Boots – A Love Story

Post by Thandie.

I love Boots. It’s as gently and reassuringly British as ‘Walls’ ice cream, or the seaside.  Screen-Shot-2014-06-13-at-13.09.03-e1402666658358Wherever you are on the British Isles there’s a Boots to confirm that you’re home. Growing up in Penzance it was the destination store in town.  From 9 years old I’d save up my pocket money to go and shop the aisles. The Boots Own cucumber moisturizer and lip balm were my favourites; the smells still remind me of pre-teenhood.Screen-Shot-2014-06-13-at-12.13.24-e1402658383441

Now in 2014 my 9 year old daughter hops off to Boots on a weekend, pupils dilated with the thrill of what she might find.  She’s headed for the make-up aisle, her newest crush.

She, unlike me, might come back with coveted finds.  Because she’s fair skinned, with green eyes. Of course that’s not entirely true because I could buy lipsticks, mascara, or an Olay BB cream.  BUT if I’m looking for decent foundation, cover up and powder for dark skins, I can’t be sure that I’ll find it.

Recently, I was at Heathrow Airport and cruised into Boots.  Of the many smiling faces staring back at me from advertising boards, none of them looked like me, my Mum, or any of the black girls that I know.

I wondered to myself; do black women not go on holiday? Do black women not go on business trips? Do black women not work at Heathrow? Why isn’t this nationwide and beloved shopping destination stocking make-up for ALL the people and places that it serves? The answer you’ll get is that shades for darker skins don’t sell – but I’ve been standing there, for years, and I’d buy it? Meanwhile, I’m feeling unrepresented; twinges of bitterness creeping in. Am I invisible? Does Boots not want me here? Does it think I’m not worthy of some space on its aisles?

None of the latter, of course, are true – but how else do we explain the conundrum?


Marge and her unique skintone

Well, I think I might be able to. Since teaming up with Kay Montano and starting our blog, I’ve learnt a huge amount about the distribution and sales of cosmetics in the UK.  I once thought that there was a drought of good foundations for darker skins, and that we weren’t being served by brands.  When I started shooting high-end fashion shoots (around 2000) I was introduced to a fantasy land of shades and textures.  Make-up Forever, Becca, Estee Lauder, Stila, Mac, Bobbi Brown – all these brands have umpteen shades of foundation for dark skin tones. I’m surprised they don’t have a shade for Princess Fiona, or Marge Simpson.

So, why hadn’t I seen these products before? Well, partly because I used to shop at Boots. The idea of going to a fancy department store and spending £20+ on some foundation would never have occurred to me.  That’s the other thing about Boots; it stocks affordable products.  Around that time, living in London, I also discovered Paks – local neighbourhood beauty emporiums that cater to the ‘urban’ communities; stocking make up brands like Sleek, Fashion Fair and Iman. The trouble is, there are 9 Paks in Greater London, compared to 2,500 Boots nationwide.  I can’t go on a pilgrimage to Paks every time I need a refill.  I want to go to Boots.  And as a busy Mum I want to be able to buy concealer at the same time as I buy sunscreen, sanitary towels and triple A batteries.




This changed somewhat when I made Mission Impossible 2 and my make up artist Robert McCann introduced me to the beauty brand ‘Ruby and Millie’.

Ruby&Millie foundationIt was a fantastic brand for every skin tone, and he told me that he’d bought it in Boots! Allelujah! The small snag was that the full range of colours was only available in the Boots ‘flagship’ stores. Nonetheless, I’d stock up and feel proud of Britain’s evolving cosmetics industry. Gradually Boots’ ‘Ruby and Millie’ stock dwindled and it wasn’t available anymore. Millie Kendall of ‘Ruby and Millie’ has consulted for us at ThandieKay, and she told us that although the brand made over 20 shades of foundations, the darker colours weren’t stocked in many stores, because they ‘didn’t sell’.

And here lies the rub – did women of colour KNOW that the shades were on the shelves, when they WERE on the shelves?

I think the answer is no. When a store doesn’t cater for you, you stop going to that store – so you most likely will miss the few weeks when your product might be in stock. I think this is the problem – it’s miscommunication between store and customer. If the product was on the shelves for longer, with a push in marketing to invite the customers in, then the products would sell, and the wheels of supply and demand would begin to turn.

I realize that ‘Profit is King’, and my theory might not make sense as a business model in the short term. But long term it would make every bit of sense. Shops, unlike media, don’t see themselves as instruments of social change – but a shop like Boots is different by dint of its reputation as a national treasure. Surely it (or the CEOs) could step out of the faceless market narrative, and acknowledge us saying, ‘please’.



“We’re going to Boots”

Like I said before – I love Boots. I’m invested in my relationship with the brand – because I’m British and proud to be.

My investment even goes as far as to create a Beauty Blog to try and remedy problems such as these.  We live in a multi-cultural Britain, it’s something to be inordinately proud of  – we are a huge success as a country and a people. We share histories, we evolve; we are modern, hip, trailblazers.  Our love for this land is actually a love for its people – because we all contribute to its growth and identity. Danny Boyle portrayed that perfectly and powerfully in the Olympics Opening Ceremony. We want to compete together, learn together, work, dance, sing, win… and shop together. We don’t want to be separated when we buy make up – when teenage girlfriends are excitedly buying blusher for a night out, or a bride is shopping with her maid of honour, or I’m shopping with my daughter. I don’t want to have to go to Paks while she goes to Boots – I love her and want to be with her.


My skin isn’t ‘specialist’ skin, I shouldn’t need a referral to buy foundation – the comfort of high street stores is that they meet your needs and include everyone. Let’s make that happen. Let’s meet on the high street. See you outside Boots.



4 thoughts on “Boots – A Love Story

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  1. Sher Jay Dee

    Come on Boots – make up and see the dark! Well done Thandie for promoting British companies.

    June 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm
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  3. Naturalelle

    This was a great read. When I go shopping, I usually shop at the shopping centres where it has everything incl the MAC and Bobby brown counters.
    But before we can get faces of women of colour being shown on billboards or in stores such as boots for make up we need to start trying to get women of colour being shown in popular culture. Music videos, campaigns for clothing designers, on the television, in films, soaps etc, because women of colour are not being portrayed well or at all in the history that we as a society are creating today, and that is where the real issue lies. Once that is sorted then everything else incl women of colour being shown as a face of a make up brand that everyone uses will eventually come into place

    June 15, 2014 at 9:17 pm
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  5. […] Read Newton’s in depth essay about her relationship with Boots here. […]

    June 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm
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  7. I’m so glad to have found this blog!

    As a makeup artist who worked in London myself (although not as high profiled as Kay -I never felt as I belonged in that world either), I think I get what you’re talking about here.

    Such a shame everything in this world is measured in profits or being the right size, colour, sex or religion.

    That been said, now that I don’t live in England anymore, I miss the diversity and the open-mindedness of the (majority) of people soooo much!

    Keep up the good work ladies, all the best.


    June 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm

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