Nikia Phoenix is the unstoppable model, influencer, and activist behind Black Girl Beautiful, the empowering beauty and shopping event for women of color, which touched down in Los Angeles last month and is coming to a city near you.

Frustrated by the mainstream beauty industry’s puzzling refusal to cater to women of color, despite the $7.5 billion that African-American women spend annually on beauty and hair, Phoenix took matters into her own hands with an online space, event, and day of inspiration and pampering that puts the beauty needs of black women first.

After years of modeling and blogging for your website Modern Liberation, why did you decide to start Black Girl Beautiful?

I decided to shift gears and start Black Girl Beautiful because I saw the need for a change in the beauty game for women of color. It’s crazy to think how much money we spend, and how much buying power we have, but there’s still a lack of knowledge about the products that really work for us. So, I figured, why not bring together the consumer with the brands that make things specifically for us?

You’ve spoken about how mainstream beauty brands underestimate the astonishing buying power of black women. How did this misinformation impact your efforts to get sponsorship for Black Girl Beautiful, the event?

I recently looked back over the Nielsen reports about African-American consumers, and it once again blew me away. Here’s this information that clearly states how much we spend, but there are still brands that don’t understand why they should be marketing specifically to us. I do remember approaching some brands that I thought for sure would be incredibly excited about this opportunity, but they just kind of brushed it off. These are brands that have bloggers of color repping them very hard on social media and YouTube, but when you’re asking them to really be a part of something, they shrug it off. Or, they ghost. We’re used to hearing about boyfriends ghosting, but when brands ghost on you, it’s very disheartening. But then you realize, maybe I should refocus my energy and my money on companies that do genuinely care about us.

Black Girl Beautiful, a beauty and shopping experience for women of color, recently kicked off its inaugural event in Los Angeles. Tell me about the turnout and reaction?

Oh my goodness, talk about smiles for days! All this great energy in the room, there was definitely magic. Everyone there felt it, everyone there felt this sense of love, belonging, and acceptance. It was genuinely a celebration of us—not just women of color but all women and the things we’re able to do when we come together. It blew me away. Everyone I saw walk through the door—because I do genuinely stalk people on social media—I was like, “hey girl!” as if we’ve known each other for years. But that’s the kind of environment I like to provide for people. A feeling, a place where you belong.

Do you have plans to continue the event in other cities?

We are definitely expanding Black Girl Beautiful. We’re looking at New York in April, Atlanta in July, back in LA in October 2017, and then branching out to London in 2018.

In addition to your online platform and event, you now have an app that allows users to create their own affirmations. What inspired you to create that?

I know that I love inspirational quotes and scrolling through Instagram to find inspirational quotes from other people. So then I thought, “what if someone wants to create their own, what if someone needs that extra encouragement throughout the day?” It’s a way for us to encourage ourselves every day, and to keep track of our affirmations. It’s important for us to see our progress. I have multiple journals that I write in all the time, and I have one just for my intentions and affirmations. When I’m able to keep track of my progress, it really does help me feel like I’ve come a long way. Every day you get bogged down by the daily grind, with work, with family, with money, with home stuff, but when you have this little reminder on your phone that you’re actually doing okay and going somewhere, that makes a big difference.

A new wave of apps and magazines, such as Swivel, Trest, and CRWN, are rising up to celebrate and serve women of color, specifically as it pertains to natural hair. Why do you think this movement is finally taking off?

I actually just wrote an article for CRWN called “Fuck What You Heard, Shit’s About To Get Real.” It’s basically about how nothing has really prepared us for what we’re doing right now in our lives. Everyone feels this shift. Maybe it’s because we were promised some things that just haven’t happened yet. Maybe we’re seeing the importance of seeing our own reflection in media. Maybe it’s because Obama’s leaving office in a few months. I think that we are finally able to really see ourselves, and to see the gains that we’ve made, the contributions we’ve made to this country and to culture, and we can stand back and say, “Hey, yeah, we did that. And we deserve some recognition for it. And we deserve to celebrate us.” Because if we wait for other people to do it, we’ll be waiting forever. So let’s just do it ourselves.

With a wider variety of products specifically for women of color starting to hit the market, do you feel that the fashion and beauty industry is beginning to repair its diversity problem?

It’s interesting, because when you’ve been around for 20, 30, 40 years, you see the trend. We’re back in this 90s nostalgic moment. And in the 90s, we embraced diversity and individuality, so there’s a return to that now. But I wonder if that’s actually going to stick around, or if it has lasting power. I do see that in beauty, specifically, there is a return to bringing out different and darker colors of foundation. That actually happened in the 90s but then companies abandoned the idea. Now they’re bringing them back and that makes me very happy.

As far as fashion is concerned, eh, we’ll see. I do appreciate that some designers are including us. But don’t include as a sideshow, as an afterthought, we don’t just need to be the dot in the see of white. We all need to be there. It needs to be a melting pot. Because that genuinely reflects our world.

What steps do you think we can take to prevent this from becoming a fleeting trend?

We can’t be complacent. Complacency will get us back to nowhere. As long as we continue to talk about it, and don’t think that we’re beating dead horse or it’s a broken record. If we stop talking about it, then the problems will just get worse. So, if we keep talking about it and keep demanding change, then one day we’ll wake up and see that there’s been change. And it’s not just influencers of color, it’s not just women. Across the board we all have to be vocal and honest with ourselves about what’s going on and the positive change that we want to see. Because we have that power.

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