THE conventional cosmetics industry has struggled with shade inclusivity for decades. Supermodel Iman launched her namesake makeup line in 1994, due to the lack of options for women of color, and fellow legend Naomi Campbell has long been a vocal critic of the lack of inclusion in the beauty and fashion worlds.

Tremendous strides have been made in recent years. In 2017, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna created the Pro Filt’r Foundation in 40 shades. (Today it has 50.) M.A.C.’s Studio Fix Fluid is available in 63. Even Estee Lauder’s Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup has 56.

On the other hand, clean cosmetics — products made without ingredients that are known or suspected to be harmful to the body — have lagged behind. Westman Atelier’s Vital Foundation Stick is available in 14 shades. The Skin Esteem Liquid Foundation from Antonym Cosmetics is currently available in six shades.

In the meantime, makeup artists such as Katey Denno have had to get creative. “It’s been a lot of scraping off the orange lipstick and mixing it with a concealer that’s almost the right color,” she says.

On Aug. 7, clean beauty retailer Credo announced a breakthrough: Its private label line, Exa, includes a High Fidelity Foundation that is available in 43 shades, double what most clean cosmetics offer.

With nine stores in such cities as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, servicing a diverse customer base is vital to Credo co-founder Annie Jackson. “I come from beauty, so I come from a world where matching everyone that comes through the door is a prerequisite,” Jackson explains. “‘I’m sorry, we don’t have anything here for you’ is the worst possible outcome.” Credo carries around 135 lines — Rituel De Fille, Kjaer Weis and W3LL People are just a few — and none are owned by large corporations or conglomerates.

And clean beauty is booming. “We know that six out of 10 beauty consumers want to buy clean beauty — and especially Gen Z,” reports Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer at Ulta. According to Euromonitor International’s Beauty Survey 2019, 24% of global respondents said “all natural ingredients” influenced their color cosmetics purchase.

Growth is promising, but small brands struggle with high costs. Annie Lawless, who founded Lawless Beauty, says sourcing clean colorants and the research and development process required to cover a wide shade range requires a bigger financial investment than conventional brands face. “It is more complicated, with the limitations clean presents,” she says, “from an inventory perspective, with a higher cost of goods, and minimum order quantities per shade.”

Companies are expanding their shade range. “Balancing business with being socially conscious is a constant challenge — and one that I’ve learned, after a decade, does require capital in order to execute properly,” Ilia founder Sasha Plavsic says. The line will expand its roster of 18 foundations next spring. Lawless Beauty will debut additional products next year. “We have two exciting complexion collections, and with them will nearly double the number of complexion shades available,” says Lawless.

Jackson is confident that the clean category will continue to trend positively. “Like, 2-1/2 years ago, the average range in a clean brand was 10,” she says. “Now, it’s 15. They get it, and they know that this is socially the right thing to do. It’s just a real financial barrier.”

According to Vapour co-founder Krysia Boinis, whose brand is sold at Credo, finding the money isn’t the hardest part. “The bigger challenge is finding strategic investors who recognize and appreciate brand values and come to the table as true partners with industry experience, a wealth of relationships, and who can add tangible value beyond just dollars.”

Credo chose the name Exa, which is the largest unit of measure, as a nod to the notion of inclusivity as an endless thing. It took the team two years to develop the breathable, yet buildable, foundation. It’s made with micro algae (an anti-pollutant), maqui berry, cocoa fruit powder, and peach leaf. The primer, which has a blurring effect on the skin to the point where the foundation may not be needed, is formulated with antioxidant-rich raspberry seed oil, CoQ10, and cocoa fruit powder.

A hefty investment from San Francisco-based Nextworld Evergreen enabled Credo to tackle the ambitious shade-inclusive launch. Credo’s late co-founder Shashi Batra was friends with Sebastien Lepinard, Nextworld’s founder, and the partnership is close and personal. As for the exact figure, Jackson says only: “It’s not for the faint of heart.” — Bloomberg