Suddenly, the future of beauty and fashion is here. And it is progressive, cruelty-free, diverse and inclusive. It is powered by technologies that include augmented reality, AI and the metaverse.

But it takes people to succeed — especially leaders with a vision and a love for the work they do.

Take Maureen Kelly, chief executive officer and founder of Tarte Cosmetics, for example. During The Wear House activation at this year’s SXSW, presented by WWD, Footwear News and Beauty Inc, Kelly sat down with Jenny B. Fine, executive editor of beauty at WWD and Beauty Inc, to discuss “Leaning Into Digital Community Support.” Kelly said when she launched the brand in 1999, social media was nonexistent and cruelty-free was not in demand yet. But she had a clear vision and a passion that was driving her forward.

In the beginning, Kelly was broke, but was determined to succeed. Regarding the impetus behind launching the brand, Kelly said she would have her makeup done, and it looked great “because a professional did it, and I’d get home, and I’d flip over the box, and I couldn’t pronounce any of the ingredients — because they were so synthetic and unhealthy. I was really frustrated by that. I felt like there had to be a better way. A makeup brand that was healthy and good for you, but also high performance. If we take time to put on our makeup, we want it to last. We want it to look good.”

Kelly said all of the makeup brands back then, “none of them were cruelty-free. That was important to me. We had lots of animals. Going back to my mom growing up on a farm. You name it we had it. That was big for me. I wanted a makeup brand that was formulated with all the good stuff, keeping out all the bad stuff. I decided to start Tarte. My parents were not happy. But you’ve got to follow your dreams.”

Following that dream has led to a brand that is beloved by followers and a digital community that is authentic — one of the things all brands are after today.

Consumers are also demanding brands “walk the talk” when it comes to sustainability and DE&I efforts. At “Becoming the Change — the Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Across Industries,” Christin Brown, celebrity stylist and DevaCurl ambassador, was joined by Clare Brown, content creator and digital marketer; Arielle Egozi, creative director at Study Hall, and Alicia Williams, senior director, anti-racism and brand equity at DevaCurl, in a session moderated by James Manso, WWD’s beauty market editor.

The panelists discussed the importance of DE&I initiatives as well as “being real” and the role of authenticity in an ever-changing world. When asked how the murder of George Floyd ignited conversations over DE&I and racism, Williams said it was a pivotal moment.

“With the murder of George Floyd, and within that context, COVID-19 happened, so it really gave people an opportunity to pause and pay attention to things that have been happening,” Williams explained. “George Floyd is not the first Black person to be murdered on TV or televised, for it to be recorded on camera, but COVID-19 gave people an opportunity to sit and see what was happening. And so, with that, across all industries, we saw a pivot. On LinkedIn, you’re hearing about listening sessions, finally understanding what it feels like for Black people to see something like that, go to work, still do their job and act like that doesn’t impact them.”

Williams said in the beauty industry, after what we saw, “we’re seeing a change in the models that are being used, a focus on textured hair care that hadn’t really been there before. And then also Black women executives in the beauty space changing the game.”

Williams noted that DevaCurl has a responsibility to shape the industry and facilitate change — which is being done through educational initiatives. “We have brave spaces to have these conversations, and we talk about it in a real way,” Williams said. “We’re not using coded language when we talk about racism because if you don’t call it what it is, then you can’t change it, and so we have to be able to do that.”

For Christin Brown, a stylist and a self-described Black queer extrovert, people are “thrown off,” and they “can’t quite put me in a box. They’re like, ‘but you wear makeup, and you wear Jordans, so make it make sense.’” Within that context, Brown asked, “How can I be the person that maybe can provide — I don’t want to say education, but open up a door into a safe space?” Doing so creates an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation while building trust, Brown noted.

Clare Brown said there are “lots of people who are eager to learn, but they are uncomfortable, inherently. So, a lot of conversations about race fall on people of color to share their experiences and share their stories. And I think there’s also a warped definition of what racism is. Too many white people believe that ‘I’m not a member of the KKK. I don’t burn crosses in people’s lawns, so I’m not racist.’ And I also think white people spend a lot of time trying not to be cold racists without unpacking the work. So, there’s a barrier. I think what I try to do with my content is to take down that barrier.”

Authenticity, transparency and meaningful conversations are also key to consumers who demand greater and more impactful sustainable practices. For French heritage footwear brand Palladium, technology plays an essential role.

In the session, “AR and the Virtual Experience,” Allison Bennett, brand director, of the Americas at Palladium, chatted with Nikara Johns, senior editor at Footwear News, about the company’s digital transformation and the launch of an AR try-on app that not only improves the customer’s overall shopping experience but reduces waste. The app also aligns with the brand’s other sustainable efforts.

Bennett said with sustainability, there are two parts the brand focuses on. “There’s sustainability in the product, which I think we’re all very familiar with, and there’s sustainability in the process.”

With the product aspect, Bennett said Palladium is working with organic, vegan materials. “A lot of our canvas boots are PETA-certified vegan,” Bennett said. “If we work with leather, we’re using gold-rated certified tanneries. So, we try to be very conscious of that and use recycled materials. But then there’s sustainability in the process as well.”

On the backend and in the supply chain, Bennett said fashion is wasteful. “So how do we refine that? How do we make an impact on that? That’s where the AR try-on helps us out. By eliminating the need and the dependence on the physical goods being there and shipping things around, you really reduce that carbon footprint — not only for the brand — but for the retailer and the consumer. Trying on an unlimited number of shoes on your phone has a minimal carbon footprint, which is kind of what we’re all striving for. And so that’s how the AR try-on is helping us with sustainability.”

Technology is also playing a key role in wellness and skin care. During the session, “Advancing Aesthetics With Tech, Wellness, Form and Function,” Amanda Holden, MD, BTL Aesthetics key opinion leader, Holden Timeless Beauty, shared insights into how tech is redefining beauty with James Fallon editorial director at Fairchild Media Group.

To set the stage on how technology can impact consumers, Holden said to consider aging Baby Boomers. “Think about whether it’s your parents or your spouse. Think of our knees, our backs, our elbows, our shoulders; they give out over time, right? We’re not able to do the same muscle lifting exercises strength building exercises that we previously could do in the gym. Then, maybe I’ve herniated a disc in my back, or I have neuropathy in this foot. I must sit with a straight posture, and I must have my core strength muscles work well; otherwise, I feel electric shocks in my foot.”

Holden said many people couldn’t do the same functional exercises they used to be able to do. “So instead, I sculpt my abs, my glutes, and even my pelvic floor with a device that you can sit on, and it takes the guesswork out of it,” Holden explained. “I treat people that have had knee surgeries, and they can no longer do squats. We can still sculpt their anterior and posterior thighs and make them strong. People that have had strokes, people that have MS, like there are so many functionalities to this, I can’t even tell you.”

Another example: “Say you’ve had a stroke and you have facial muscles that have fallen on one side,” Holden said. “Now you can put EmFace on and simulate just that side. This is a functional tool that we can use to strengthen our bodies as rehab, wellness and strength. When you think about Baby Boomers, the one thing you don’t want to lose as you get older is the ability to have your activities of daily living there. Say you travel, and you need to put your little luggage up into the overhead bin, and you see someone struggling to do that. That’s something that someone’s very embarrassed about.”

Holden then said to imagine “if you could give your body back a gift to be stronger all over and you can’t necessarily work out in the gym the way you used to. You can’t necessarily get your cardio in the way you used to, but now you can strengthen your muscles in an entirely different way. That’s why we call it the medical gym. We have a medical gym membership, so we literally have people that belong to our medical gym. They come in, and they sculpt their entire body once a month because they want to take their strength and health to the next functional level.”

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