For years, Black models and actors have resorted to handling their own hair & makeup on set or bringing personal products due to a lack of expertise from the hair & makeup teams. Repeated encounters of systemic inequality called model Mame Adjei to find a solution on increasing diversity in beauty teams. Adjei teamed up with co-founders of Bonnti App, Maude Okrah and Simone Tetteh, then created the Black Beauty Roster, an initiative set out to be a talent discovery tool focused on amplifying the work of Black beauty professionals through education, mentorship, and advocacy. The platform is kicking off its launch by hosting its first digital summit Sunday, February 28th, the last day of Black History Month with established industry professionals such as Gabrielle Union, Larry Sims, and Sir John as guest speakers. Models.com speaks to Adeji on what led to her role in the leadership council at the BBR, her experiences on set, and her advice to up & coming models on how best to speak their truths and not be intimidated by the “powers that be”.
Why did you first join the Black Beauty Roster leadership council and when did you meet the other council members?
Following the George Floyd murder and the racial tensions that erupted soon after, I was not only traumatized and exhausted but ultimately frustrated at the fact that in 2020, I was still having to defend my blackness. I thought I must do something in my world of fashion that will have an impact on how I am (and those that come after me are) treated in our industry. I just genuinely wanted to figure out solutions to certain repetitive problems that I would have on set such as not being adequately catered to as a black woman with textured hair and a darker skin tone; having to do my own hair and makeup on too many occasions to count, and then not being paid for it.
So, the solution was to create a roster that housed all of the capable hairstylists and makeup artists that knew how to do all hair textures and skin tones. I posted about my intention to start something like this and was overwhelmed by the responses of support. Maude Okrah and Simone Tetteh (co-founders of Bonnti App), reached out to me about partnering up on a similar initiative that they were beginning, and it was and a no-brainer to join forces!
What are the goals of the Black Beauty Roster Summit?
Our goal is to create a platform that brings all of the key players in the industry to a centralized place and engage in meaningful discussions. The panel topics include how to be a better ally, model advocacy, how to grow & scale one’s beauty business, how to break into tv & film as a beauty professional, among other topics. It’s an opportunity to learn from “veterans” and industry pros. As part of the BBR Leadership Council, and as a model and actress who’s worked over a decade of my life in these industries, I am super excited but mostly relieved that something like this can finally take place.
As part of the Black Beauty Roster leadership council, how do you plan on driving change in the fashion industry?
I mainly hope to use my platform and this initiative to raise awareness about the issues that we still face as talent in the fashion & entertainment industry, while finding solutions and ways to implement them widely so that we can truly see the change that we require in order to move into an era of real equity.
One solution being, getting agencies and brands to sign on to paying models who have to do their own hair and makeup on set because the person hired was incapable. Models deserve to be paid a separate rate for doing a separate job! It is simply not enough for brands and fashion houses to post impassioned captions, and less-than-genuine campaigns screaming that they are inclusive when nothing is being organized to empower Black + POC within their own companies.
What kind of experiences have you had in the industry where beauty professionals lacked experience working with black models?
I sadly have too many to count. Just last week I was on set, and the hairstylist had no clue on how or any products to style my natural hair. I resorted to styling my own hair for the shoot with my own products that I luckily brought from home, while he looked on and joked, attempting to deflect.
My worst was probably a year ago when I booked a huge campaign in South Africa (thinking because this is Africa, they must know how to work my skin/hair), and the white makeup artist sat in her chair every morning as I did my own makeup for all 5 days of the shoot! She didn’t even try to attempt but worked on all of the lighter-skinned models there.
How can awareness and education break down barriers of entry for Black beauty professionals?
From working on BBR, and being more vocal on set, I am learning that the issue lies in the fact that many of these beauty creatives are simply not being educated on how to work with textured hair and/or darker complexions even in the most prestigious beauty schools. And so, they are having to find ways to educate themselves, learning as they go. But it isn’t fair to the models/talent when there is no initiative on their part to learn beforehand, forcing us to do the jobs of 3 people on set.
When it comes to black beauty professionals breaking into the industry, it is a matter of these brands seeing their value instead of brands just re-hiring their friends. Awareness and education on these kinds of issues can hopefully eliminate the problem that we have, and allow for more initiative, thought, and consideration to be taken when making hiring decisions.
How can diversifying beauty talents make an impact in the entertainment and fashion industry?
Diversifying beauty talents and all key players on set will inevitably make an impact in the industry by allowing everyone the space to contribute to new narratives, and for everyone who consumes products of their creativity to feel seen and heard. This empowers everyone.
What type of resources is the BBR providing for beauty professionals affected by the pandemic?
We hope to be a resource for business and beauty education, and possible mentorship for newcomers in the industry, as well as including them on the roster which will be circulated around to agencies, production houses, fashion and beauty brands, etc. in the hopes of increasing their visibility and creating opportunities for employment. We also have the Beauty Relief Fund where we raised money to help stylists with short-term needs like rent, electricity bills, groceries, and such.
What do you hope attendees will gain from the summit?
I hope if nothing else, they walk away feeling seen, heard, and that they matter!
I also hope that they leave inspired to continue doing amazing work, breaking down barriers in their own ways and that they make genuine connections and gain allies in the fight for equity. Lastly, I hope that we are all able to continue collaborating in doing the work that it takes to truly change things up.
What advice would you give to up and coming models directly affected by the lack of inclusivity on set?
I would simply encourage them to be vocal about the things that they are experiencing (to their agents, to their colleagues, etc), and to speak their truths; not to be intimidated by the “powers that be”. Remaining true to themselves and what they represent in the grand scheme of things, will help shift things and allow for more black + POC people to enter into rooms.
How can allies amplify the Black Beauty Roster’s mission?
Sharing, reposting, joining the conversation, and being a part of the solution!
We need more allies to educate themselves on the issues we face, and how they can help to remedy them in their own individual ways. We need allies to join us in this fight, because we didn’t create these systems that oppress us, so we need their help in order to truly dismantle them, once and for all.