Right now, Sharon Chuter is happy to have customers yelling at her. That’s because the Nigerian-born, L.A./London-based founder of UOMA Beauty knows that with millions staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, makeup is less of a priority for most. It’s a blessing to have any customers at all. “We can't complain, because in a time where other people are packing up businesses because it's so bad, we're here,” Chuter says via video chat. “We're still going strong.”
UOMA is still shooting, packing, and shipping out of its L.A. warehouse, and while Chuter is grateful for the continued business, products are a secondary focus. Her mind is on the message behind her inventory: Beautiful Rebellion, her brand’s tagline. “When I look at [UOMA], I don't look at it as a business,” she says. “I look at it as a movement.”
Chuter is also the creator of @PullUpForChange, an Instagram platform that called out big-shot beauty brands in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, chastising them for posting Black solidarity squares without taking actual action and challenging them to be more transparent about their diversity numbers. With her work, she wants to get the beauty industry to realize that addressing racism can also help the bottom line. For Chuter, doing good is also good business, a philosophy she was kind enough to discuss below.
Sharon on Her Mission:
My brand was going to be called UOMA, because “uoma” means beautiful in my language. For me, it was about reclaiming, because when I came overseas, I changed my name, I changed so much about me. And I wanted to create a brand where even the name of the brand was taking it back to the things that I had to throw away in order to succeed. Nothing in my brand happened by accident. I was very clear on what I was going out to do. My mission was simply to make the world a more inclusive place. To make the world a place that understands that we're different, but it makes us beautiful.
Sharon on the Hurdles of Being a Black Businesswoman:
As women, we always doubt ourselves. A man would look at a job and they write the qualifications; he can do two of 10 and he's like Yeah, I got the job. A woman would look at the same job, and she can do nine out of 10 and she's like Oh, but I can't do that one thing. I'm not even going to apply. I wasn't immune to that. Female-run businesses are only getting two percent of the available finance dollars. The average Black woman gets $42,000 to set up her business. The average white man gets $2.2 million to set up his business. That is not a gap. That's oppression.
Sharon on the Inspiration Behind Pull Up For Change:
I think for anybody who's known the [UOMA] brand, nobody was surprised that Pull Up For Change happened. Pull Up for Change was a very emotional reaction, as with most things that I do. I thought about it on Monday, it was out on Wednesday. After Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd's murders triggered this new Civil Rights Movement with Black Lives Matter as the hero campaign, for the first time in history, we were in a place where companies had to put out a statement about it or had to take a stand. But we also knew that they weren't taking a stand because they cared about the purpose. They were taking a stand because they have a shopper base now that requires them to. They have a new consumer who's saying, I want to make sure that when I'm buying, you're ethical. All of a sudden, performative activism starts. The companies are preaching to their followers. You can't use the pain of my community to sell products, and that's what they were doing. I just thought, time's up. We've been talking about this for a long time. Somebody has to do something. Somebody has to say something, even at the risk of losing my entire brand.
Sharon on the Importance of Cash in the Bank:
[Business owners] underestimate the power of cash. A lot of founders don't understand the difference between revenue and cash in the bank. You could be making all of this revenue, but until you get paid and that money's in the account, it's not real. It's fictitious. A lot of businesses go out of business in the first two years, [because] they run out of cash.
Sharon on Changing the World:
I've been an executive with major [beauty and lifestyle] companies, and I got to a point where I got really frustrated at the fact that most companies don't care about people who look like me. By me staying there, collecting a paycheck and getting richer, I realized that there was such a thing as culpability by complacency. That's not good enough. I don't really care about the money. I care about the purpose. If we want to see change in the world, it starts with us. It starts with our actions.