Over the past few years, we have seen a tremendous rise in the number of women-led brands bursting onto the beauty scene with various unique products, but one new brand stands out because of its mission to re-write the rules of inclusivity and diversity to create a world of beauty that truly is for all of us. UOMA – pronounced OMA in Igbo, means beautiful and has in the short period since its launch in April, gained an impressive following. The brand is the brainchild of Nigerian-born former beauty executive, Sharon Chuter, who draws inspiration from her Afro heritage and infuses it with fierce modernity to create a truly fresh aesthetic.
Earlier in the year, Sharon was listed by WWD as one of the 50 most forward-thinking executives shaping the future of the beauty industry, this comes as no surprise, owing to her rich background working with major multinational beauty and consumer brands including Revlon, L’Oréal, PepsiCo, GSK and Benefit Cosmetics, and now adding UOMA Beauty to her impressive list of accomplishments, solidifies herself as a beauty connoisseur.
I hope that all the women who interact with this brand, take away that they are enough and they are beautiful. We are beautiful, we just need to find the courage to fully embrace ourselves and this is a journey for all women especially women of colour.
– says Chuter
Right off the launch event, BellaNaija Style‘s Mary Edoro caught up with Sharon Chuter and discussed why she launched UOMA Beauty, the loopholes in the beauty industry and how her brand intends to solve some of the biggest beauty problems women of colour are faced with.
BNS: With how saturated the market is right now, Why was there a need to create another beauty brand?
Sharon: I created a beauty brand because I wanted to take the conversations around inclusivity further. The beauty industry as it stands today has not yet fully grasped the reality of the world we live in and the diverse mix that exists within. You go to South Africa and in all the major department stores, you still struggle to find products that cater to women of colour! How is this even possible? Products for women of color are always an afterthought – A line extension. So I wanted to create a brand that put women of color first. Everything we do is a celebration of her and a deep exploration of her beauty like has never been done before. As a woman of color, you learn from a very young age that you are different but not in the right way – Your skin is all wrong, your hair is too dense, your nose is the wrong shape, your body is the wrong shape. In Nigeria and most African countries, bleaching creams are the number one selling products. This is not just exclusive to Africa, it’s the same in India and southeast Asia. I hope that all the women who interact with this brand, take away that they are enough and they are beautiful. I love how the world has embraced our Afropolitan beauty brand. It really demonstrates that we have nothing to be ashamed of. We are beautiful, we just need to find the courage to fully embrace ourselves and this is a journey for all women especially women of colour.
BNS: What African/Nigerian influences fueled your desire to launch the brand?
Sharon: The entire brand is built around Afro heritage. I use the word Afropolitan because it is a fusion of heritage and fierce modernity. It also unifies the afro experience beyond borders – So I celebrate all facets of Afro and draw inspiration from all parts of the continent and the diaspora. I shot my campaign in Lagos and it was very important for me to do this. I wanted to showcase Lagos as the “Afropolitan hub” that it truly is. I am passionate about reframing the idea of Africa, especially in the west. The storyline of Africa as starving kids, poverty and disease has overshadowed the core story of the continent.
It was important to me to showcase heritage, arts, modernity, and everything in-between. I brought in talent from all over the world and used local talent too. The crew was mostly Nigerians some based here and some overseas. I really enjoyed discovering local talent too in the process like my adopted daughter (ha!) – Rebecca Fabumi – That girl needs to be on the cover of Vogue USA. And I was so glad to have met her. I have used her on a lot of our media coverage from Elle to Glamour Magazine. Aduke was another model we worked with and I was so impressed with. My photographer was Nadine Ijewere (She is also Nigerian although she is London born and raised), Meji Alabi was the video director and the crew and production company was JM films led by Jimi Adesanya. So for me, this is why I am doing what I am doing. Taking back our story and owning it. Showcasing the creative and cultural renaissance that is going on on the continent.
At our launch event in LA, we had so many Nigerians and Nigerian talent there from DJ Spinall (who we used his track with Wizkid – Nowo as the track for our campaign), to Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy.
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BNS: What are the biggest challenges you have encountered so far?
Sharon: Oh my! Where do I start – I am female and not just that, a black female coming out and creating a brand in an industry that is dominated by French males. It was tough. The most challenging part was trying to get funding for the brand. I funded the entire brand myself till February this year and we launched in April so you can imagine what that was like. We came through in the end and that’s the most important this. Staying true to what you believe in and fighting all the way to the end. There will always be challenges but you have to be willing to always find a way.
BNS: With your international experience, what do you think about the beauty industry in Africa, particularly Nigeria?
Sharon: I think the beauty industry globally is experiencing unprecedented times. It is booming as women and men are now no longer afraid to express themselves. I think the industry in Africa is poised to explode and I am excited about the prospect of that and I hope we can be a part of the emergence of the African beauty industry. We are proudly African so we will be doing a lot in the local market so watch this space. I am very excited.
BNS: What is missing and what are we getting right?
Sharon: I think infrastructure is always a challenge and government policies. I remember when I started this brand, I wanted to base my head office in Lagos. The regulations around banking, foreign exchange fees and more just made it impossible to work so I think that is the biggest piece that still is missing. On the other side, creativity in Nigeria is just off the charts. I am so inspired by Lagos, the beautiful people, the vibrancy of the people and so I think it is very well placed to become a beauty hub in Africa. The love of beauty is amazing! So many talented make-up artists, I worked with Sutchay for my shoot and Zubi was the lead hairstylist on set and I wish I could put those two in my bag and travel everywhere with them. The talent in Nigeria in this space is just so good! I also love how beauty retail is coming through with specialty beauty stores as well as branded standalone boutiques. I am very optimistic about the future and I cannot wait to come and have a presence in Nigeria.
BNS: What are the main loopholes in the beauty industry that you intend to fill with UOMA Beauty?
Sharon: We are bringing in a completely new point of view. We are introducing to the industry an Afropolitan brand that is rooted in the celebration of heritage, yet is inclusive to all. This is a very fresh approach. We have also brought in some truly groundbreaking products – Our foundation is a good example. It is the first of its kind to ever be made. So we are pushing the global beauty industry not just in terms of values and messaging, we are pushing creativity and innovation. This brand is for ALL by US and I hope that every Nigerian, African and all of Afro origin are truly proud.