I’m Not White, I’m Italian

Here’s a riddle – her name is Mary – she’s olive skinned in the summers but turns as pale as snow in the winters – with her jet black hair and brown eyes, her most distinguishing feature is a face set with freckles – what is she?

I’ll tell you the answer to this riddle at the end, but I present you with this question to mirror the mish mosh that is our world today. Dennis is another example, an Italian born in Germany who doesn’t like to think of himself as White because of the limitations he feels it puts on his persona. It is no longer so cut and dry to segment ourselves as being a color or a single ethnicity, or limit ourselves to only buy the beauty product that corresponds to our Census profile. Today, our background differentiates us, but also shows that, even with the deepest of differences, some things can be common amongst us.

In beauty, this dynamic is playing out in products that have been able to transcend their original boundaries. Sales of facial skincare oils grew 30 percent in 2012, becoming a $14.9 million business.* The original purpose of the treasured Argan Oil (Moroccan Oil) was to provide penetrated moisture to protect against the dry climate of the Middle East region. This oil and others have revolutionized the entire idea of oils in skincare and the norms associated with facial hydration – from taking oil off to putting it on.

Thanks to the Far East, who hasn’t heard of the alphabet cream craze?! On the heels of the enormously successful brightening trend (which was actually ‘whitening’ carefully reconfigured), comes the BB, CC, and yes, if you haven’t heard, DD Creams! Between January and December 2012, sales of BB creams quadrupled to reach annual sales of $37 million.* All of these letters are advancing in the pursuit of creating a perfect facial canvas.

Thakoon for Nars, the Clarins Enchanted makeup collection, and Chanel’s Bombay Express were examples of the Indian inspired color collections for nails, lips, and eyes. In fragrance, oud scents have broadened our olfactory senses, increasing 34 percent to $4.3 million in sales in 2012.*  Hair care inspired from the Hispanic and African American communities in the U.S. have expanded curly and fragile hair offerings into mainstream beauty, fueling sales growth as high as 67 percent in 2012*.

Product types inspired from the regions of the world and ethnic groups within our borders are one of the hottest trends reshaping the world of beauty, generating millions and growing by no less than double digits in 2012 compared to the previous year.* The common theme surrounding all these products is that though they were originally ethnically targeted – their huge successes outside their target audience is proof of some commonalities amongst us all.

Which brings us back to my riddle – what is Mary? Did you think she is just White or did you attempt to identify her more descriptively, perhaps Italian? Well, her name is Mary O’Reilly. She is equally Hispanic and Irish, and her beauty rituals, needs, and orientation are just as wide ranging as her heritage.

The moral of the story: we cannot be limited in our thinking, or base assumptions on what we see. Whether you assumed that Mary was White, or that oils were meant to be taken off – the successes of broken assumptions have taught us, to not under or overestimate who people are, and, I hope, to see how many people can be touched by products with an ethnic inspiration.

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. /BeautyTrends®

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