2020… the year of world spread carnage, incarceration, and Corona. Ironically, the virus with the same name as a well enjoyed beverage has robbed us of our birthdays, freshers week, Christenings, Confirmations, weddings that have been years in the planning, holidays and in general, just having the right to a Saturday night boogie and a pint in your local. Some of us are thankful for this unexpected opportunity to save our student loans, rather than spending it on alcohol, new outfits, and makeup appointments, but while we are benefiting from all this new found fortune, the beauty industry has been hit… hard.

Facing Facts

Beauticians, nail and hair salons rely on their clients having social lives, so they can afford to have a life. Even world established beauty brands have experienced a knock-on effect and have lost millions in sales this year to date, with L’Oreal reporting a 4.8% drop in net sales, and Shiseido dropping a huge 15.8%. At the end of the day, if makeup artists aren’t using their products on clients, they won’t need to repurchase. If all us ladies are working and studying from home, heck, we aren’t wasting our £40 Urban Decay foundation to sit at our desks in our pyjamas for the day! It’s a never-ending cycle of disheartening loss for a once booming industry. Just look at these findings by international financial network, CNBC, which shows consumer spending on non-edible goods during Covid – we aren’t just being drama queens.

The Retail Wheel – it ain’t no Ferris ride

From a personal perspective, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles of which a beauty giant is experiencing as it weathers storm Covid. I have worked for bareMinerals since January. Owned by Shiseido, they are one of the only clean and vegan makeup and skincare brands on the market. Even though the products could practically sell themselves (I’m not biased at all), new limitations have been making my job almost impossible. The company, along with every other cosmetics brand, introduced a ‘No Touch Policy’ on counter from before lockdown even started, along with making the wearing of masks mandatory at all times while on work premises. These new rules are completely reasonable and required for our own protection and that of our customers, however, how am I going to convince a new customer that the £31 foundation that I have colour matched to her skin tone by eye alone is the right one for her? It’s not going to happen – she can’t even see my face from behind my mask to read the geniality in my smile and facial expressions. Actually, she can’t see my own makeup from behind it to gauge whether I am worthy of taking makeup advice from in the first place!

So lets take a different scenario: a repeat customer has came in and has asked for her concealer in shade medium… but we don’t have the product as we haven’t received a stock order in 6 weeks. Department stores are drowning in dept from this pandemic, without sales happening instore, they cannot afford to pay the brands for the stock they have already sent into their counters. The solution: stop sending products, and hope that the counter can sell through the unpopular leftover stock already in their cupboards. No stock for weeks on end results in unhappy customers, as well as unhappy employees whose targets are impossible to meet and therefore won’t be receiving any commission. But this is just our ‘New Norm’.

Redundancy? Not me

In September after 7 months of furlough, the reality of this pandemic hit me square across the face, and I was told I’d lost my 20-hour contract with bareMinerals – I was in total shock, panic, and desperation; how was I supposed to pay my bills? How was I going to find another job in an economy that was crashing and making redundancies was becoming a day to day occurrence? I was incredibly lucky when my area manager stepped in and offered me more hours within a Belfast store, I physically cried with relief in fact, but the guilt was eating me simultaneously – I had taken the few remaining hours of a contract that someone had just been made redundant from. But while I was swooped in and saved, what happens to those individuals who rely on only themselves to make money? They don’t have the safety of a signed contract that entitled me to furlough and employment rights.  

Michelle and Arlene save the day… sort of

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme developed by the NI Executive offered up 80% of an individual’s average monthly trading profits: hey! that’s great, right? Think again;  to qualify, your business had to be in trade from 2018, so new start-ups were swept straight under the carpet, and if you think it couldn’t get any worse, the grant is capped at £7,500. Of course, we all must give credit to our country leaders for the support they have provided us all during this pandemic, but these requirements for eligibility were so time-based for such a fresh industry with many new young start-ups.

Finally, let’s think of the forever changing and confusing minefield which are our government Corona Virus guidelines. Have you ever noticed these guidelines always leave the retail and beauty sectors on the side-lines and only seem to explicitly mention ‘Bars and Restaurants’, when beauty therapists are the ones facing close and physical contact with their clients on a day to day basis? They are left to read within the lines, while putting their well-being on the line to make a living.

So girls, if you fancy putting a full face on and wanting your brows done to look good on your next Zoom call, please feel free – you might just save the beauty industry.

Larissa McIlrath is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University, 2020-2021. She can be found on Instagram and Facebook.

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