Little did Sharon Chuter realize the effect her Pull Up for Change initiative would have on the beauty industry. A week after George Floyd’s death, Sharon, the founder of Uoma Beauty, launched a call-to-action, Pull Up for Change (#pulluporshutup) on Instagram, that mushroomed into more than 135,000 followers, calling on companies to publicly release employment statistics about their Black composition, especially those in leadership roles.
The campaign was born out of frustration of a lack of economic opportunities for Black people, despite corporate companies posting black tiles and support for the #blacklivesmatter movement. Even though beauty companies have made strides in creating shades for all complexions, a lack of diversity in the boardroom remains. Black business owners receive less than 2 percent of startup funding, and the average Black woman receives only $42,000 to grow her business versus the $2.2 million received by white men, according to Sharon.
Her message is striking a chord. Companies large and small, inside and outside of beauty, are owning up to their statistics—even if the numbers show that the company has a long way to go. Among the beauty companies who responded include The Estée Lauder Cos., Shiseido, Kylie Cosmetics, Sephora, BeautyCounter, Coty/CoverGirl, Unilever and Revlon.
Born in Nigeria, Sharon is no stranger to the innerworkings of big brands, having held positions at multinationals such as Pepsi, LVMH and L’Oréal. She left corporate America to launch Uoma Beauty in 2019. Her vision was to disrupt the industry’s outdated definition of beauty; her goal was to start a movement, not just a business. With Pull Up for Change she’s done more than that. Here, Sharon discusses the challenges of being a Black entrepreneur, the pitfalls of celebrity brands and her reaction to how Pull Up has skyrocketed.
Beauty News: What was most important to you when you launched Uoma Beauty?
Sharon Chuter: I wanted the brand to be a vessel to bring together all the people who feel they have been left out. The end goal was to make beauty more inclusive with no judgment.
BN: What’s been the most challenging moment of your entrepreneurial journey?
SC: I knew a lot about beauty because I’ve been working in it for years. The biggest challenge was how to fund it—that was new for me. Financing, especially for Black-owned businesses, is still a problem. I managed to get through the launch because I had enough cash of my own and then I was lucky enough to find investors.
You can have the best ideas but if you don’t get funded you can’t grow. In beauty you have to be launching all the time, especially because consumers are less loyal. We need more access to capital; there needs to be more opportunities for young and creative black businesses that can thrive in this environment.
BN: What about the obstacles in expanding your retail footprint?
SC: There is a dangerous trend of retailers giving space to celebrity brands. It is another way conglomerates can consolidate power. They are killing the true innovators. There is no innovation to come with celebrity brands. At some point we will be ready to have the conversation on the negative impact celebrity is having on the beauty industry.
Another challenge is that retailers think that just because I’m Black I only create for Black people. I have a lot of white followers. People are attracted to my bomb-ass formulas. I have 51 shades of foundation so you can’t tell me they are all for Black people. Retailers need to do a better job at checking their own bias.
We are lucky that online is growing because it is dismantling and shifting the power. We have to grab this moment.
BN: Who are your mentors?
SC: I don’t have just one, but many mentors, and I wouldn’t be here without people who taught me and fought for me. But there is one person who helped propel me in my early career to a senior position and who told me my super power was not fitting in. He told me I was at my best when I was unhinged. I learned to be my authentic self at that time and it gave me the confidence to launch my brand.
BN: How did you create Pull Up? Did you wake up one morning and say ‘I have to do something?’
SC: I was pacing around with frustration. We’ve been having this conversation for way too long. If not now, when? This is systematic oppression. What bothers me the most are the companies who directly market to the Black community, and profit off it, but don’t provide jobs for them. This is the key to integration. If you want to be part of the solution, actually be part of the solution and stop talking about being part of it. I hope we have triggered conversation.
BN: What is the interaction with Pull Up and 25 Black Women in Beauty?
SC: There is synergy with Pull Up and Ella Gorgla, who helped found the association. Since the challenge launched, she’s been focused on helping companies find Black talent and members for boards. She’s actually become a recruiter connecting companies with talent.
BN: Are you pleased with the beauty industry’s reaction?
SC: Yes, very. There are some disappointments, but 8 out of 10 conglomerates pulled up and that’s huge. It makes me full of hope for the changes to come.