Fashion And Beauty Brands Pledged To Support Black Influencers. So How Are They Doing?

It's time to reveal whether those posts with the black squares from 2020 were more than just performative.
The #BlackOutTuesday Instagram hashtag went viral in the summer of 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The #BlackOutTuesday Instagram hashtag went viral in the summer of 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the summer of 2020, the world finally took notice of the disproportionate rate at which African Americans were being murdered at the hands of law enforcement. People on social media took these injustices to task and drew attention to the plight that has long affected the Black community.

Black beauty and fashion professionals used their online platforms to share experiences of discrimination and unfair treatment in their respective industries. Out of fear of “cancel culture,” many brands scrambled to assess their history for signs of complicity and made promises to hire diversity officers and support Black voices in social media moving forward.

Now that 2020 is behind us, are those brands fulfilling their promises? We spoke with industry insiders and four Black influencers from the beauty and fashion spheres to check on how corporations are doing, and what steps are being taken to support a more equitable environment.

How industry professionals see things shaping up

Since last summer, public relations consultant Keisha McCotry said she has noticed more people of color being featured on beauty brands’ social media pages.

“I think it’s great, but I think it is super late,” McCotry said. “I do think that some of it is performative. [Brands] feel they have to do this or they’re going to get backlash.”

Avon Dorsey, a celebrity stylist, said he’s tried to keep an eye on whether fashion brands are really making an effort to improve their companies.

“I would say it’s like 50/50,” Dorsey told HuffPost. “For diversification, some brands have hired more Black models, which to the public, we have more Black models and that’s cute. But we don’t know what’s happening on the back end.”

Unequal pay is a significant problem in these industries, as influencers of color are often paid less than their white counterparts.

McCotry, who has worked with influencers in the beauty PR space, said that whenever she recommended African American influencers to brands, those brands would “push back” on their rates — something that never happened when she suggested white people.

“If two influencers said their rates are $5K and they had the same following, and if one was white and one was Black, you would get different responses,” she told HuffPost.

To help address transparency around pay disparities, the Instagram account Influencer Pay Gap allows influencers to anonymously share their rates and compare notes about their experiences working with brands.

How influencers see things shaping up now

Taleah Griffin is a Chicago-based model, actor and half of the “Beauty Needs Me” podcast. Griffin used the pandemic as an opportunity to focus her energy on developing a brand of beauty that she describes as “minimal and effortless.”

Followers: 2,000+

Brand category: Beauty

Brands she’s worked with: WhoWhatWear, Pantene and Sephora

Since summer 2020, have you seen a change in the brands you work with?

Summer 2020 changed everything. George Floyd’s murder happened the day after my birthday, and by Juneteenth, we launched the podcast “Beauty Needs Me.” All the corporations are taking all the challenges and hiring a diversity officer. I think it’s high time, but there is a financial aspect that’s still missing. For the podcast, we’ve got a lot of press, but no one is sponsoring an episode.

Do the brands directly come out and acknowledge your race when they say they want to work with you?

Yes, [because for beauty] it’s more about skin tone. A brand would love to show how beautiful their product shows up on your skin tone. Or when a brand is trying to show the efficiency of a hair product, they choose a lighter-skinned influencer with a looser curl. When a brand is trying to show that their sunscreen doesn’t look chalky on Black skin, they go with a darker-skinned model.

Do you see a change in the money you’ve been offered?

I think there is a change. I’m negotiating my own contracts now. I’m not shy to ask for money I think I deserve.

Has there been a change in your followers? If so, what does that change look like?

I’ve gotten a lot more female followers ― they are starting to relate to me. [Originally], over 60% of my followers were men.

What do you think your future with corporations looks like?

I feel it’s good. I feel like I’m manifesting a lot of positive interactions with brands that I feel connected to.

Taye Hansberry is a staple in the beauty and fashion arena. She comes from an accomplished family that includes playwright Lorraine Hansberry and cousin Issa Rae. Based in Los Angeles, Hansberry uses her platform to empower others.

Followers: 249,000

Brand category: Beauty and Fashion

Brands she’s worked with: Oribe, Rebecca Minkoff, Marc Jacobs

What changes have you seen since summer 2020?

I reached out to a brand [and said], “I would really like for you guys to find some type of budget to pay Black influencers in the beauty space ― people that you normally don’t hire ― and I want you to pay them like you pay white influencers, and myself included.” The brand said, “You’re right.”

We don’t know what other people are being paid. You have to pay Black influencers like you’d pay an influencer that is not Black.

What’s your advice for negotiating pay rates?

You have to be willing to walk away from that money [when you think it’s too low], which is hard. The sum of $5K is a lot of money, but you find out someone is getting $30K for the same work. Try not to take any and everything coming your way, and make sure you’re getting paid what you should be getting paid. The way to find that out is to talk to people.

Has there been a change in your followers?

Absolutely. I started noticing a change when that person was in the White House the last four years. I think I realized my following was very Caucasian when I was advocating for Hillary Clinton. I started noticing large dips at certain points in time. I know Instagram gets rid of bots, but I noticed when I talked about certain things ― for example, I lost a lot of followers during BLM. There was like a 8K-person dip.

What was your most memorable moment in the last six months?

The Marc Jacobs partnership. They were so on board from the beginning and they created this IGTV called “Taye Talks with Marc Jacobs.” I really love that one. I feel l was listened to, and I feel like people were included that weren’t normally included before.

David Mansion is an emerging influencer who turned his love of men’s grooming and fashion into a brand. The jet-setter owns MansionSkin, a “genderless skin apothecary,” and loungewear brand The Dad Archives.

Followers: 6,000+

Brand category: Fashion and Grooming

Brand he’s worked with: Burberry

Since summer 2020, have you seen a change in the brands you work with?

I have. I haven’t had many large businesses looking to partner. I’ve been more in tune with the small businesses and Black businesses. I’m still small myself. I can only imagine what it’s like to launch a business in a pandemic.

How would you describe your growth?

Last year was such an emotional time for everyone. I closed one door when I stopped working in corporate fashion and went full-blown entrepreneur. I still woke up every day at 6 and I still sat at my desk. I took breaks. The grind and hustle was different because you’re all you got.

Do brands directly come out and acknowledge your race when they say they want to work with you?

Unfortunately not directly. I think there is more opportunity for them to be a bit more vocal than just a post, IG story or using a Black influencer.

Have you seen a change in your followers since summer 2020?

I have. I think a lot of people have found themselves checking their phones, and during BLM we started getting hashtags and Instagram widgets. Folks are showing appreciation for Black business, sharing stories and posts, connecting with other partners. With the “shop Black business” widgets, you’re in a different world. And when you use them, it’s like an Explore page for Black business.

Carleen Robinson is a Toronto-based fashion influencer who boasts a vibrant style that is earning her partnerships and an ever-growing following. By collaborating with other influencers, she hopes to expand her reach and share her joy.

Followers: 5,600+

Brand category: Fashion

Brands she’s worked with: WhoWhatWear and The Nobo

Do brands directly come out and acknowledge your race when they say they want to work with you?

No, I’ve never felt someone was doing something because of my race. I haven’t had that feeling yet, but trust me, I would know. I have never been made to feel that way, and I hope no one ever does. I’m a woman first who happens to be Black. When we value everyone equally, that is the best way to go forward.

Do you see a change in the money you’ve been offered?

Being chosen to be the only Canadian selected for the Nobo was huge. There is an influencer I spoke to, her name is Opal. When my collaboration [with the Nobo] was in negotiation, I reached out to Opal. She said, “This is how you’re going to do it, and this is what you ask for.” They paid what I asked for.

What do you think your future with brands looks like?

My goal is to have repeat brands on my list, not just a one-off. It’s important to have a brand use me for a spring and fall campaign, so I’m putting that out there to the universe.