Fenty Beauty: How make-up helped Rihanna become a billionaire

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Rihanna arrives to Bergdorf Goodman on February 7, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)

When Rihanna released her single …Better Have My Money in 2015, you might have thought she was talking about royalties from No.1 hits like We Found Love or Diamonds.

But it’s the income she makes from her Fenty Beauty cosmetics company that was largely responsible for her officially becoming a billionaire last week.

Rihanna, 33, launched Fenty Beauty in 2017 in a partnership with luxury goods company LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton).

Radio 1 Newsbeat has been speaking to beauty experts to find out the secrets to Fenty’s massive success.

Diversity with no barriers up

Rihanna said the aim of Fenty was to appeal to “every type of woman” with “all skin tones”.

“In every product I was like: ‘There needs to be something for a dark-skinned girl; there needs to be something for a really pale girl; there needs to be something in-between,'” she told Refinery29 in 2017.

That commitment is what stands out for beauty writer Jessica Morgan.

“Rihanna’s approached diversity with no barriers up. She ensured there were plenty of ranges across the board that were accessible to everyone,” the 28-year-old says.

Rihanna said: “So you want people to appreciate the product and not feel like: ‘Oh that’s cute, but it only looks good on her'”

Fenty foundation is now offered in 50 shades and has led to the so-called “Fenty effect” where rival brands broadened their shade ranges for make-up products.

Jessica uses foundation from the range, and says though it shouldn’t have felt like it at the time, it was “revolutionary” when it launched in 2017.

“I was able to find the exact shade match to my skin, which has been the bane of my life since I was born,” she says.

“There are other brands who have championed diversity, but this was something fresh that Fenty really brought on.”

For Jessica, the launch of Fenty Beauty’s foundation range meant it became easier to find one that suited her

It wasn’t just about the darker shades either.

“I remember some of my friends who were super pale growing up and their foundation always had an orange hue,” says Chinazo Ufodiama, who hosts the Unpretty podcast.

“[Rihanna] was like: ‘Hey pale sisters, I’ve got you too.'”

Fenty was one of the first brands not to market their make-up exclusively to women too.

“The whole idea of not targeting beauty and fragrance to a particular gender has really taken off,” beauty journalist Amber Graffland says.

“The old-fashioned idea of a beauty hall for affluent women of a certain age is dead and buried.”

The rise and rise of Fenty Beauty

Rihanna is worth $1.7bn (£1.2bn), with an estimated $1.4bn coming from the value of Fenty Beauty.

Forbes – the business magazine that announced she’d become a billionaire – says she owns 50% of the cosmetics company.

The star launched Fenty Beauty in 1,600 stores across 17 countries in 2017.

The company reportedly made $100m (£72m) in its first 40 days.

It makes more money than other celebrity-founded beauty brands such as Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics, Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty and Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, Forbes says.

The rest of Rihanna’s fortune mostly comes from her stake in her lingerie company, Savage X Fenty, worth an estimated $270m (£194m), and her earnings from music and acting.

Jessica, who lives in London, was at one of Fenty’s UK launches at the Harvey Nichols luxury department store.

She says at the time people felt it might be an exclusive brand. And while Fenty’s not the cheapest make-up on the shelves, it is available in high-street shops such as Boots.

This is one of its main selling points for Jessica.

She used to live in Southend and says, with “limited shades” to match her skin, finding the right foundation often involved long trips to department stores in London.

But Fenty wasn’t the first brand to offer a range of darker shades.

“It’s not new, to be honest. When it launched I didn’t feel like ‘oh finally’ at all”, Chinazo says.

“I’d already found my foundation – I’m very much married to Bobbi Brown.”

CEO secrets: The most important virtue is speed

But Chinazo, who’s from Wakefield but lives in Hackney, admits having a brand with more shades to offer is definitely more convenient.

“Not having to have that experience of going to a department store’s beauty hall and trying every single brand to try and find your perfect shade – that’s almost taken away by the fact that you can just go to the Fenty counter.”

“What made it so revolutionary is the fact you can get luxury products at high street prices.”

Cruelty-free ethics

Fenty’s website states it’s a cruelty-free brand that doesn’t test products or ingredients on animals.

Amber says it “really has led the way”, showing up bigger brands as “out of touch” for not acting sooner.

“Consumers are more savvy and knowledgeable than ever. They shop around and only put their money where their heart is – and it’s clearly in cruelty-free, diverse, inclusive brands,” she says.

Jessica adds that the cruelty-free label is a great marketing strategy because it keeps it out of the limelight for controversy-loving social media users.

“Being in 2021, there’s no excuse to not have all those ethical elements in your products.”

    ‘It feels like you’re part of a gang’

Fenty’s social media strategy also makes it stand out from the crowd, Chinazo says.

“It almost reminds me of the days where I was getting ready with my girls before a night out and we were passing around make-up – that’s how it feels when you’re scrolling through that Instagram feed.”

Chinazo says clever marketing makes the consumer feel part of a gang

Amber agrees Fenty’s social media game has made it shine.

“Fenty was the first brand to really rip up the rule book and talk to a generation in the way they wanted to be spoken to.”

The Rihanna factor

It’s hard to discount the star power of Rihanna in making Fenty a business phenomenon.

While many fans have been waiting eagerly since 2016 for new music, a quick look at her Instagram page with 103 million followers shows more Fenty than music.

“I think what people really love about her is the connection to the brand. You can see she uses and speaks about the products in a really authentic way,” says Jessica.

And in case you missed it, Rihanna’s just added a perfume to her Fenty collection.

It seems becoming a billionaire hasn’t stopped her entrepreneurial drive.



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