While Instagram accounts for makeup are endless, it still often feels like a rare find to stumble across a platform for women of color that isn’t a personal blogger or influencer. Which is why Makeup for Melanin Girls (or MFMG) has become a destination for more than 171,000 women looking to discuss everything from the best nude lipsticks for dark skin tones to colorism in the beauty industry. The passion project began for founder Tomi Gbeleyi in 2016 when she was in college, and has since grown from a hashtag to multiple social media platforms to an indie beauty line that now sells eyeshadows and lipsticks.
Gbeleyi used to model on the side, but says she would always do her own makeup before going to set. “What would happen to me a lot of the time is that I would just be ‘casket ready’ at shoots because they didn’t know how to match my face,” Gbeleyi, now 27, tells Glamour. As frustrating as it can be to have your makeup done by a professional artist who didn’t come prepared with your foundation shade (something nearly every black girl—model or not—has likely encountered at some point), Gbeleyi refused to let it stand in her way. “At that time, my strategy was to figure out how to do my own makeup, so if the makeup artist [messed it up], I could go change it later.” She started seeking out tutorials for women of color on YouTube and it quickly became her favorite pastime.
What she soon came to realize is that there was a vast network of black women sharing tips and hacks online, but the problem was that the conversations were often focused on individual bloggers’ comment sections or discussed in hard-to discover web forums. What the community lacked was one mainstream platform for women with deep skin to come together to talk about favorite foundation brands and brow shaping hacks that suited their needs. On top of that, at the time, it was still rare for brands to showcase bloggers of color using their products.
So she decided to take matters in her own hand, and Makeup for Melanin Girls was born—first as a blog and Instagram, then with accounts on Twitter and Facebook so women of color could unite. With the creation of MFMG, Gbeleyi quickly saw how much a platform like this was needed and how many women related to her frustration. “I was trying to fulfill a need in my own life,” says Gbeleyi, who currently lives in Toronto. “I didn’t realize just how many people it would resonate with. I started sharing a few pictures. And before I knew it, there were 20,000 women following the page.”
After two years of manning the accounts as a hobby—and working at a tech company where she was the only black team member—she decided to take a leap of faith and work on MFMG full-time. Given the success of the account and the fact that she knew exactly what women of color wanted in a makeup line, she took the brand even further and launched the MFMG Glitter Makeup Palette. Every aspect of it was based entirely on feedback from her channels.
It’s that deep dedication that’s earned so much loyalty from her followers. “Makeup For Melanin Girls helped create a space in the industry to celebrate women of color like myself who are often overlooked,” says Gbemi Abiola, a 23-year-old fan from Buffalo, New York. “Because of [the account], I’m more comfortable in my own skin and love myself even more. Melanin is a beautiful thing and it needs to be embraced; not excluded.”
“MFMG understands their customers,” adds Simone Henry-Utecht, 44, who ordered the Glitter Palette because she wanted to feel good before going in for a stem-cell transplant. When she was notified the shipment was running late, she reached out and heard back directly from Gbeleyi. She was blown away by the gesture. “They know that we come in many shades and undertones, but still want to have fun with our looks without looking clownish or dead, which can happen when companies don’t understand how the colors of our skin work,” she says. “That’s why their Glitter Palette is always sold out. It’s the bomb! But for me, one of the most important things about MFMG is Tomi and her customer service, which is something that can be lost in this day and age.”
After a doing a recent survey of roughly 5,500 women Gbeleyi found that 80 percent said—shocker—they’re still having a difficult time finding the right foundation shade. “I knew there was a problem, obviously,” she says. “A lot of our conversations on Makeup for Melanin Girls are about a lack of products. But if you think about how many brands are out there, if 80 percent out of over 5,000 are still saying, ‘I cannot find a foundation for me,’ that’s a huge problem.”
Gbeleyi and her team are currently working tirelessly on foundations scheduled to release in Fall 2019. And while Fenty Beauty may have spearheaded the trend of 40 inclusive foundation shade launches, Gbeleyiis choosing to kick off with 20 shades that will be created from skin scans of real women. You can bet the deep and dark shades won’t go unnoticed. “Some of the default catalogs are very insufficient for darker skin,” she says. “So we want to actually make our foundation based on the skin tones of our own database of women of color.”
“I keep asking people, ‘What do you want?’ Beauty brands [typically] focus on what the brand tells you what you want. That’s dying out,” she adds. “The future of beauty is where people are co-creating brands and making things that people are asking for. The days of, ‘OK we make a product, we spend a ton on advertising and we’re like, ‘Yay, this is great for you,’ is changing.”
Gbeleyi also recently launched a collection of four chocolate-scented nude lipsticks called Skin, with the shade names Desnudo, Flesh (her bestseller), Birthday Suit, and Naked, in collaboration with beauty blogger Ronke Raji, who closely aligns with the brands’ focus. Many women flocked to the lipsticks because they filled a void, that they had been searching for quite some time now.
For the names, Gbeleyi wanted to stay far away from trends she saw her competitors using. “If you see any color that’s called Flesh or Birthday Suit, whether it’s for a cheek or a lip product, it’s likely not going to be a good fit for women of color, period. That’s just the facts,” she says. “So instead of making some fun quirky name, naming it Flesh and having it be a brown color is really much more in sync with what we’re trying to do.”
The bottom line with Makeup for Melanin Girls, she says: “We’re trying to show is that the status quo is insufficient.”
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