When Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger launched Instagram in 2010 there's no way they could have imagined how the visually-driven platform would galvanize — and completely transform — the beauty industry. What began as a fringe social networking app has grown into 800 million people sharing, DMing and recording nearly every aspect of their day.
The artistic and creative nature of makeup, and even skin care, along with its unique ability to build community made the beauty industry ripe to directly benefit from Instagram's explosive growth. For many, sharing images and videos is simply a fun way to remain connected with friends and family. However, for Black women beauty entrepreneurs, Instagram plays a vital role in the life of their business.
Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar, Abena Boamah-Acheampong, founder of Hanahana Beauty and Allison Lamb and Talima Davis, founders of Limegreen share with ESSENCE how they've used Instagram to build Black women-centric beauty empires.
Fed up with the lack of diversity and excessive chemicals in the beauty industry, Butler founded The Lip Bar in her Brooklyn Kitchen in 2012. "I launched my brand with 12 crazy shades, like blue, purple and green, to showcase beauty in a different light. My goal has always and will continue to be to challenge the beauty standard," she shares with ESSENCE.
Like Butler, Acheampong founded her skin care company to help empower women of color. "Our whole mission is to encourage and empower women of color with their realization of beauty, inside and out. I simply want women to feel smooth and confident in their own skin," she shares. For these entrepreneurs, and others like them, their products and brand's imagery was a way to dismantle traditionally held standards of beauty.
Although Black women continue to be the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, it is still extremely difficult for us to secure funding to grow and scale our businesses. Despite accounting for 30% of all small business owners, women only received 4.4% of small business loans according to a U.S. Senate Committee report — and it's safe to assume that women of color accounted for a fraction of that sum.
Frustrated, with the disproportional difficulty accessing loans, securing backing and higher borrowing costs, many Black beauty entrepreneurs leverage the power and reach of Instagram to build their customer base and business.
"Instagram has become such a pivotal part in connecting with our current and potential customers. It gives us insight into what intrigues and excites them, it keeps us up-to-date with trends and it gives us all a picture book into the personality and vibe of a company," Lamb, co-owner of Limegreen, says.
Acheampong tells ESSENCE her brand launched an Instagram before having a website. "Instagram has been a game changer for business and allowed us to be noticed by larger media outlets while growing our global reach and connection," she says.
Meeting your customers where they are is fundamental to a successful business and for these Black women that means Instagram.
"Black people use social media more and we spend our disposable income more freely. Its simply to capture your customer's hearts in the easiest and most economical way possible. And for me, that was Instagram," Butler confesses.
But while the social media platform, and others, have been vital for their initial growth all of the women are quick to note that followers don't always equate to sales. While it's a great promotional tool, Instagram it doesn't secure longevity. We still need support from financial gatekeepers — those that understand the value and potential behind our products...and dreams.