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Beauty Blender Just Launched a New Foundation, But Not Everyone's Happy About It

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There’s No Such Thing as a Feminist Brand
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Last month, businessman Alan Martofel laid off his company’s entire workforce. According to a statement he released afterward on the business’s blog, he said he did it because his former employees “do not share my views on either business or feminism,” which is an understandable concern for the founder and CEO of a company called Feminist Apparel, which is exactly the T-shirt brand it sounds like.

The only catch was that his employees hadn’t clashed with his view of feminism by, for example, covering up workplace sexual harassment or dismissing job applicants because of their gender identity (neither of which appeared to happen in this case). Instead, according to Refinery29, the freshly unemployed group of mostly women had violated Martofel’s sense of propriety and capitalism by discovering that he was an admitted serial sexual abuser of women and asking him to resign his position as a result.

Martofel did briefly resign, but then he apparently reconsidered whether the objections of multiple women should be any more of a barrier to him getting what he wants in his professional life than he’s described them being in his social life. He was back at the helm of the company in a matter of days, firing everyone via email in the wee hours of July 1 and offering no severance. Let Feminist Apparel be a cautionary tale: Brands don’t have the capacity for ideology beyond capitalism. There’s no such thing as a feminist company, and there never has been.

Feminist Apparel is also something of a case study in the cynicism with which businesses have begun to approach the real, abstract, human concerns of their potential customers that have nothing to do with individual purchase choices. At this point, the quality gap between two similarly priced consumer goods of any kind is likely to be vanishingly thin; we’ve just about mastered the basics of toothpaste or tennis shoes, so most buying choices are truly those of personal preference.

Absent a product that’s notably more compelling than its competitors, brands have instead tried their best to pivot to personhood, which allows them to sell alignment with the idea of themselves as their primary good or service. That’s why fast-food chains and makeup manufacturers roast each other on Twitter and post memes on Instagram: They want to be thought of as your friend. And if you’re a young woman, many brands specifically want to convince you that your new friend is a woke feminist.

Feminist Apparel had done everything right, up to that point, to make people feel good about being separated from their money: The company hired a staff of young women, claimed that selling its products enabled those who bought them to become “ambassadors in their communities,” characterized patronage of the for-profit company as an “invaluable service” to ward off discrimination, and promised to give partial proceeds from its products to the artists who designed them, as though only partially compensating women for the value of their labor is an act of both feminism and charity.

In the context of an admitted abuser reaping the spoils of these tactics and then firing a bunch of women when they tried to hold him accountable for his past, the whole thing looks plainly absurd, but framing for-profit commerce as an act of charity or as a meaningful resistance to evil is no less absurd when someone else does it. Any entity lining its pockets by selling only the aesthetic of political action to those whose lives depend on the results of political action is malevolent and amoral, and it’s a practice in use to varying degrees by an ever-expanding number of companies.

Take, for example, any brand that’s adopted the anesthetized aesthetic of body positivity in the past decade, decoupling it from its radical politics in order to sell you soap, or straight-size underwear, or anything made by the desperately poor foreign factory workers who manufacture most of the inventory of big-box stores. The marketing arms of these corporations have sensed changing cultural values among their customers and taken that opportunity to adopt the aesthetic of good politics, and they’ve asked shoppers to choose them based on how well they pantomime the real activities that might make a difference. They skip the part where any difference is actually made.

Companies accumulate wealth by taking it from people with less power through various means of subterfuge (that we call it marketing is, in and of itself, marketing), which, even on a small scale, is an activity necessarily uninterested in equality. If capitalism could deliver economic parity — if parity was even part of the ideology’s intent, which it’s not — then Latinx women wouldn’t still make 54 cents on a white man’s dollar several hundred years into the American capitalist experiment.

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Beautyblender’s New Foundation Is Facing Backlash
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A popular beauty company has just released a 32-shade foundation range, but the optics around it so far — both literally and figuratively — are not great.

Beautyblender made its name on its now-ubiquitous hot pink, egg-shaped, $20 makeup sponges; the company says it has sold over 40 million of them. Now, it’s announced that it will be releasing its own foundation range, called Bounce, to go along with the sponges.

This makes a lot of sense for Beautyblender, which has had success as the result of one single product. While it has released other accessories like blotters and eyeliner stencils, the sponge remains its bestseller, and has inspired a lot of cheaper copycats in the meantime. But to survive long term, a company has to be more than a one-hit wonder.

Commenters on a thread on Reddit’s “Makeup Addiction” subreddit (which has over 600,000 subscribers) pulled no punches. “Qwhite the selection” said one. “If you can do 20 shades of ‘white’ you can do 20 shades of ‘dark’” said another.

Beautyblender hopped into the fray on its own Instagram account, writing to one irate customer: “We hear you but the image on trendmoods post has a wacky filter and doesn’t give a true representation of our shade range.” That did not help matters. Trendmood replied, “Hey loves, this image was taken from your promo video. Not sure what filter you guys used but we did not alter this image at all.”

Beautyblender posted a grid image of models with different skin tones, supposedly representative of the range, but has not posted a full product range image yet. Commenters have continued to call out the company on social media and Reddit.

Beautyblender sent the following statement to Racked:

Of our 32 BOUNCE blends, half the shades (16) are formulated for a range of olive to dark skin tones and include subtle nuances that make a world of difference on the skin.

We truly want everyone to find their perfect match, so to ensure this we put our shades to the test against some of the most inclusive on the market. While the range goes both very light as well as very dark, we have THE MOST shades in what we call our “medium plus” range. This was created specifically for people of multicultural backgrounds as they have the hardest time finding the right shade to match their undertone.

Our founder, Rea Ann Silva is not only Latina, but a professional makeup artist who has always worked with women of color throughout her 30 year career. Those with tan, deep and dark skin tones understand that finding the right color foundation is all about matching your undertone and this is where Rea Ann saw the biggest hole in the market: for women like herself and her multicultural family.

It will be interesting to see how the shades work on people in real life, because it’s true that how a bottle photographs and how it looks on the skin are very different. That said, the brand didn’t exactly position its new foundations this way at first.

Regardless, this is another case of the so-called Fenty effect in action. Last year, Rihanna launched her Fenty makeup range with 40 inclusive shades of foundation, a move hailed as revolutionary in an industry that has mostly failed darker-skinned women for decades. Since then, brands have scrambled to catch up, often launching 40 shades (or more) in an attempt to meet the needs of as many customers as possible. To take the cynical view, if they’re not doing it for the good of humanity, companies need to do it for their bottom lines and to avoid PR fiascos.

What this Beautyblender hoopla shows, though, is that number is not as important as range. Sure, having over 30 colors is great, but not when 20 of them seem to be the same shade of beige. Tarte faced a huge backlash last year when it released a small foundation shade range that was mostly suitable for lighter skinned people. For an example of a company that has formulated its shades well within a smaller offering, see Beauty Bakerie, a small company that offers 30 foundation shades. The shades are more evenly distributed across the potential range of skin tones.

Rihanna set the bar, and beauty companies now need to meet or exceed it, or face the pain of online excoriation.

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