With over 35 years in the business, Eryca has travelled the world in her role as a global beauty brand ambassador and strategist. She is dedicated to advancing the path for women of colour and helping makeup and beauty brands develop and adapt their products and marketing to cater to this diverse and sizeable market.
Eryca has created E.A.T.O.W (Embracing All Tones Of Women), a global events and online platform focused on educating, mentoring and connecting businesses and professionals, start-ups, entrepreneurs and ordinary women, empowering them to work at a new level.
I recently had the great pleasure of a Zoom meeting with Eryca and her team, where we discussed her experiences and hopes for the beauty industry, and their latest project.
You’ve travelled and worked widely throughout Africa. What struck you as the main differences between the beauty industry there and in Europe?
I have proudly travelled the world as a black beauty specialist. I have worked in over 7 countries in Africa (there are 54) and fell in love with Nigeria and South Africa. My first trip to both countries was part of a British Government research project into the vast, growing makeup and beauty industry.
I was and I am still very impressed with African women’s approach to self love and nothing is too expensive for them. The innovations and zest for business is the best I have ever seen, in particular in Nigeria where beauty is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is entwined beautifully with their rich culture.
Is there a particular country or region you are drawn to most?
Oops – I get so carried away when I speak about Africa! It has to be Nigeria, which happens to now be my favourite country in the world. Once you have understood and mastered the landscape, the country yields the greatest fruit!
Nigeria embraced me with open arms and gave me many opportunities including my own tv guest presenter series on the most popular TV network. I was accepted based on my knowledge and experience within the industry and never dismissed on the basis of my skin colour.
Does the industry look very different today, for a woman of colour, than when you started out?
Honestly no – I have always had to deal with racism. I started my career at the same time as Pat McGrath and Naomi Campbell. I echo everything Naomi had to say over the last 30 plus years. I too was stereotyped from day one, given the menial jobs and told by many agency and PR companies I was not good enough for the industry.
There were a few other makeup artists back then who were black, and we all struggled. Thank goodness Pat McGrath is now the most successful makeup artist in the world, who is able to work on all skin types and tones. Many were not back then. The struggle is real, but I am a business woman and soon realised there are so many facets to the makeup industry. In fact, I discovered I didn’t really like makeup in the conventional sense – I fell in love with the business of makeup and beauty. I created my own path in the industry and now rely on myself to be creative. Hence, how E.A.T.O.W – Embracing All Tones of Women was born.
For some years, large multinationals have committed to embracing diversity in their teams, their brands and their products. Would you say they have been successful, and gone far enough?
Again, no is the honest answer – if they had, then there wouldn’t be the outburst in the beauty industry (and all industries in the mainstream) about diversity. I think multinational brands need to look to experts of colour for guidance and support, and pay for it too. I have been asked to provide practically everything, for free, even at this stage in my career. I now create my own businesses in the beauty sector and invite my mainstream colleagues along to invest.
It would be fantastic to see more inclusivity, a union, because all women are beautiful and should be treated accordingly. I remember going into a department store and asking for a foundation from a mainstream brand who catered for darker skin tones. When I asked the assistant for a foundation to match my skin tones, rather than say “no we do not have a foundation to match your shade” she said “you are too dark and we will never go to your shade, it’s too much hard work” – language, manners and training are imperative. “Too dark” implies not good enough or not worth it – understanding and respect goes a long way. There are hundreds of examples I can present. Fortunately, my parents have always told me I was the most beautiful girl in the world, but the damage comes when you step into the “real world”. Brands are obligated to train their teams on diversity & inclusion and terminology.
Is something holding some beauty companies back from addressing diversity openly?
I think there’s fear and perhaps a wilful ignorance. People do not know what they don’t know. Many are arrogant and believe they know it all. I honestly think, coming together and having those difficult conversations is the only way forward. I think this is a long journey, but at the very least, let’s start the conversation and listen to one another. There is so much to be exchanged from our different experiences. With these conversations, we have the opportunity to build a rich and inclusive culture in the industry.
Do you think more recently launched beauty brands are better at embracing inclusion and diversity?
I would say many are trying however with Fenty Beauty coming to the market, it has forced many brands to open their eyes, simply because Fenty Beauty made $Millions within the first few days. There is still more to do.
What inspired you to create the E.A.T.O.W. platform?
Seeing the lack of inclusion from mainstream beauty brands whilst knowing how much black women live and breathe beauty – I simply saw an opportunity. Women of colour were already making huge successes without mainstream inclusion. I believed it was time to merge the two.
E.A.T.O.W. – Embracing All Tones of Women is committed to celebrating the achievements of women of colour in the beauty and entertainment industry. The platform connects women from across the world.
Your new project is a networking group that will connect, mentor and inspire people of diverse ethnicities in the industry. How will the group do that?
Through our “Beautiful Me” platform members will have access to several online events, giving women of colour the opportunity to be seen and celebrated. For makeup brands to learn and observe and get involved.
We have watched our white counterparts our entire lives – we have created an environment for all to come and observe women of colour at the top of their career without apology bringing at least 4 continents of women together.
Our monthly events include:
- ICON Awards – which celebrate two leading women in the beauty and entertainment industries.
- An Audience With – a discussion with an industry-shaping woman who is breaking boundaries. Members get the chance to hear first-hand from an up-and-coming individual from the beauty or entertainment industry. This is an open question and answer session, where Beautiful Me members can get up close and personal with the guest. These sessions are hosted by E.A.T.O.W.’s Gayle Thompson.
- Wealth Creation Forum – focused on helping women manage and grow their wealth. This is offered in partnership with NatWest Bank and Amey Finance – both organisations offer Beautiful Me members a one-hour business guidance session on how to grow their businesses.
- Beautiful Me Connexion – a platform for engagement for Beautiful Me members to interact and build relationships.