When Fenty Beauty by Rihanna launched its first collection with a more than 40 shades of foundation, it sent product developers, who had previously considered anything more than 12 shades to be innovative, scrambling to expand their offerings. Not Tisha Thompson.
The vice president of Marketing and Innovation at PÜR, a brand that creates products across skincare and color cosmetics, was actually already aligned with Ms. Fenty’s thinking. For nearly three years she had been working on Love Your Selfie, a ground-breaking foundation line that would change the way we think about inclusion and diversity in product development by launching with 100 shades.
“She launched [Fenty Beauty] and it was one of those moments where, you buy something or you have something and somebody else rocks it before you, and you’re like, dang, they beat me to the punch,” Thompson recalls. “To perfect something like 100 shades, you just can’t do it overnight.”
When she started at Astral, PÜR’s parent company, Thompson didn’t even know they sold beauty products, although she had a passion for beauty and wanted to be involved in the industry in some way. Initially a staff accountant, she began freelancing at PÜR events until a position became available in marketing and she made the full leap over to that side.
As a Black woman—and a “plus-size Black woman”—Thompson says that one of the first things she noticed was that women who looked like her were missing from their campaigns. So she initially set out to ensure that their marketing initiatives reflected the diversity of the products that the brand carried. Eventually, her passion for representation carried over into the product offerings.
“One day in the shower I thought, I need to do it in a space where I really think there’s a void in the market, and that’s foundation,” she tells ESSENCE. “We would have representation in some brands, but it kind of felt like whoever was shade matching or doing the development clearly didn’t have skin like us because the shades would be too yellow or too red, or have an ashy cast of gray. So for me, it needed to be done better. And in order to effectively do that, it just naturally started to get up to 100 shades because you just can’t do that and not give everyone an option.”
The process was extensive and complex—with Thompson and her team testing more than 50 other foundations to compare against elements such as ingredients and performance. Because the brand chose to develop the product in Korea to take advantage of the skincare innovations happening there, she had the added responsibility of making sure the chemists understood how deep the color range was expected to go. Leaving nothing up to chance, Thompson personally traveled to the labs and tried the products on herself and her circle of loved ones.
She also spent a considerable amount of time developing the marketing campaign around the launch. PÜR even hosted a two-day photoshoot with 120 everyday men and women, 100 whose un-retouched photos made it into the campaign and on marketing assets. “It was really all about your true identity and just being confident in yourself and loving yourself,” she explains.
For Thompson, the Love Your Selfie launch is just one small piece of her mission to represent the historically underrepresented. A day in the life of a VP of marketing and innovation means wearing lots of hats throughout the day—in an environment where no two days look alike. But as someone who leads teams in marketing, social, graphic design, product development, and even packaging, Thompson is aware of the power of her reach. And she wields it with intention.
“[Diversity] has always been a part of my platform and it will continue to be—making sure that I continue to hire, support, represent and celebrate Black creatives, Black employees, and Black models,” she says. “In my own personal life, I make a point to buy Black and support brands that support Black people. When it comes to the office and the business, I have the autonomy to make sure that my team and the people I work with on my photo shoots, my photographers, the models and the influencers that we work with all look like the diverse community we live in.”
Today, as brands are beginning to look internally at their inclusion practices (for some brands it’s a push being led externally by consumers), it’s clear that there’s still so much work to be done across the industry. For the past 15 years Thompson has been doing the work, and she doesn’t intend on stopping anytime soon.
The busy wife, mom and team leader says that we can expect to see more passion projects like this down the pipeline from PÜR. She also thinks that if more brands diversify their leadership, we’ll see them breaking the mold in product innovation. In the meantime, she’s happy to see Love Your Selfie create change in how other brands approach their foundation color offerings.
“So many brands have come to the table [with more shades] since, and I love the progression,” she explains. “People initially thought the 100 shades was gimmicky. I think it was just so jarring, it was so shocking of a number that it was almost like, it struck a chord of, is this a gimmick versus this is actually what we’ve been asking for. And it’s actually what we need.”