When we’re researching whether or not a brand is cruelty-free, we look for certain tell-tale signs: do they bear a cruelty-free certification? Do they sell in China? Is their FAQ on animal testing vague – either overly wordy or short – and does it feature the dreaded “where required by law” line? An area we might not consider, though, is the ethics of the company’s founder; if they, or their company, have been embroiled in any scandals: have they made racist remarks, for example, or Tweeted something sexist, violent or queer-phobic? It’s this second area of brand research that I’ve been mulling over recently, and thought I’d put my thoughts down in a post.
My intention here isn’t to make anyone feel bad. Personally, I’ve not made enough of a habit of ensuring I’m not buying from brands who hold hateful views; it’s something I know I want to work harder on. Living as we are in the age of social media, when a founder of a company (or the company itself) does or says something gross, it’s usually brought to our collective attention, making it less of an arduous task to look into. This is especially true in the fashion world – New Look’s design theft, Zara’s concentration camp t-shirt and the constant controversies of Urban Outfitters are widely broadcast across social. But what about when a cruelty-free cosmetics company screws up?
Jeffree Star is a bit of YouTube sensation, and his vegan-friendly makeup line is loved among the cruelty-free community. Although not everyone will be aware, I’d argue that Jeffree’s racist and misogynoiristic comments and scandals are widely known (not least if you’re as active as I am on Twitter). If you’re not up to date with his dramas, you can start with that infamous video where he joked about throwing acid over a black woman’s face, before moving onto the more recent slanging match where he called black YouTuber and beauty guru Jackie Aina an “irrelevant rat.”
Can we let those views slide because the brand offers vegan-friendly cosmetics, which is something we want to promote and support?
I’m not going to spend too long on this particular example – people have been calling Jeffree Star out for years and he’s never properly apologised or behaved in a way that would lead us to believe he thinks he’s ever been in the wrong. My question is: knowing that this cruelty-free brand’s founder has expressed poisonous views towards, overwhelmingly, black women and women of colour, can we really continue supporting the company? Can we let those views slide because the brand offers vegan-friendly cosmetics, which is something we want to promote and support?
EDIT 20/6 | Jeffree Star today uploaded an apology video addressing and elaborating on his past behaviour.
Another recent example of a cruelty-free company’s moral misstep was when LUSH forgot that they’ve previously relied on the body-positive community to sell their products and posted a bunch of photos on Instagram about obesity and health. The health “benefits” of cutting out animal products – and the way that we should discuss them – is a subject deserving of its own post, but needless to say Twitter, and many members of the cruelty-free community, were quick to call LUSH out. In this case, LUSH quite quickly apologised, expressing a desire to collaborate with the body-posi community to make sure they didn’t mess up similarly again. But was the damage already done for some?
Whatever your opinions on the controversies I’ve mentioned, the key to being a responsible consumer is to stay informed. Just like we might look into whether or not a brand uses palm oil or sustainable packaging, we should also be wary of the views that they or their founders express. Is the makeup line fronted by a celebrity? Has that celebrity been involved in any public spats or made any offensive, hateful remarks? Does the company have a consistent history of excluding marginalised groups, using culturally appropriative language or imagery, or expressing body-shaming tendencies? These are just a few questions you might want to ask yourself next time you’re shopping from a new brand.
If, despite learning of not-so-nice things that a brand has said or done, you still feel comfortable purchasing from them, then that is your prerogative. However, I’d recommend being open to searching for alternatives. There are plenty of great brands selling liquid lipsticks, highlighters and bath bombs, and it can be a lot of fun to seek them out. As bloggers and beauty consumers, we love trying out new products from companies we’ve not bought from before – why not take the opportunity to do just that if one of your faves does or says something shitty?
I’ll leave this here lest I go on and on. Let me know what you think in the comments!
PS I am not above the irony of my Ads plug-in displaying a link to a JStar sale on Beauty Bay (at the time of scheduling this post, anyway). I don’t have such granular control over what the plug-in displays that I would be able to prevent that, that I know of at least (I already have a lot of blocks enabled to stop shitty ads from showing and if I added anymore there’d be no point having it in the first place).