"I think it’s actually a really great time to develop a brand because of the ways in which society is turning."
Consumer expectations of brands are evolving; over the past few years, brands have become environmental activists, ethical curators and inclusivity advocates. Especially during a year that has turned the world on its head, consumers are increasingly looking to brands not for escape, but for fortitude.
People want brands to help drive change, both by being a positive force in shaping culture (58%) and by working to make the future better than the present (61%), according to The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust.
Launched on July 27, 2020, GEENIE is a new beauty marketplace nurturing brands that do just that. The platform curates and sells “brands that match your beliefs” in an effort “to connect and drive indie brands that move culture forward,” the brand explains.
Below, GEENIE CEO and founder Chana Ginelle Ewing catches up with us about culture-first brands, how values-based shopping will become an identity marker and what’s in store for the beauty industry,
What is GEENIE?
I would describe it as a beauty curious marketplace and community that mirrors your beliefs.
We focus on what we’re calling “culture-first” brands; brands that are founded by a spectrum of diverse backgrounds offering inclusively designed products. [Brands that are] thinking about sustainability, thinking about clean [ingredients]—and thinking about how all of that together can also influence and impact culture.
What was your inspiration for launching GEENIE?
I have a background in multicultural marketing, specifically marketing film and media projects, and I also wrote a children’s book that addresses intersectionality. I consider myself a cultural entrepreneur, and my mission is to think about what an intersectional world looks like and how to create space for that. It’s very important to me to help tell the stories of and drive revenue to traditionally underrepresented founders and business owners.
The precursor to GEENIE was a subscription box company called Geenie Box, which centered on Black women—through the products they created and through the actual consumers. So that’s where I first got turned onto this idea of heritage- and values-based shopping.
I saw an opportunity to create a shopping community based on values. A lot of the brands that were in [Geenie Box] were not only Black women-owned or women-owned, they also thought about other dimensions of values, around clean [ingredients] and sustainability. So it became really interesting to think about what it would look like to stitch all of this together so that people could have the space to shop and express their values.
What are the criteria for choosing the brands you sell on GEENIE?
It’s under development in a lot of ways. We’re not necessarily being as prescriptive as, you know, ten items on a checklist. But there are a few dimensions that we’re looking at. The first is, what are the ways in which you show up in the world? So, identity and intersectionality. The second thing we’re looking at is, how are you creating your product? What is your value proposition and how are you actually creating that and delivering that to the market? And then the third piece is, what’s important to you? What cultural element are you trying to impact?
So, for instance, Beauté Brownie is a Black women-owned brand, cruelty free and is also really engaged with the idea of colorism. They’re perfect for our marketplace because they’re hitting all those major points that we’re bringing together.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in beauty and retail over the past year?
I have to start by talking about the power shift. Narratives of Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) are being re-centered. Marginalized voices are coming to the center and making demands on larger corporations—and people are being brought to the mat. If you make a statement as a brand that you support Black Lives Matter, then the general public is going to investigate whether or not those lives actually matter [to you]. People are sick of “woke-washing.” They can see right through inauthentic or public relations-driven statements. People are really interested in integrity in this movement.
That’s trickling into the beauty industry with the ways in which some brands—not all—are showcasing more unique beauty or nontraditional models, so you’re seeing that starting to bubble up in the beauty and fashion industries.
What are some challenges that the beauty industry is facing right now?
What you’ve seen recently around the Pull Up or Shut Up and 15% pledge, and all of these amazing campaigns that have really pushed the beauty industry to think about how they engage Black folks and BIPOC more broadly—a lot of businesses have made the pledge, but how is that actually going to happen? How are they going to do it? How long will it take and what does the exact path look like?
Also, if your company is primarily White led and White staffed, do you have the folks in house to think about this heritage brand? Do you have the folks in house to work with these brands? How are you responding to the call of the moment, both from an employee and staff perspective and also from a thought perspective? I think that’s a big challenge for a company.
And then the other piece of this is something that’s been around for a while now, and that’s that multicultural shoppers in general are one of the biggest—if not the biggest—spending groups in the beauty category. But only about 5% or 6% of media budgets regionally are set aside to target multicultural consumers. That stat is across industries; I haven’t found the one that’s specific to beauty, but it’s probably not much higher. You have this huge audience that’s spending money, and how are you going to quickly turn around to market to them? What’s that going to look like in this moment?
How are you addressing those challenges at GEENIE?
As a new brand, we have to really think about how we hold ourselves accountable. I think it’s actually a really great time to develop a brand because of the ways in which society is turning—we know what consumers want and what they’re looking for and what they won’t stand for. People are speaking really loudly, so for us it’s just thinking about how to listen and how we enter the marketplace.
Do you believe that there will be a new value or ranking system for brands moving forward?
I do for us; I don’t know about everyone else. But, for GEENIE, our culture-first prioritization is key. That’s how we rank and evaluate and discuss brands that come on our marketplace.
There are probably other folks that are doing that as well to varying degrees, but I think it will start to take hold as more consumers showcase that it’s important to them to know what’s behind the brands that they shop.
What do you predict for the future of the beauty industry?
I think values-based shopping will become an identity marker [for brands]. For a long time, it’s been all about convenience and fast shipping. A lot of brands lead with one-day shipping or two-day shipping and I think that’s been driven by Amazon’s dominance and now consumers expect things to get to them really quickly.
I think there will be a new expectation that will be, not how quickly are you getting things to me, but what are the values that this brand or this product is actualizing in the marketplace? I think that that will be something that consumers will start to just expect; I think it will become a thing like fast shipping is a thing.
Do you think there’s an Amazon equivalent that is setting the pace for values-based shopping?
I mean, may I be so bold as to say GEENIE? I don’t know if you want to quote me on that! But I would say GEENIE and our peers. We’re not peerless, there are a lot of marketplaces that are leading on values. But will there be someone as big as Amazon? I don’t know if there will be and I don’t know if there should be, to be quite honest. Part of our own values is making sure that there are healthy small businesses and a healthy market; it’s not about just enriching GEENIE for GEENIE’s sake. We have a real clear priority around distribution and ensuring the vitality of the small businesses that are entering our marketplace.
And this is not a comment on what I think about Amazon—I’m just saying that, for us, it’s about the consumers but it’s also about the brands in our marketplace. We want to make sure that the brands are making money and that as we’re growing, they’re growing as well.
What are some of the biggest themes that you’ve identified in your curation of brands to be featured on GEENIE?
2020 is such an unusual year, more unusual than I think any of us have experienced in our lifetime. So, the things that are born in this moment are probably here to stay.
I don’t think intersectional beauty is a trend. The desire for authenticity, which has been used by the marketing industry for a long time, is actually now going to be true; people are going to really be authentic and not in a marketing-speak sort of way. I think that consumer activism will continue to accelerate, and that people will continue to leverage their economic power to put pressure on industries and companies.