Despite a devastating pandemic that disproportionately impacts U.S. Latinos three times more than that of White Americans, figures showed that Latino household spending was projected to reach $978 billion by the end of last year. And even though U.S. Latinos have been the largest demographic steadily growing for the last two decades, there hasn’t been a substantial concerted effort made by advertisers and big brands to target us. Clearly, U.S. Latinos are not monoliths. We have vast linguistic and cultural differences. But perhaps it’s a matter of Latinos collectively uniting and demanding representation by withholding our dollars until major retail brands recognize our monetary power and cater to our multicultural consumer needs. I was intrigued by what strategies organizations employed to reach U.S. Latino consumers and spoke with two C-suite executives with beauty and fashion backgrounds to gain perspective on their experiences with this constantly evolving segment of the population.
First interview: Victor Casale, former Chief Chemist, Managing Director R&D of M.A.C. cosmetics, founder of Color FX, and cofounder of Pure Culture Beauty.
Casale has been creating foundation shades for women of color for over 30 years. He began his career as M.A.C.’s chief chemist at the time of its launch and led progressive beauty campaigns with RuPaul and Madonna—advocates for AIDS awareness in the 90s and today. Last year, the Canadian-born Casale was recruited by Crayola to create 24 new colors to represent 40 global skin tones across the globe. (Side note: Casale had difficulty finding a color or mixing crayons to match his Italian complexion as a kid, just like me, being Latina.)
Mercedes Vizcaino: As a beauty veteran, have you faced any resistance from investors or partners on the amount of dark shades you could create?
Victor Casale: It’s a business issue, although I grew up in Canada and I’ve always had the inclusivity mindset, where we treated everyone the same. As a retailer, it’s a business decision, especially with brick-and-mortar. You have a limited amount of space for product placement with fixed real estate, whether it’s a lipstick or foundation line. I want to display the shades that will sell—the movers and shakers. You’re not going to place all 35 shades, but pare down the lines. With direct-to-consumer (online) it matters as well, there’s a need for samples and the try-ons.
There is a balance between the range of shades you carry and the level of sophistication the customer has to have to deal with more shades. You need a forum where customers try on the foundation to match their complexions The more shades you have in a line, the fewer degrees of separation between one shade and another. With Cover FX and M.A.C., I created deep, deep shades and light, light shades. I termed them the outliers. Those people existed. They were alive and well in the world, just we didn’t have many of these customers, but they needed to be represented. M.A.C. and Cover FX were our companies and we were committed to creating all these shades. We didn’t have to clear it with anyone. Of course, we were going to have shades for Black, Latinas, and Indian skins—multicultural skins. The world is becoming more multicultural and more diverse. There are more shades in between—shades that are evenly spaced. I have a signature phrase that I use: A new shade is born every day.
MV: What has been your experience creating foundation shades for the Latina consumer?
VC: At the start of my career, which was over 30 years ago but stills holds true today, I started creating foundations and experimenting. I was in Canada working on 18 shades for the M.A.C. Studio Fix powder line. We opened our first M.A.C store on Christopher Street in NYC, then Nordstrom, where we went big nationally. The feedback we received from Caribbean women, with the same background, but from Northern and Southern United States were completely different from Canadian Latinas. “Your colors aren’t golden, rich enough,” was mentioned repeatedly. I realized the Latina population in Miami and California has different needs. Latinas closer to the equator, their skin color pops, takes on a new dimension, a gold tone. But when you get sun, over time, you get this depth in color. Takes on a different dimension. It’s beautiful. That was such a learning moment. Then we developed shades between cool and neutral —shades that were that had more richness to them— not as yellow, not as pink. They had the same background, same nationality, but based on geography, used a different shade.
MV: The market is saturated with new beauty lines introducing numerous foundation shades, what’s your take on this beauty trend?
VC: It’s not a beauty thing. We’re human. Humans react. I’m not a behavioral expert. People have been saying for so long, oh, there isn’t enough representation. Here’s the thing with this: If you’re working on something and people complain, and the pendulum swings the other way, you go too far. You have brands launching 45, 50, 61 shades. That’s way too many. It’s overkill and overwhelming for the consumer and the business model doesn’t work. So many bad things happen. It’s not just that the company doesn’t make money. The consumer suffers because the company has to charge too much for the product because of wasted inventory.
As a guy who’s been making foundations for humans around the world for 30 years, we’ve been in 20 markets, including Japan, Europe, India, Australia, and South Africa. You don’t need 50 shades. One shade can be very similar to another shade. It’s a waste of shelf space. It makes the consumer frustrated. It’s an inefficient way of doing business.
MV: A surge of Latina and Black brands have launched in the last few years, what are your thoughts about these new brands infiltrating the market and taking profits away from larger beauty brands?
VC: If a company is not going to commit to a category properly, selling lipsticks, eye shadows and they are not going to commit to the diversity of that category, then there should be targeted brands that cater to that category. For instance, Estée Lauder doesn’t care about the Latina consumer because they are selling to White American consumers, then there should be a segment of the Latina market saying: Well we’re going to do something for us, because we need something. And I think that makes for better products that are more specific to that consumer.
Second interview: Catalina Girald. Girald, a Colombian-born and Texas-bred CEO, is the co-founder of Naja, an eco-friendly and socially conscious lingerie line empowering women.
Girald’s brand is committed to changing the way women shop for underwear and shape-wear. Catalina is a designer/entrepreneur, and lawyer, with a JD from Boston College, and MBA from Stamford. Launched in 2014, Naja’s (pronounced: Na-yah) Girald partnered with co-founder, Gina Rodriguez. The Golden-Globe winning actress shares Girald’s passion to uplift women from underserved communities while simultaneously shaking up the fashion industry. I was curious about Naja’s line when I came across the “Nude for All” campaign Naja.co launched in 2016 and chatted with Girald to learn more about their diversity initiatives.
Mercedes Vizcaino: What motivated you to launch this collection, incorporating seven skin tone shades?
Catalina Girald: In 2012, I was watching the Olympics and saw Gabby Douglas competing while wearing a nude ankle wrap that didn’t match her skin tone. It looked odd. I used to be a gymnast and a light bulb went off in my mind; I thought: why is there no nude-colored lingerie for women of color? I started the process of figuring out how to get the right skin tones. It took a really long time. Another brand launched before us—with skin tones for African Americans. I knew I had a great concept and I couldn’t pull it off by myself. I did a big study on color. You can lean either toward yellow, pink or red. The shades cover the full gamut of people’s skin tones. I knew I had to partner with a celebrity to promote the brand to get the word out. That’s when I sought the help of Gina Rodriguez—whom I met during a Proctor & Gamble “Orgullosa” shoot.
MV: Do you perceive colorism to impact Latino consumers when purchasing beauty or fashion brands in relation to skin tone?
CG: Part of the problem is that there are a lot of Latinos that want to be white. If you speak up, then you’re automatically not white. Right now, I’m really tanned; I’m on vacation. But any other time of the year, I pass for white. You can move through society like that if you’re on the lighter side. It may come from our parents. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s complicated.
MV: The “Nude for All” collection and other skin tone collections, I believe, subconsciously forces people come to terms with their own shade as far as their Latino identity and embrace of it brings new and necessary conversations to the table, requiring deep exploration.
CG: It’s funny you mention this. A friend of mine, who’s Latina and darker than me, was making a recommendation on the “Nude for All” collection to someone: She said she wears number Nude #2. I told her: Girl! I wear Nude #3 and I’m lighter than you. Nude #2 is for white girls. I was perplexed why she perceived herself to be that color? Do Latinos want to be white? Or is it that we don’t have enough powerful representation? Could it be that socially we’ve been taught to be quiet? If you go to South American communities there’s this social propriety: What you’re supposed to do and not do. Historically, the culture of Latinos has been a little more subservient. Latinos are very passive and they are concerned about how they appear to the rest of society. I was raised primarily in McCallen, Texas, a predominantly Mexican community, but many Colombians also lived in the area as well.
I played sports and was often in my tennis clothes. My mom had an issue with me going to the grocery store in my tennis outfit, where someone we knew would see me. My mom immediately wanted me to wear makeup. I think most Latin moms are like that. It’s a complex issue. There aren’t enough Latinos in power. This division isn’t just about money. It has to do with family origin and your skin tone makes a big difference. Usually, the whiter you are the more upper class you are, across the board in the Caribbean, South and Central American countries.
MV: Why is there such big void in Latino-influenced fashion and beauty even though we have so much purchasing power?
CG: This is the question we should ask: How can we as Latinos (Latinx) leverage our existence, as valued citizens of this country we love and demand equal representation in advertising, fashion, beauty, fashion and Hollywood, these intersectional facets of life that are embedded in our daily lives?
We find common ground in our mutual Latino cultures that unite us, and refute circumstances and preconceived misconceptions, perpetuated to divide us. Stop the competitive ideology: “this nationality is better than that one and vice versa,” embrace our differences and form a collective voice. There’s room for every Latino or Latina to be seen and succeed, free of discrimination within our own communities, to move forward and make a real impact in Latino-American culture in the U.S. It must happen. We need more representation in the C-suites across American companies, currently 85% of white men make up the boardrooms, yet comprise of 38% of the total workforce, according to Fast Company. Outlandish, yes, let’s change these statistics by forming alliances within our Latino-American counterparts and demand our overdue representation that merits our spending dollars to these corporations.
Mercedes Vizcaino is a journalist covering pop culture, politics, and social issues affecting the Latin community. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and is an aspiring screenwriter.