“We know that [beauty] is something that’s very culturally important. We know that it is something that connects to a lot of people’s heritage and connects to a lot of people’s interests or their hobbies. So it’s important for us to be able to paint beauty in a light that speaks to all of the different social elements of beauty, the shifts that we’ve seen in our culture as a whole through beauty.”
–Sophia Dennis, Head of Programming and Brand Strategy, Beautycon
The grand in-person return of Beautycon came with a bold message: Beauty shouldn’t just be in the eye of the beholder; it should be in the hands of the people. Organizers reintroduced the annual convention, Sept. 16-17 in Los Angeles, with a laser-sharp focus on democratizing beauty, delivering the most inclusive and accessible experience possible for every attendee, and challenging industry standards and stereotypes. Talk about a makeover.
With new ownership under Essence Ventures, Beautycon moved from the L.A. convention center to The Reef, a more intimate venue that lent itself well to the property’s goal of enabling more interactivity and meaningful dialogue across the show floor. (A virtual component was also part of the strategy. More on that later.) And there was plenty to talk about, from panels to creator demos to partner experiences offered by the likes of presenting sponsor Walmart, major sponsor Shea Moisture and a host of other established and emerging beauty companies. From the stage to the sampling activations, Beautycon aimed to delve below the surface.
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A lot has happened in the beauty business, and the world at large, since Beautycon’s last in-person event in 2019, from the explosion of TikTok to a global pandemic. So this year’s convention was designed to usher in a new era of beauty—one defined by consumers, not brands, with speaker talent and content that celebrated the diversity and cultural significance of the industry and its fans.
“A lot of times when people think about beauty, they think of it as superficial… They don’t see it as a hobby or something that can be enriching or something that can be culturally important. And we know that it is,” says Sophia Dennis, head of programming and brand strategy at Beautycon. “So it’s really important for us to be able to paint beauty in a light that speaks to all of the different social elements of beauty, the shifts that we’ve seen in our culture as a whole through beauty.”
PROGRAMMING & PERFORMANCES
With fireside chats, panels, masterclasses and live performances taking place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, the main stage at Beautycon 2023 was a revolving door of programming spanning beauty, fashion, culture and entertainment. At the helm were hosts Emira D’Spain, a beauty influencer with more than 1 million TikTok followers who became Victoria’s Secret’s first-ever Black transgender model over the summer, and Nyma Tang, an influencer and activist against skin color discrimination within the cosmetics industry.
Throughout the event, the brand founders, influencers and artists who took the stage represented a wide variety of backgrounds, styles, talents and beauty philosophies, but their contributions to, and focus on, building an inclusive beauty landscape and celebrating individuality was the common thread.
A quick taste of the programming: A keynote by singer and actress Kelly Rowland; a masterclass with performer, model and former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant, Plastique; a “Creator’s Lane” panel with content creators Monica Ravichandran and Laylo Qasim and beauty personality Alabama Barker; a music performance by artist and co-founder of Beauty For Certain, Bia; and a self-expression lesson with rapper Saucy Santana.
INCLUSIVITY & ACCESSIBILITY
If you can think of a way to make an event inclusive and accessible, chances are, Beautycon implemented it this year. The event has always been renowned for its inclusive atmosphere, but as the brand reestablished itself and its modern mission, the No. 1 priority was ensuring that everyone in the audience saw themselves reflected on stage, whether that be observing a speaker with the same hair type, accent, skin condition or any number of other characteristics.
Says Dennis: “Something that makes you feel as though, if you were interested in beauty or if you did become an influencer, that you could be on that stage, and that what you care about is spoken about on the stage… Whether that be somebody who had vitiligo or somebody who was in a wheelchair or somebody who had the same hair texture or somebody who was embracing whatever it is about their beauty journey that typically wouldn’t be embraced on such a big stage.”
One area of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) that tends to be overlooked when it comes to the beauty industry is being inclusive of people who are having a hard time making ends meet. As Dennis explains, it’s a highly consumer-based business that revolves around spending money to achieve a certain look: “We often forget that inclusivity should also include the people who might not be able to afford to buy products… That person still deserves to be a part of the beauty community, still deserves access to beauty products and services.”
Beautycon addressed the issue head-on by shining a spotlight on Shirley Raines, founder of nonprofit Beauty 2 the Streetz, which provides beauty products and services to the houseless community in L.A., who took the main stage for a discussion with Dennis.
Extending Beautycon to a virtual audience for the first time was another tactic aimed at providing an accessible event. Essence Ventures prides itself on delivering “phygital” experiences and, as such, helped launch Shop Beautycon Live at the event. The real-time virtual shopping experience allowed fans at home who couldn’t be in L.A. for financial or geographical reasons to view and purchase some of the products being presented to attendees at the IRL event.
The virtual audience additionally had access to all main-stage content, from panels to performances, via livestreams that were broadcast on both days of the convention—a strategy that will become the norm going forward, given its impact: The livestreams significantly boosted attendance, with 150,000 consumers ultimately experiencing Beautycon 2023 online and in person.
SPONSOR EXPERIENCES & SAMPLING
Sampling is still one of the aspects of beauty events that appeals most to fans, and Beautycon’s sponsors had plenty to offer. But choosing which partners to feature wasn’t an endeavor that was taken lightly. Brands were selected based on their alignment with the goals and vision of the property, particularly its mission to put beauty back in the hands of the people.
“We make sure that we work with partners that are aligned with how we see our community, as well as brands that are willing to allow us to create that relationship, as opposed to it being a one-way conversation,” says Michael Barclay II, evp-experiential at Essence Ventures. “Having Walmart as our presenting sponsor was great because they’re building and becoming a premier beauty destination, and it gave us the opportunity to introduce that aspect of the brand to our trusted community but also allowed us to be the stewards of that relationship in a way that our community trusts.”
Walmart’s Makers Studio booth at Beautycon 2023 was a vast footprint where attendees could pose for photo ops with glossy, silver installations or in a portrait studio (hello, ’90s yearbook trend); virtually try on different makeup styles; discover products and featured multicultural beauty brands available at Walmart; get their makeup done; and customize a swag bag with cosmetics, key chains and other trinkets. In addition, tv personalities Nina Parker and Rachel Lindsay, and TalkShopLive beauty director Caitlin Kiernan, hosted shoppable livestreams from the event on Walmart.com/live.
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Sponsors like Biossance, eos, Kinlò Skincare, Mark Anthony, Thread Beauty, Topicals and many others were also on-site with hands-on demos and booth activations that allowed attendees to experience their makeup, skin and haircare products in the flesh. It was a symbiotic scenario: Fans got to test a range of items, and the many beauty brands that became online-only businesses during the pandemic got the opportunity to showcase their products IRL.
Beyond sponsor activations, Beautycon itself offered various experiential touchpoints, including nail art stations, a subway installation, a bar pop-up and ample snacks; makeup tutorials; and other elements designed to extend dwell time. To boot, a back-of-house creator studio gave influencers a place to do live podcasts and demos right from the show.
THE BEAUTY COMMUNITY TODAY
Like many fan types, beauty buffs are hungry to engage with one another in person after years of pandemic-induced solitude, and Beautycon provided the perfect platform for their reunion. But the conversations that modern beauty fans often have, and engaged in on-site, might surprise the skeptics, Dennis says.
“They’re definitely looking for a community, a place in which their hobbies, their passions, their interests are taken seriously, and where they can have engaging conversations about beauty that kind of intellectualizes it in a way that people who are not as familiar with the beauty industry or the beauty community might not understand or have some hesitations toward,” she explains.
Today’s communities are also defying beauty’s reputation as superficial through their keen interest in global trends and cultural discussions. Dennis points to fans’ exploration of how different ingredients or beauty rituals are being “incorporated into mass beauty consumerism,” for example, and how they originated from certain groups of people or countries.
Looking ahead, Beautycon 2024 will continue to place heavy emphasis on fostering community interaction and bringing the virtual aspects of the beautyverse into the real world.
“‘Community’ is the big word,” Barclay says. “What this audience is looking for now is that community and having the opportunity to interact and engage with each other on-site, as well as with some of the creators who are in the space that they may only see in their online tutorials… That energy exchange—you’ve got to have it.”
Spin Through Beautycon 2023:
Photo credit: Getty Images for Beautycon