UOMA Beauty burst onto the scene a couple of months ago with an electrifying campaign which was the very definition of diversity. Their campaign video, shot in Lagos Nigeria, featured a variety of models and captured the essence of African culture. Women of all shades were represented as the brand set the tone for their message of inclusion and innovation.
Founder, Sharon Chuter, knows all too well the struggle of growing up black and struggling to find the right makeup. Whether the shades were too light or the undertones too ashy, purchasing makeup was a game of risk. Sharon speaks emphatically about her early experiences with makeup. “I grew up in Nigeria, so I was influenced by that standard of beauty. At the time we would use Talc powder or cakey looking powder for face products. These were the only base products available, so it’s interesting that you don’t even realize how bad they were or how inadequate they were for our complexion. It was all that was available, so no one really knew better. We all walked around with chalky skin”.
Growing up in Nigeria, Sharon was also unable to escape the ideals of beauty which plagued many young women who simply didn’t match up. She speaks about her experience with colourism and unlearning the Western standard of beauty to embrace her own. “The ideal beauty at home was fair skin, so bleaching products were the best-selling skin care products. Even today, if someone says to you “you’re dark or darker” most people take it as an insult.
Even in a country with a predominantly black population, the western idea of beauty managed to become the standard. Skin bleaching and hair straightening is just the status quo. It took me to become an adult to start seeing the damage this ecosystem causes. As a woman of color, you learn from a young age that you are all wrong – your skin is too dark, your hair texture is wrong, your hair isn’t long enough. It’s crazy how widespread the singular Anglo-centric idea of beauty is. This is the same in Asian countries– people try to lighten their skin to fit with this standard.”
Despite the challenges, Sharon’s love of beauty blossomed and she ended up carving out an enviable career at some of the most premium global beauty brands. “I have always been a beauty junkie; I’m that girl with a full face beat most days and always have been. So, considering that and the fact that my career has always led me back to beauty, I don’t think anyone is surprised that I have ended up in this space. Add that with the fact that I have always been a rebel and the one to stand up and speak up – I’m never one to shy away from fighting for what I think is right.
I remember being in Nigeria and it was considered a really bad trait for a woman to be so outspoken and rebellious, so my mum would always get the sympathy of people saying things like “this one will live with you forever. No man will cope with her. Ha!” So, I think everything to this point has been in my DNA and I have had to stay true to myself and love myself even when the society I came from was not welcoming of those traits. You put these things together - Love of beauty, rebel and champion for authenticity, and self-love and there you have it – UOMA Beauty.”
Like many entrepreneurs, UOMA Beauty was born out of need. Sharon found herself constantly complaining about the lack of options in the beauty industry and decided to put lip service to rest and take action. “I knew I wanted to do something when I found myself complaining all the time – I am a big believer in “talk is cheap” – “be the change you want to see”. We all complain about the things we are not happy with, but no one is prepared to risk it all to be part of the solution. This is why I embarked on this journey. I’ve put it all on the line and hope that at the end of the day I play a small part in making the world a better place – a place where women who look like me understand that they are truly beautiful and have the courage to explore that from the outside in. We feel beautiful when we are confident and are genuinely confident and at peace with ourselves; women are unstoppable. Every person deserves to have that feeling of being enough, being worthy, being beautiful. It is quite a liberating feeling.”
Having built a career as a beauty executive, I was curious to know what Sharon’s take was on the push we are experiencing towards diversity and inclusion in the industry and whether she believed we were making positive steps towards it or whether it was simply tokenism at work. “I think they say we have come a long way and I say we still have a long way to go! The industry is still learning what it truly means to be inclusive; today it’s all about “hey, I have 40-60 or even 100 shades of foundation and this must mean I am inclusive.” It’s quite sad that the industry doesn’t understand that it goes beyond that. Everything should not be one size fits all. This is why we came out with a foundation that completely changed the game – unique formulas for different skin.
Inclusivity starts from home, how many people working in these cosmetics organizations are of diverse backgrounds? Until the industry fixes its house inside, we will not see the output. As an industry, we need to learn to embrace differences, uniqueness, heritage and identity. We need more diversity at the top of organizations – more women and more people of color. At the moment, most of the major brands are run by Caucasian males, which is crazy since the majority of beauty shoppers are females.”
The name UOMA was inspired by Sharon’s Igbo heritage and just an example of how she expertly weaves parts of her culture into her global brand. “UOMA beauty is inspired by the Igbo word OMA which means beautiful. The U in front is shortened from Umu – So it should be umu-oma which means beautiful people, but it’s such a long word and hard to brand so we went with UOMA. I enjoy the debates I hear about the validity of it as an Igbo word.”
UOMA’s brand is centered around encouraging women to be unapologetically themselves; it’s a vehicle for authentic self-expression. It’s a brand that inspires confidence and pushes women to be the very best version of themselves. Sharon wants women to embark on a journey of self-discovery and truly revel in their uniqueness. In a world where a lot of the beauty industry is geared towards transformation, it really is revolutionary to have a brand that simply wants you to be yourself.
The brand launched in such a powerful and intentional way and it led us to wonder, who exactly is the UOMA woman [person] and in Sharon’s words, what does she stand for? “The UOMA woman or person, I call them the UOMA Tribe, is a gathering of individuals that live by their own rules. It’s a very colorful tribe that consists of all the misfits who have embraced their authentic selves and have found a deep level of joy from getting really well acquainted with their unique selves. It’s a really self-loving tribe. Ha! But think about it, if you can’t love yourself, how can you love anyone else, and how can you expect true love in return.
The UOMA journey is always one of self-awakening, restored pride and the products are just ways to express this freedom. The UOMA girl knows she doesn’t need make-up to be beautiful. She is beautiful but she wears make-up to express herself. She’ll do a red lip because it’s that type of day and you’re feeling like you want a bit more… The number of women of color I have had to work with to get comfortable in wearing their true foundation shade is staggering. It’s a psychological journey, but once she comes on the other side she is just walking on air. This is what our tribe is all about. I don’t sell lipsticks, I sell self-love.”
UOMA’s campaign video was shot in Lagos, Nigeria and features supermodel Halima Aden and rising Nigerian star Aduke Shitta-Bey amongst others. It was a chance to show to range of Nigerian creatives and shed light on the bustling and vibrant Lagos scene. Shooting the campaign in Nigerian was intentional on Sharon’s part and truly set the tone for the direction the brand. “For me celebrating heritage is very important and is at the core of my message. Having pride in your origin and using my platform to change the false and outdated ideas the rest of the world has about Africa is crucial. I am so excited about the continent, the current generation of creatives and the resurgence of identity and national pride. The unification of the diaspora is also very exciting to me! We are going to be doing so much in the continent – I don’t want to spoil anything but stay tuned.”
Launching one’s own brand can be a nerve-wracking undertaking but Sharon has been overwhelmed by the positive response. Between the London and LA launch, UOMA Beauty caused shock-waves through the industry by bringing its unapologetically African style. Tiwa Savage’s performance at the LA launch was the talk of the town. Sharon says, “It has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am so humbled. I tend to take each day at a time. We are a brand of the people, so I guess the people will tell us how we can serve them in 5 years. In the meantime, we have our ears and hearts open and the focus is expanding our tribe and creating more awareness.”
Finally, coming from a beauty executive and now- founder of a global beauty brand, I wondered what the most valuable piece of beauty advice that Sharon had received that she wanted to share with Pulse readers. “Other than self-love is the highest form of beauty, it would be to look after your skin. It is the base on which everything sits. So for me, it’s keeping my skin hydrated and protecting it from the sun via sunscreen. I wear SPF 50 every day. It’s the key to healthy skin.”
There we have it; from a tenacious young woman growing up in Nigeria to a global beauty executive and now the CEO of her own beauty brand, Sharon’s story is simply inspirational. She’s a living testimony to the power of dreams and following your passion. As UOMA beauty begins to gradually make its way onto the faces and into the hearts of beauty lovers the world over, we wait with baited breath to see the impact that this afro-centric brand will have on the direction of the global industry.