Sharon Chuter has already made headlines with her inclusive beauty brand, Uoma, which combines a 51-strong foundation shade range with targeted skincare. Not only that, but Uoma’s focus on intense pigments in their lip and eye products appeals to many people who are frustrated by the lack of colour intensity from other brands.
Here, Sharon tells us about her life as the founder of a brand which has, in just a few months, caused a huge splash in the beauty market. She lets us in on the challenges of creating full coverage foundations for darker skin, and what she hopes the beauty industry will look like in the future.
What’s a typical working day like for you?
There is no typical day for me! Everything is always up and down, here and there, good and bad. I’m always on the road; I spend some time in the office, but a lot of time travelling. My days and nights are unpredictable; for a lot of people that’s scary, but for me it’s part of the job.
What’s your self-care routine?
I’m not sleeping much at this stage. When you’re three months into a new brand, sleep is a luxury. I’m always on, seven days a week - no days off. Because of that, I make time for a self-care moment when I take a shower and put on my make-up, and also when I come home and shower and do my skincare routine. I do this every day. Even at the weekends, I’m usually doing something that requires me to have a face on, and I keep that prep for the day really sacred. It’s always an hour, and I never cut it down. That’s my space to reflect and talk to myself. I think it’s a really powerful moment.
When I tell people I wear make-up every day, they tell me I’m shallow. But for me, it’s an opportunity to stare at myself for 30 minutes non-stop, and tell myself the things that I need to hear before I walk out the door: you’re worth it, you’re killing this, you can do this. I’m looking after me, this is my private space. The only person who might be with me is my dog, Leo!
It’s the same when I come back home. That’s the time for me to unwind, take my make-up off, put on a mask. It’s a moment of self-care and love, and almost telling myself ‘well done for carrying through another day’.
What’s the most fun part of your job?
There are many fun parts of my job. One of the best things about what I do is that I get to be unapologetically ‘me’. When I do interviews, I don’t have a PR person with me; it’s not scripted, it’s authentic.
Another part of my job that I really enjoy is interacting with people, especially those who are aware of the journey I’ve been through. There are these moments of bonding, healing and uplifting, that make everything worth it.
In what way is Uoma different to brands that you’ve worked with in the past?
I think Uoma is different to every brand on the market, full stop. This brand is about identity and celebrating uniqueness and heritage, yet bringing people together. I think that’s what’s really different about us; we give everybody the license to be themselves, unapologetically.
Our products are amazing and our ethos of inclusivity flows into the products. With our foundation range, it’s not just about having 51 shades. We’ve taken it where no brand has gone before and used the common sense that different skin has different needs.
With our colour products, if a colour doesn’t work for any one skin tone, we don’t want it. It’s not just about dark skin, we want to know if this product works for everybody. If it doesn’t work for everybody, it doesn’t make the cut.
How was Uoma shaped by your Nigerian heritage?
I was born in and spent my early years in Nigeria. But when I started travelling, two things struck me. One was that we spent all this time fighting, yet we’re all the same in the end. The second was the lack of understanding in the West about what the true Afro experience meant. What I do through Uoma is rewrite some of these narratives and give people the opportunity to truly enjoy this heritage that they’re missing out on. I also want people to be proud of their own heritage, as I am.
Uoma draws on my heritage and shares it with the world. The packaging for our Black Magic Palette mesmerises people, and what they don’t know is that it features illustrations of three Nigerian goddesses. It’s very fun to see people encountering and loving the richness and vibrancy of this culture.
You shot your recent campaign in Nigeria - will you be doing more work with your brand there in future?
I shot the first campaign in Lagos because it was important for me to go home, and I’ll continue to go back there because I’ll always have an affinity for Nigeria. We also recently shot a campaign in Jamaica to add to the story of the Afro experience. We have more campaigns planned in other parts of the world where there are strong Afro influences.
You’re LA and London based - how do the two cities compare, make-up wise?
They’re very different. Americans are bold in their expression of colour, whereas in the UK they’re a little more tame and minimalist. Here [in the US], Diana is a massive seller, which is a deep red; in the UK, nudes are killing it.
Not only does your Say What?! Foundation have a huge shade range, it also caters to different skin concerns. What was the biggest challenge when creating this foundation?
The biggest challenge was in creating the darker shades. It’s so interesting that we have the technology to miniaturise active ingredients at concentrate levels and put them into products so that they still function as a make-up product and as skincare. But we don’t have the technology to make these products go deeper in shade.
The last five shades were very difficult to create, because we had to remove titanium dioxide which is the ingredient that makes the foundation full coverage, but also makes it ashy. I wanted to completely purify the colour and take away any form of grey. So the challenge was to strip out the titanium dioxide while keeping it full coverage. We had a breakthrough right before Christmas and we launched on 26th April.
Your lipsticks deliver a lot of pigment in just one stroke! But why aren’t all brands doing this?
The challenge that other brands have is that they don’t understand why these innovations are needed. Intense pigment is not just a maximalist trend; it’s not just people wanting more. It’s a necessity for a huge amount of the population.
Do you think that a beauty brand can change the way women of colour are seen, and how they see themselves?
No one thing can change anything, but we can all contribute. We have to create ripples, and make sure that women of colour are shown that they are worthy and beautiful and enough, because they’ve been told for the longest time that they are not.
I hope that when women of colour come to Uoma, they see that this is a brand that understands them and is rewriting that narrative. The fun thing about being part of this tribe is that everybody is beautiful.
Who are the women that inspire you?
All the names of the shades in the Badass Icon range are the women who inspire me. From Tracey Chapman to Aretha Franklin, this range is dedicated to women who lived by their own rules. Not necessarily famous women, but women who stood for something.
They inspire me to do what I do in the beauty space. We have a lot of fun and we know that make-up shouldn’t be that serious, but it doesn’t mean that we’re oblivious to the world we’re living in. We should all come together and create a whole new generation of brands that not only give us great quality products, but also contribute to making the future a better place than the current and the past that we’ve lived through.