In The PathTM, we spotlight different women making a difference in the fashion, beauty, wellness, and medical aesthetics industries. Here, UOMA BeautyTM founder Sharon Chuter shares her road to success.
Within the beauty industry, diversity and inclusion have been talked about ad nauseam, and, while progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go. Instead of just joining in the conversation, Sharon Chuter, a 32-year-old former beauty company exec, decided to take things even deeper — both literally and figuratively. Using her expertise from years of working at brands like Benefit® Cosmetics and L’Oréal®, she founded a company that she describes as a beauty home for anyone who can’t find their place in other brands. “We’re a home for all the misfits, all the people who’ve been left out — all the people who would be made to feel like they’re not worthy,” explains Chuter.
The Nigerian-born founder named her brand UOMA, after the Igbo word for beautiful. UOMA launched last April with the goal of serving not just women of color, but various skin types across a full spectrum of complexions. In fact, the line used the Fitzpatrick scale (which measures skin’s reaction to the sun) to identify six skin color groups, ranging from White Pearl (very fair skin) to Black Pearl (dark brown skin). The foundations were not only formulated to match a diverse range of complexions, but also to address the most common skin concerns for each shade group.
“We essentially split [up] skin types and categorized them into skin color groups,” explains Chuter. “We found the similarities within these different skin color groups, and then customized the formula [for each one].” For example, White Pearl formulas focus on hydration and soothing redness, while Black Pearl products tackle dullness.
Although UOMA is only a few months old, its products have already gained steady traction among both beauty aficionados and newbies looking for more customized product offerings. With options ranging from richly pigmented lipsticks to foundations, UOMA is quickly setting itself up to be the smart beauty brand for those seeking a one-stop-shop that meets their unique skincare and makeup needs. “Our code is ushering in a new era in beauty of true inclusivity and authenticity,” Chuter says.
Here, the empowering entrepreneur discusses her path to the top, including how she’s been able to make the transition from exec to entrepreneur sans any social media gimmicks, plus her personal medical aesthetics routine, makeup favorites, and more.
Spotlyte: Tell us about how UOMA came to be. When did it go from an idea to the real thing?
Sharon Chuter: UOMA was born out of my frustration with the lack of progress that was being made in the beauty industry when it comes to true diversity and inclusivity. Everybody would say beauty was moving in the right direction, but I thought we were moving more in the direction of tolerance. Having 50 or 100 shades of foundation means you’re tolerant. Being inclusive is truly understanding [and] allowing people to be their authentic self and have a seat at the table. That's the thing that was really lacking in beauty: true understanding and an appreciation for the diversity of the world. [It means] allowing people to really show up as themselves, as opposed to making people change themselves and conform to this really singular and monolithic idea.
Spotlyte: What was your catalyst to go for it?
SC: I was also fed up with corporate life, because I felt like it had no purpose and meaning for myself personally. Working at brands where I couldn’t use their products didn’t appeal to me anymore. I got to a point where I knew there was never going to be a perfect time. I doubted myself and told myself why I shouldn't do it, but it just got to a point in time where I decided to bite the bullet. It required me just packing my bags, moving countries, and removing myself from my comfort zone. Sometimes you get comfortable being in your community’s space, and that just makes you drag your feet. So, I completely moved continents, to the U.K. Being in a very new environment really supercharges you to just focus on what you want to do next.
Spotlyte: Logistically, how did you make the transition from already being in the beauty industry to being a beauty entrepreneur?
SC: It was an easy transition because I was already in corporate beauty. I've worked for a lot of beauty brands, like L'Oréal and LVMH®, as well as Benefit Cosmetics for my last role. I was already an executive, so I already had an understanding of all the fundamentals of working in beauty. That's what differentiates me from a lot of founders out there. Especially in beauty, many founders are either influential people or makeup artists. I'm neither of those two. I'm a person who just knew the business of beauty. There were areas that I was completely oblivious to, like raising capital. I never had any experience doing things like that, and I had to learn along the way. It was a really fun transition.
Spotlyte: What were some of the biggest challenges you've had to deal with in this really crowded space?
SC: The biggest challenge for me was raising capital. People don’t understand how hard that is, especially when you don't have a proof of concept. And then, secondly, raising capital when you're a woman of color. I think the stat is only about [0.2% of all venture capital goes] to women of color. That was quite challenging. We've been very fortunate that who we are, why we started, and who we need to be has really resonated in a super crowded space.
It's been very taxing on me as a founder, because for the longest time it was just me. [You’re] thinking about the vision, writing copy, designing packages — every level of detail. But I do what I do because I love it, and I am so energized and passionate about the purpose of the brand, so it literally doesn't feel like work.
Spotlyte: Was there any overlap between your old job and launching UOMA? Or did you just take a leap and quit your job?
SC: I quit my job. There was no overlap. I didn't have the ability to do both. I knew that if I was to do UOMA while working, one of two things would happen: I'd either just keep focusing on my job and it would continue being a project that I postponed, or I would just be so involved with UOMA that I wouldn't want to show up at work anymore. So I chose UOMA. It was about 18 months from when I left my job to when it launched.
Spotlyte: We talked a little bit about the current beauty landscape and how full it is. Why do you think UOMA is important in the industry now?
SC: We’re here to encourage people to be authentic and love themselves. We’re not going to be the most popular or trendy brand. A lot of people think that when you’re trendy, you’re disruptive. When you’re over all the craziness and all the shallowness, if you want to embrace yourself, we want there to be a home for you.
Spotlyte: There's been a clear shift towards diversifying product options specifically for women of color. How do you feel about that?
SC: They say we’ve come so far, but we still have a long way to go. A brand can make all these shades, but not truly be inclusive. Different skin color groups have different needs, so why do we provide one formula to them all? Why don't we customize specific formulas that address specific needs for that particular skin? That's what happens when you’re truly inclusive. What we’re showing is how to truly be inclusive — understanding and accepting people, and using that power in the formulation of products.
Spotlyte: Tell us a little bit about your personal makeup routine. What do you do on a daily basis?
SC: I love my time in the mirror — that’s my “me time.” My morning routine is such an important time for me. I’ll spend 35 minutes to an hour staring at myself in the mirror. I usually have music playing — I have a party every morning. I’m a huge skincare person, and then it’s all about the base. I spend the most time in my routine just getting my foundation sitting right. I make sure that I spend time blending in. That allows me to do whatever I want to do with color. It usually changes with the day. Anybody who knows me knows I'm quite dynamic in what I do. Some days, I'll come in with a really bold eye and a red lip. Other days, I keep it soft and let my skin really shine through. Contour always gets my cheek popping.
Spotlyte: Are there any products that you don't leave home without?
SC: I have no problem leaving my house completely without makeup. But, in terms of my essentials, it's always the base. That's what I use the most. Our Say What?!TM Foundation is amazing. It's lightweight and feels like skin, so I don't feel like I'm wearing anything. I don’t need to touch it up because it’s longwear. That’s my go-to. After my base, it’s eyeliner. I [almost] always have a winged liner.
Spotlyte: What’s your skincare routine? What do you do before you get to the makeup?
SC: I love my skin. That's why all my products are focused on skin and caring for skin. I made a huge transition to using everything mild. My face wash is super mild. I use a washing tool that vibrates, and I use it on the most gentle setting. My three must-haves in my skincare routine are vitamin C, retinol, and hyaluronic acid. I use a retinoid everyday. The vitamin C is to give me radiance. Twice a week I'll use a face mask that’s infused with vitamin C.
Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
I am obsessed with hydration. The worst thing I did when I was younger was dehydrating my skin to get rid of the oils. Now, I'm crazy about hydration. Also, twice a week, I'll use an exfoliating mask. I don't scrub my face anymore. Instead, I use a warming mask that exfoliates.
Spotlyte: What led you to change to a more mild skincare routine?
SC: For the longest time, I had bad skin. I had acne problems and oily skin. I’d use really harsh products, I’d exfoliate, use salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. All of these things that are focusing on the pimples — everything dries you or pulls things out. But, as we know, when you dry the skin and you’re oily, your skin just keeps producing more oils. I just got to the point where my skin was dry — even though I was oily, it got a little bit scaly, and then I had blemishes.
I removed everything harsh from my routine. Nothing for oil control. And the funny thing is, I’m less oily now than when I was trying to manage it. All I focus on now is keeping my skin healthy, which is why I hydrate, keep the vitamin C in there, and use the retinoid to really control the acne.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Spotlyte: How would you describe your anti-aging philosophy?
SC: Well, I don't really believe in anti-aging. In my culture, aging is really celebrated. My mother couldn't wait to be old, because you get a lot of respect. We come from a culture where aging is not really as big a deal as it is here. There’s a whole state that awaits you when you grow older. You want to be an elder. When you’re young, people don't take you seriously. I don’t fear aging. I’m actually looking forward to growing older.
Spotlyte: What do you do with your hair? What's your hair routine like?
SC: I cut my hair to keep it short. I’ve been learning my hair. It's been a journey for me. I use coconut oil — it’s my best friend. I love it because it's intensely moisturizing and keeps my hair from getting dry and brittle.
Spotlyte: What is your stance on injectables?
SC: You should do whatever you feel is right for you. What people choose to do with their faces is a very personal decision. The most important part about anything — injectables, surgery, whatever it is — is that you ask yourself why you’re doing it. My perspective is, to each their own.
Spotlyte: Have you tried any treatments yourself?
SC: I have three really deep set lines that have been in my forehead since I was 20, because I think a lot [and furrow my brow]. I thought nothing of them until I was about 32 years old. They were getting deeper, so I got injectable wrinkle reducers in my forehead. Other than that, I’ve done nothing else.
Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you.
Spotlyte: When do you feel most beautiful?
SC: I feel most beautiful when I am me and when I am free — the times I’ve looked at myself and just felt like a princess, or like I've got angel wings. Times where I could just walk out into a place being me unapologetically — not having to alter anything, be it through the way I dress, or the makeup I put on, or just the context of the space that I'm in. That's when I truly feel beautiful, because for me, beauty is from the inside out.