How South Asian and Middle Eastern influencers are changing the beauty industry

When beauty creator and influencer Deepica Mutyala started making YouTube videos nearly three years ago, her original goal was to offer beauty advice and tips to South Asian women.

“I assumed there was a miss in the market for South Asian representation, women who looked like me,” she said. Mutyala was right: one of her early YouTube videos, showing how darker women can use red lipstick as a beauty hack to hide dark under-eye circles, garnered over 10.6 million views. To date, the influencer has a total social reach of over 350,000 across platforms.

Today, Mutyala is one of the many diverse beauty influencers and creators that are finally being seen and, subsequently, represented by the larger beauty industry. South Asian, Middle Eastern and mixed-race beauty creators, like East Asian influencers before them, are particularly in demand as of late, especially as the conversations around skin tone and shade range become more of the norm by cosmetics and skin care companies.

Bangladeshi-American influencer Nabela Noor, who recently partnered with heritage brand Olay on its Face Anything campaign and New York Fashion Week runway show, is indicative of this, as is Shahd Batal, who is a hijab-wearing, Sudanese-American influencer, who regularly vlogs about natural hair and makeup and has over 200,000 YouTube subscribers — she has worked with cosmetic brands like Bobbi Brown and Too Faced. Of course, there is also beauty influencer-turned-mogul Huda Kattan of Huda Beauty, which was valued by Forbes at an estimated $1 billion.

Instagram is noticing the trend firsthand and not just from the likes of beauty brands like Fenty. “The beauty of Instagram is that it’s an inclusive community,” said Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram. “If you’re 15 and living in a small town somewhere, and thinking, ‘There’s no one who looks like me,’ you can find your people, no matter what your people look like or where they live,”

Kattan agreed: “Social media has definitely broken down the barriers of what we see as ‘beautiful.’ These days, people are exposed to so many different types of beauty; channels are used to support and champion every kind of beauty, in all shapes, colors and sizes,” she said.

For Noor, who regularly speaks about being Bangladeshi and Muslim, bucking an arranged marriage in favor of an interracial one, and cyberbullying, alongside recommending beauty tips, the move for beauty brands to change who they speak to and how is now. “For a long time, we put the onus on the fashion industry to be inclusive, but in reality, the beauty world — these CEOs and founders — are shaping what boys and girls, and men and women think is beautiful,” she said.

“We want to celebrate women who are choosing to live fearlessly. We want to reject labels that you are too this or too that,” said Sara Diepenbrock, Olay North America senior brand manager, who recently hired Noor.

This was underscored by internal research by the Procter & Gamble brand showing that 84 percent of women believe social media drives their definition of beauty. Noor’s loyal following of 1 million Instagram followers and over 585,000 YouTube subscribers was a clear draw for Olay. “She has an audience that trusts what she is saying, and she represents a range of all the women that could be out there,” said Diepenbrock. “It was intentional on our part.”

It helps that Noor got new people interested in the brand, as well: A September in-feed beauty video post about Olay’s Fashion Week runway show that the influencer shared garnered over 212,000 views; the beauty brand meanwhile only has 139,000 followers on the platform. Olay wouldn’t share specific data, but Diepenbrock said, “We have started to see new women engage in the brand.”

Agencies have also seen the recent awareness of and interest in diversity change the beauty brand asks that come to them. Socialyte, a talent management and casting firm, already had a very diverse lineup of content creators on its roster — the company estimates that it represents 75 percent racially diverse creators, including Irene Khan, Tania Sarin and Wendy Nguyen — but only recently has it seen an uptick for more diverse and inclusive requests, especially when trying to reflect skin tone, said Beca Alexander, president of Socialyte.

“Before, brands may have just asked for one influencer or creator that was diverse in their campaigns — now they are more willing to use many more,” she said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach anymore, where if you cast one black woman, that was considered a diverse campaign. It’s less about tokenism,” she said.

This is in keeping with larger economic trends. The Selig Center for Economic Growth said in its 2017 Multicultural Economy report that the combined buying power of blacks, Asians and Native Americans was estimated to be $2.2 trillion in 2016, a 138 percent gain since 2000. Fittingly, minority groups are making the fastest gains in U.S. buying power.

This is certainly an opportunity for commerce: according to video advertising and insights platform Pixability, diversity continues to be on the rise for beauty brands on YouTube. Beauty videos featuring a diverse celebrity, model or makeup artist surpassed 20 percent of the total in 2017, and in 2018, one out of every four beauty videos is on track to feature a non-white influencer or celebrity.

Alexander pointed to Socialyte’s work with a undisclosed luxury beauty company for a recent foundation campaign as proof. The request from said client asked for “a variety of influencers with darker skin tones to show their expanded, darker shade range.” The six-month-long casting process, which ensured that the expanded foundation shades specifically matched the models’ skin tones, included a host of different ethnicities including African-American, Palestinian and mixed descents, like African-American, Native American and Filipino; and Palestinian and Puerto Rican.

“The beauty world is shifting and listening. [Up until now] women like me have not been seen or heard,” said Noor, who has also worked with beauty brands like Too Faced and Tarte Cosmetics — in August, Noor was one of the faces of the brand’s expanded Amazonian Clay foundation range, alongside Filipiano beauty influencer Heart Defensor and Somali influencer Osob. “Me even existing on the internet is doing the damn thing,” she said. “Because it’s so important to show brown girls, plus-size girls, Muslim girls. We are here.”

Batal echoed those sentiments: “What worked before doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “I’m literally just a normal Black Muslim woman sharing her life on social media, largely because I want to shape my own narrative and help younger girls feel like anything is possible for them, even if they don’t look like other girls.”

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