popular reader question}
A2. “We understand these concerns, but we are passionate about being a company that specializes in offering products that meet the unique needs of women of color. We have authentic roots and we have been 100% dedicated to women of color for the past 16 years. Over the past 7 years, we have developed a strong research and development/innovation team. Included in this team are 6 makeup artists, all of whom are black and are responsible for providing insights, trends, predictions, etc. on products, usage, and more. This group ensures that we will continue to produce the best offerings for women of color. Their involvement has been key to the growth of the business since 2008. As a brand that is made by women of color, for women of color, we have no plans to change this business model or our target consumer,” says Durand.

Q3. What makes your company different than Black Radiance, Black Opal and Iman Cosmetics considering that you are a much higher price point and yet your pigment count in your products are the same as theirs? {reader question}
A3. “Our strength is our products. Try the products and you will understand! We are a make up artist brand, recognized for the high professional quality of our products. Make up artists love our products because we are the experts in formulas & shades specific to the needs of women of color – from lighter, mixed skin tones to the deepest, darkest tones – we understand the unique needs of the spectrum. Our make up artist team working on product development spend hours selecting the best pigments to address all skin tones and complexions, including the most subtle undertones. Our goal is to provide the best radiance to women of color,” says Valerie Saint Amand, US Director of black|Up Cosmetics Paris.

“We should also mention that our products are formulated in the finest European factories, ensuring all formulas meet the highest quality standards of the industry. black|Up products are oil, paraben and fragrance-free and are never tested on animals,” says Durand. “We are also very strategic in choosing the best retail partners, as it is our goal to be offered in locations that are aligned with our brand philosophy. Our values lie in quality, innovation, modernity and elegance.”

Q4. What took so long for the brand to make a statement about the allegations concerning ownership?
A4. “We were saddened by the stories that were out there as we are a team passionate about our brand and mission. While we recognize there has been some confusion in the market, we feel our products and our brand speak for themselves. However, with the news of our launch at Sephora there has been a recent influx in speculative conversations, and we welcome this opportunity to clear up all rumors and concerns,” says Durand.

Q5. Will the brand continue to be transparent particularly when working with beauty bloggers and vloggers?
A5. “With the recent launch of our brand at Sephora in the US, black|Up is excited to embrace US consumers and media. We are happy to reiterate the story as told here, and hope that moving forward the US can continue to focus on our product quality and celebration of women of color along with us,” says Saint Amand.

Q6. When will you update/expand the matching apparatus on your website? {reader question}
A6. “We are currently working on a new website platform to provide a better modern and ergonomic navigation with more beauty advice and pro tips to answer women’s needs. We will let you know when the new site is launching,” says Durand.

Q7. Will black|Up expand to more Sephora stores? If so, which cities/locations can we expect to see it? Will there be additional locations in Europe and Africa? {reader question}
A7. “We are currently launching the brand at Sephora in 10 doors in the US, and on the US website. It’s our hope that the products will perform well on-shelf and we’ll continue to expand to other Sephora’s in the nation. My role at black|Up is to make our US launch a success, and I work hard everyday to reach our goals. A new opening is already planned for Charleston, SC in February! So, I suppose that’s an encouraging sign,” says Saint Amand. “Europe and Africa are also growing a lot. Many openings are planned worldwide.”

Q8. Is black|Up vegan? {reader question}
A8. “The only ingredients with animal origin used in black|Up products are Bee’s Wax and Lanolin – which are both natural with no link to hurting animals,” says Saint Amand.

My Thoughts:

In the past I’ve featured products whether through reviews or simply mentioning them on this blog based on what I like and as I developed an audience over the years, things that I think you guys would like. Recently I discussed (read the full blog post here) how I’m being even MORE conscious about the brands I mention here on the blog because of the lack of respect SOME brands/PR agencies have shown me personally and also to those who show people of color on their social networks and marketing campaigns about as often as a blue moon occurs. Whether I choose to feature a brand on this site or not is not always black and white—there’s no formula for me to choose to support a brand or not.

I’ve had to make really tough decisions (or as tough as making makeup decisions can get…lol) about showcasing brands I REALLY love because if I get invited to a press event, I’m largely “ignored” while magazine editors and writers are fawned over. And that’s when I even make it through the door—many times my emails for a simple product or sample inquiry go unanswered (see My Review Process + How This Beauty Blogging Thing Works for Me). This is not a witch hunt on brands, but more to channel my energy into brands that DO value what I do—and there are SO many who do value this site for me to waste time dwelling on the few who don’t.

In the case of black Up, we may never know the events that transpired to where Fabrice is no longer the owner of the company other than what the brand stated above. Legal parameters exist and I get that.

My biggest thing is that in 2015, women of color are STILL under-represented in the beauty industry. With bigger fish to fry such as police brutality, job discrimination, fair pay, equal housing, etc. when it comes to race relations, beauty may seem frivolous but how we see ourselves and how others see us (particularly in beauty and fashion) has an effect on all other industries. In other words: folks need to see us and see us everywhere.

So could I say I’m no longer going to feature black Up on this blog? I don’t know yet. On the surface I feel like as someone who constantly burns my lips on back to back to back TO BACK lipstick swatches and spends hours taking photos of products whether it be 90 degrees out or 19 degrees out just to make sure women who look like me have another resource for what various shades of makeup might look like on them, it’s hard for me to ignore the first luxury brand for women of color to be sold in beauty mega house Sephora {Edit: I just remembered that IMAN Cosmetics was once sold in Sephora in the 00s}. That’s huge. It could be like how brands like Miss Jessie’s were some of the first to be sold at Target and now Target’s ethnic hair aisle is booming with so many other Black hair brands, many of which are owned by people of color. Imagine seeing some of your favorite indie brands that cater to WOC being sold at Sephora because of the success of black UP. It’d be hard for me to ignore the brand—and they do have some amazing stuff that come in shades and undertones not often found in many brands. I bought quite a few products to test a few weeks ago right after the sephora.com launch that I’m probably going to post pretty soon.

Your thoughts:

My comment section is open for your thoughts on black Up but I do have one rule: (in the words of Martin Payne) “Respect my house.” This means you can obviously have a different opinion than me (I respect those who have an opposing stance), but be respectful to me and the other people commenting here as well :)

Note that my comment section will automatically hold comments from those making their first comment on the site—this is to help control spam comments but I’ll clear them for posting when I can.

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About Danielle

A former finance girl, Danielle is a New York City based freelance writer and fashion and beauty expert. She's a Hofstra University and Fashion Institute of Technology grad with an obsession with fashion and beauty which she loves to tell you all about every weekday on her award-winning blog. Think of her as your style and beauty entourage all wrapped up into one bubbly brown package. Danielle's work and expertise can be found in print and across the web in Cosmopolitan for Latinas, StyleBlazer.com, and more! She's also appeared as an on-air style expert on CBS New York's "The Couch" and WPIX11's Savvy Shopper segment.
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6 Responses to Discussion: Q&A with black Up Cosmetics

  1. Tiffany says:

    Great article Danielle. I was completely unfamiliar with the brand until I began reading your blog. I value your work & your recommendations as a fellow chocolate girl. Please continue to keep us posted on you thoughts & opinions on the brand. Thanks!

  2. Lalla says:

    I am quite surprised about the fact that half the questions were about Mr. mahabo’s departure.
    Basically the guy founded the company with investors: from what I understand he never was the majority owner. The company thus was never black owned per se. (The same could be said for Chanel: Gabrielle Chanel partnered with the Wertheimer brothers to create her company, they owned most of it).
    The ownership doesn’t change the vision of the brand. The company hasn’t strayed from its roots.

    Their products are good quality and are also a proof that luxury doesn’t have to exclude black women or be white focused.
    People have no qualms spending hundreds of $$ on companies that barely cater to their skin tones (Chanel, Armani, Urban Decay, Tom Ford, Cargo etc…). Two to three shades for BW is far from enough. People only start having doubts when it comes to a company that offers more than 15 foundation shades for black women.

    For me black UP is a very good brand, not my favourite but I’ll keep buying their products because they’re the only luxury brand focusing on people who look like me. I’m not an afterthought for them.

  3. Kayla says:

    Thanks for answering the tough questions, Danielle! I, like others was hesitant to support black|UP because of what happened with the original founder. But, like you said, I do think it is great that they are in Sephora and the exposure, could potentially be huge. I think I will give them a try now.

  4. Angela C. Taylor says:

    I tried a sample of BlackUp’s Mattifying Foundation and found it to be a very remarkable product! I’ve used MAC for at least 11 years and before that Mary Kay and Fashion Fair. This new makeup line is the best I’ve ever sampled thus far and I have been considering switching when my MAC runs out. I’ll admit that believing that the company was Black-owned made me want to try the products even more. It felt wonderful to know I’d be supporting the growth of a company owned by people who look like me! I found what I read about the original founder’s ousting from his own company very troubling. The articles I read did not make it seem as if his leaving was mutual and amicable. It sounded more like his business was pretty much stolen from him in a very underhanded way…business as usual, per se. If it is indeed true, it would give me pause before placing an order with BlackUp. Reading the current CEO’s response to your questions makes it seem as if perhaps what I read were just hideous rumors? However, I realize that BlackUp must also present the organization in the best light. I’m sure if anyone tried speaking with Fabrice Mahobo, he’d be unable to expand on what really happened to him. I was so impressed with the product that I’m still considering a purchase in the future, especially since there is a team of Black R&D on board who know Black skincare needs; I appreciate the company’s continued focus on ethnic skincare and cosmetic needs. It is was just very disappointing to read about Mr. Mahobo and how poorly he was allegedly treated by his “partners”, in fact, I found it sickening yet so typical and frankly, I’m tired of the same ole, same ole, hearing about our people being swindled, especially when they have something extraordinary to offer, due to corporate greed….again.

  5. Pingback: BlackUp’s  Controversial Ownership  (Update) – Beauty Frenzy

  6. Chinwe says:

    Thank you for posting this thoughtful and informative piece. You are the only media outlet that I’ve come across to secure a thorough interview with such highly placed black|Up executives — or any executives — to explain the situation. The beauty business is BIG business, and black-owned business is a passionate topic in our community. This is a story that should reasonably have appeared in *at least* one of the ruling triumvirate of Black lifestyle magazines — Black Enterprise, Ebony, or Essence, even as a small feature. Perhaps Women’s Wear Daily should also have covered this since they are the beauty and fashion industry newspaper of record.

    I don’t know why other outlets didn’t see any news value in this. Because this is “just business” and is commonplace; because they think Black women are overreacting with their concerns; or to maintain delicate PR/business relationships with the brand? I wish Mr. Mahabo another round of success in his life and a valuable lesson learned, but I can’t begrudge the extant team of Black makeup artists, executives and other staff at black|Up their own chance at success. Especially when, unlike other American beauty brands that have let us down so spectacularly, they are so clearly committed to uplifting Black women’s beauty in the long term.

    My only regret — having read your article in 2017! I was in Charleston, S.C. last summer and might have carved out time in my travel plans to stop by a black|Up kiosk had I known it was there!

    Long response short: Keep up the great work on your blog. It offers valuable information to dedicated consumers and you deserve this level of respect wherever you go to bring readers useful consumer information.

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