1) Fenty Beauty launched with 40 different foundation shades and avoided the limited-release model, leading with inclusivity at the get-go.

The beauty brand Fenty—a collaboration between Rihanna and Kendo, Sephora’s brand incubator—launched its first product, the Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation, in September 2017 with 40 different shades. As a mid-priced beauty brand—a single foundation costs $34—no other company spoke to such a diverse range of consumers. The video campaign drew attention to the wide range of options, celebrating a variety of models, each wearing a different shade.

Fenty not only released its the Pro Filt’r in 17 countries—it also evaded the limited-release model that many newer and celebrity-backed brands favor, particularly in the beauty space. While this business model appeals to many nascent brands—from Supreme to Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics—as a way to de-risk new product lines and build up anticipation and hype, Fenty stocked for more than four months in advance, speaking to the brand’s core values and intention to provide an underserved consumer base. While the economics of scarcity can be positive for a business, they can frustrate shoppers with long lines and endless waitlists and often stand in opposition to inclusivity. Often, they lead to a secondary market that not only hikes prices up exponentially, but also remains out of the brand’s control.

Criticism of Fenty and the boundaries of inclusivity

The thirst for a inclusive foundation range in the beauty market was so strong that in the end, even Fenty received criticism, exemplifying the idealism tied to inclusivity. Though largely celebrated—Time even listed the brand as one 2017’s inventions of the year—some customers criticized Fenty for failing to feature a trans model in its original launch campaign. Other online reviewers applauded the quality of the product and its mission, but said they were still waiting for the shade that matches their skin tone. The brand launched both online and in stores at Sephora and Harvey Nichols, where long lines prevented some eager shoppers to make a purchase. Despite Fenty’s large-scale September release, Pro Filt’r promptly sold out in its darker shades and wasn’t restocked until the following December. But Fenty’s unprecedented efforts to overstock and replenish inventory elevated the brand’s equity as well as its revenue: First-month sales were five times higher than those of Kylie Jenner’s widely popular brand Kylie Cosmetics that same month. In 2018, Fenty is expected to outrun Kylie Cosmetics and Kim Kardashian’s brand KKW Beauty.

The Fenty case is also inherently tied to Kendo and Sephora. Particularly for smaller and younger brands, inclusivity is more dependent on the brand’s financial and operational capacity; few nascent brands have the financial support, distribution channels or expertise to be as ambitious as Fenty was. Brands without the advantages that come with Sephora and Kendo, are not necessarily capable of producing large inventories—for companies already paying production minimums, those without enough cash flow cannot face the high costs of carrying this type of inventory.

Overall, however, Fenty’s disruption of the beauty industry means that consumers are increasingly expecting a wide breadth of shades that apply to a wide variety of people and preferences. Soon after Fenty’s launch, Tarte Cosmetics released a new foundation called Shape Tape in 15 shades—13 of which suited only lighter skin tones—to a vocal backlash. But more brands, from Dior to Covergirl, are responding to the market need for more inclusive beauty, emulating Fenty with new lines of foundation, most of which will sell 40 shades, and some that focus on skin undertones as well. Cover FX ran a social media advocacy campaign called #NudeIsNotBeige and Dior’s line, Dior Backstage, will be priced approximately $12 cheaper than the brand’s other foundations in its attempt to make inclusivity more affordable. Though Rihanna has openly criticized other beauty brands and competitors for their narrower shade ranges or quality of product, the reverberating effects of Fenty are overwhelmingly positive and are already showing the potential for a company—and a celebrity—to turn a new page in the beauty industry.

2) Mattel’s new inclusive Barbie line improves on its long legacy, but the brand needs to keep reinventing to stay relevant.

Though Mattel (est. 1945) owns a host of toy brands, the company is almost synonymous with Barbie, its best-selling doll brand. An Americanized version of a German doll marketed explicitly to men, Barbie was developed by Mattel’s founder Elliot Handler and his wife Ruth in 1959 to provide a role model for young girls. Up until this point, girls mostly played with baby dolls, learning to nurture as future mothers. But from the outset, Barbie was a career girl—a toy meant to empower girls to imagine their future professional and family lives, even though these jobs (astronauts, business executives) were largely aspirational, given gender disparity in the workplace and society.

Over the years, Barbie’s slim frame contracted even further and she began to represent sexism as opposed to societal progress. As opinions about women in society began to shift with the rise of second-wave feminism and civil rights permeated the social fabric further in the 80s, 90s and 21st century, she eroded as a brand. Throughout this time, Mattel’s creative directors debated whether it was time to reinvent the Barbie doll in order to champion diversity, both in race and body type—each ceded the responsibility to successors while consumers saw the Barbie brand more and more out of touch. Then in the early 2000s, Mattel confronted its first legitimate doll competition with Bratz. Between 2012 and 2014, the company saw Barbie sales fall 20% and faced rising competition from both Hasbro and Lego, the latter of which became the largest toy company in the world in 2014.

Change from Mattel did not emerge until January 2016 when the company released Barbie in three new body types—tall, petite and curvy—giving consumers the option to choose from seven skintones, 24 hairstyles and 22 eye colors. With the same standard $10 price tag, Mattel received relatively positive feedback on its efforts to imbue inclusivity to the Barbie brand, with some consumers applauding the company, some stating it was a good start, and others claiming it was too little, too late—particularly since, as a legacy brand, consumers have a solidified idea of what the Barbie brand is after decades of reinforcement. But between 2015 and 2016, Mattel’s Barbie net sales rose 7% to $954.9 million—they fell 2% the following year. However, the company also saw comparative Q1 sales rise 24% between 2017 and 2018. In March 2018, piggybacking off of Barbie’s new looks, Mattel launched a role models line that featured dolls of the artist Frida Kahlo and the conservationist Bindi Irwin, as well as used Barbie to advocate for LGBT rights.

Revamping the Barbie brand on the back end and the front end

While traditional toy retailers like Toys R Us and Hasbro continue to suffer from the ecommerce boom and brands work to meet burgeoning desire for digital games and toys, a corporation as large and established as the 73-year-old Mattel has the financial capacity to research and development new designs—it just takes time. After 57 years of manufacturing the same thin, Caucasian and blonde Barbie with a few variations (Mattel launched Black Barbie in 1980, for example), Mattel’s design and production teams had to start from square one. On the manufacturing side, the redesign also meant that the company had to spend more to produce a wider breadth of products with the risk of seeing the new SKUs flop. However, unlike other smaller brands that may want to produce a large amount of SKUs but lack the means, Mattel had the distribution power, funds and long-standing wholesale relationships on the back end, which allowed the company to easily bring the new products to market once it committed to the revamp.

More problematic than creating new designs was reinventing brand equity on the front end. The main problem with the Barbie brand is that the Barbie doll is the brand—disrupting a decades-old, largely denounced image raises numerous questions about the ROI behind the revamped models: Is the expense of resources worth the risk? Is it time to retire Barbie and allow a new doll brand to take its place? Is the idea of Barbie so calcified in consumers’ minds that there isn’t a point to reinvention at all? Would Mattel be better off creating a new brand? Are these dolls simply rendered irrelevant in the digital age? As Mattel navigates the contemporary consumer economy, these questions will continue to plague the company, no matter how many sizes, shapes and colors of Barbie exist.