Are Apps the Answer To The Beauty Industry’s Diversity Problem?

A solution is long overdue

by Siraad Dirshe

By now, most will agree that the beauty industry has an antiquated and damaging way of operating, one that often leaves women of color underserved. After year of being forced to shop in a separate aisle and rarely finding products at large retailers that work with their hair texture and skin tone, the beauty industry’s most profitable demographic, African-American women, are demanding real and substantive change.

Beauty entrepreneurs fed up with the second-class citizen approach often granted to black woman by large beauty brands are using technology to make it truly democratic for everyone by making it more accessible and transcending traditional boundaries. Some of those leading the way are Daria Burke, Jennifer Lambert, Jihan Thompson, and Abigail and Antonia Opiah, all of whom have created beauty apps that are poised to create the measured and sustainable change for which so many have been longing.  

Finding a new hairstylists is often the bane of a woman with textured hair’s existence. Because women of color are often treated as a monolithic bunch, stylists at many ubiquitous salons rarely, if ever, know how to properly care for it. But thanks to Trest BeautySwivel and Yeluchi by Un-ruly, three beauty service apps, women of color no longer have to be subjected to the pain of a stylist who doesn't understand their hair’s needs. 

After years in the industry as a magazine editor, Jihan Thompson, one of Swivel’s founders, had access to all of the beauty-tech products and services hitting the market. However, there always seemed to be something missing in the array, begging the question from Thompson and co-founder Jennifer Lambert: “We can find everything else online these days, from a date to a restaurant reservation, so why should finding a hairstylist be such a struggle?” And thus Swivel was born. 

As the only platform that allows black women to search for a salon and stylist in New York City by their hair type and desired style, Swivel was created by long-time friends Thompson and Lambert, because they wanted to make the process of booking a hair appointment as seamless as possible for women with textured hair. “There was just such a gaping hole in the market, so we decided to take the leap and create the type of beauty experience black women deserve,” they say.

Daria Burke, the founder of Trest Beauty, agrees. “Despite the number of beauty on-demand apps in the market, none of them sufficiently address the needs of women with textured hair, despite our propensity to over-invest on our hair. We spend three times the general market [price] on hair care products and yet the pain points are real and remain an issue,” she says. Trest is the only beauty app to use Facbook SKD for iOS to help users find recommendations they can trust via their social networks. Her motivation for creating the app was simple: Be the change that you want to see. 

“Trest stands at the intersection of the things about which I’m extremely passionate: beauty, empowering and building products for women, and creating a space for a more diverse view of women in all the areas where we are underrepresented,” Burke explains. 

In a very similar vein, the sister-duo of Abigail and Antonia Opiah founded Yeluchi by Un-ruly, an at-home hairstyling service that specializes in textured hair. After leaving their careers in marketing and communication in 2013, the sisters launched Un-ruly, an online beauty platform. The Opiah sisters explain: “Last spring we dove head-first into launching Yeluchi, a service that we as busy black women wished existed in the marketplace, and, at the time, didn't exist." 

What’s so crucial and exciting about the services these women provide is that they give almost infinite possibilities to a demographic that’s traditionally had very few options when it came to beauty. If booking a hair appointment based on texture is what you’re looking for, there’s Swivel. If leaning on the advice of your closest 500 Facebook friends is what you’re seeking, Trest has got your back. Or if VIP treatment is what you crave, Yeluchi can make that a reality. While hairstylists specializing in textured hair, have been around since the beginning of the 20th century, connecting with one—particularly in a new place—has often been a challenge. But not anymore, because these apps make it simple. The fear and anxiety that most women of color feel when walking into a new salon for the first time, has been removed. By harnessing the power of technology, these entrepreneurs are successfully keeping pace with the beauty needs of women of color. 

More importantly, Swivel, Trest, and Yeluchi are positively changing the narrative around Black Beauty. By building an active and engaged community via their apps and social media channels, they have created safe spaces where women of color can feel appreciated and celebrated like never before. “As more and more women are going natural, #blackgirlmagic helps them embrace their innate beauty, and blogs have been pivotal in spearheading the natural hair movement. Swivel is here to help with that,” Thompson and Lamber say. 

Affirming and reflecting a definition of beauty that includes women of color is now a non-negotiable. If brands want to successfully win these women's dollars, they should pay close attention. Creating products that truly meet the needs of African-American women and that seamlessly integrate into their busy lives, will be key for success. Scrappy and young entrepreneurs have already figured this out and have positioned themselves to be the industry’s true change agents; the future is wide open.