I love Boots. It’s as gently and reassuringly British as ‘Walls’ ice cream, or the seaside. Wherever 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 favorites; the smells still remind me of pre-teenhood.
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 a 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?
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 neighborhood 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. 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.
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’.
It 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 colors 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 colors weren’t stocked in many stores, because they ‘didn’t sell’.
And here lies the rub – did women of color 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’.
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 makeup – when teenage girlfriends are excitedly buying blusher for a night out, or a bride is shopping with her maid of honor, 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.