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Superstar Rihanna has launched her Fenty Beauty products in Africa. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Superstar Rihanna has launched her Fenty Beauty products in Africa. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Rihanna upended the cosmetics market five years ago when she launched a makeup brand for black people. Now she is bucking conventional wisdom again with a big bet on an often overlooked market: Africa.

The star singer and her partner, luxury giant LVMH, are taking Fenty Beauty to a continent worth an estimated $2bn in retail value in 2022 across premium beauty and personal care, according to data from researcher Euromonitor International. The line is available in SA, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Global beauty brands had passed over African countries for years because of lower consumer spending power. Historically, the industry also focused on making products for white skin and hair types. Rihanna enters with advantages: she has a big social media following on the continent and a lot of consumers are already buying Fenty products online despite pricey shipping costs.

“Now we get to experience it ourselves, on our turf,” said Foyin Ogunrombi, a beauty influencer who promoted the recent launch of the brand for ARC, a retailer in SA. She predicts that Rihanna’s star power and the brand’s established popularity will help the products sell well.

For LVMH, which has a stake in Fenty, pushing the beauty line into Africa could help promote its house of brands, which include Hennessy and Tag Heuer, to the region’s young and increasingly wealthy shoppers. The company generates about 90% of its sales from Europe, Asia and the US, meaning Africa is largely untapped.

Rihanna, whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, redefined the cosmetics industry when the line debuted in 2017 with 40 shades of foundation. It generated more than $550m in sales in its first year by appealing to black people who’d previously settled for makeup that didn’t match their skin tone or had to mix their own. Now Clinique, Maybelline, Dior and MAC Cosmetics all offer at least that many options, too.

“Rihanna stands out,” said Deborah Aitken, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. As a black businesswoman with a long-established following among young people and an even wider base after becoming a mother, the singer resonates globally and in Africa, she said.

The prospects for Fenty look good. The region is young, but also gaining more wealth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of its almost 1.1-billion people are aged under 30. And in the wake of pandemic lockdowns, consumers are “refilling the makeup bag”, Aitken said.

That potential was apparent as customers joined celebrities and influencers at midnight launch events in Sandton in Johannesburg, dubbed Africa’s richest square mile. The Barbados-born singer didn’t attend, but posted on Instagram to officially announce the launch wearing an outfit by Thebe Magugu, an SA designer.

“I can finally get something that matches my skin tone” said Owami Tshuma, a 20-year-old customer who snapped up Fenty’s foundation on launch day.

Products in the existing Fenty skincare and beauty lines will be sold at ARC stores in SA; Edgars in SA, Botswana and Namibia; Essenza in Nigeria and Ghana; Lintons Beauty World outlets in Kenya; Catts Beaute in Zimbabwe and Zambia’s Color Cafe.

In a sign that the brand might be trying to go more premium in Africa, prices for products such as the Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer and Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation are about 10%-15% more expensive than in the US.

For Nigerian-based lifestyle influencer Eki Ogunbor, the launch in Africa is a big deal. “Black people need to be represented” she said.

Bloomberg. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com 


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