The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

The Business of Beauty

Jessica Cusack on the economics of it all.

By

You might be mistaken for overlooking the beauty industry in favour of the fashion industry. Indeed, the beauty pages of a publication are far more likely to be fewer in number and are often relegated to the latter section of the magazine or newspaper, unless it’s a publication which deals with beauty specifically. But the cold hard facts tell a different story. In the wake of the financial crisis, consumers may not always buy new clothes but fresh shampoo/conditioner/moisturiser are staples which are unquestionably chucked into the shopping trolley. Not to mention the fact that the estimated life-time spend on beauty products is over £40,000 for the average woman in the UK: buying things like a new mascara, hair serum or lipstick requires very little thought as you chuck them into your basket at Sainsbury’s, unlike clothes which usually take more careful consideration.

Unless, of course, you’re dealing with the big dogs. We’re talking designer stuff – because, of course, every major fashion brand in the world now has an accompanying beauty and/or fragrance line, so you can not only wear the underwear, shoes, accessories, outfit – and one for your pet Chihuahua of course – but you can also smell like the brand, and yes, your lips are wearing the brand’s autumn/winter colour. This, dear readers, is extreme consumerism – not even Marx himself could have predicted humankind’s desire not only to own mass-produced, heavily-advertised branded products but to be the brand itself. To put it in more localised student terms, for those of you who are not of the Chanel Rouge disposition: how many of you have iPhones, iPods and Mac Books? Repeat after me: ‘Be the Apple, you are the Apple…’

Yes, the beauty industry is the cherry atop a very profitable cake for most brands these days, but it’s currently L’Oréal who is the main player in the beauty industry. From New York yummy-mummy favourites Kiehl’s to a perhaps more accessible (ie. stocked in Boots) Garnier, L’Oréal owns, either entirely or a portion of, a staggering number of international beauty brands. Of course, like any multi-billion dollar industry it’s had its fair share of scandal: animal testing continues to haunt the company, and its founder, Eugène Schueller, was said to be a Nazi-sympathizer, but like other multi-billion dollar industries these facts do not seem to massively damage its reputation or its stake in what we put on our faces.

With the staggering popularity of beauty blogs and videoed beauty tutorials, beauty writers are becoming as eminent as their fashion counterparts, and as they are, in my opinion, dealing with an altogether more forgiving industry it’s not difficult to see why: you don’t have to be 5’10” with measurements of 32-24-34 to feel truly involved in the beauty world. While we should definitely be cynical of companies such as L’Oréal, especially as beauty products are becoming increasingly scientific, it’s good to be aware of who is in control of the products which adorn our dressing table, and to understand that, like everything, beauty has a serious business side.