The push for diversity in the beauty industry has been at an all-time high in recent years. Relatively newer additions to the beauty space like Fenty Beauty and UOMA Beauty — both Black-owned brands — have been spearheading the new wave of proper and authentically diverse representation in its campaigns and product formulations.
While, following these companies’ charges has become the norm for other makeup brands that are simply trying to save face or not be left in the dust, this conscious push for products designed with Black and Brown consumers in mind is nothing new. In fact, the Caribbean-founded staple beauty brand Sacha Cosmetics has been leading the charge on this mission for inclusive and Black and Brown girl-approved makeup for over 40 years.
In celebration of Caribbean American Heritage Month, I chatted with the brand’s founder, Kama Maharaj, who opened up about being solely motivated to create this line after seeing the lack of options for women of color in the 1970s, why he continues to formulate the brand’s products in his home country of Trinidad, creating the setting powder that remains the standard in the top five beauty pageants in the world and much more.
During our Zoom interview, Maharaj, decked out in his Sacha-branded polo shirt, started by passionately giving a rundown of the moment he decided to create the now-iconic line. He stressed that it was born out of sheer necessity for women of color who had very limited options to complement their diverse complexions.
“My mother was a hairdresser and I used to spend time in the salon helping out,” he said. “I would observe the difficulty multicultural women had finding makeup to suit them.”
Maharaj, who remains the CEO of the brand to this day, recalled attending university abroad and noticing that women of color were altering their complexions, inadvertently, with the products that were available at the time.
“They’d walk around looking like Casper the Ghost or frosted donuts,” he added. “So, I came back to Trinidad and I said, ‘This is not good enough. I’m going to try and sort this [out].’ So I spent many years trying to develop a brand made exclusively for multicultural women with diverse skin tones. That was the genesis of it.”
This fervent passion was neither a fluke nor a random hunch. Maharaj shared that his mother’s deep-rooted love for making women feel their best rubbed off on him all throughout his childhood and formative years.
“My mother was a trailblazer. She always said the job was not to cut and style hair, but to make women look even more beautiful,” he said. “And she kept encouraging me to develop a line of makeup to make our women look even more beautiful also. So that became my lifelong passion.”
This authentically sourced zeal led to Sacha Cosmetics becoming the staple makeup brand across Caribbean soil, with everyone from teenagers to elders swearing by its products. Though the brand is locally revered for its quality results and proven claims and performance, it has yet to be properly credited for being one of the first leaders in spearheading the charge for diversity in beauty.
“You have to go back to the start and up to today. All makeup companies make makeup products primarily for white women and they darken the shades for darker complexions and they keep getting darker and darker,” Maharaj said while sharing his thoughts on some of today’s largest beauty brands’ strategies.
When speaking of his and his team’s approach, he outlined: “We decided to do something differently. Not to make a line of makeup primarily for white women, but to make a line of makeup primarily for women of color.”
This simple yet effective philosophy to just do what was right made up what Maharaj dubbed “a fundamental difference” between Sacha and its competitors — both old and new.
This thoughtful approach led to the creation of one of the oldest tried-and-true setting powders on the market that has since become the No. 1 best-selling face powder on Amazon for 2019.
Shop: Sacha Buttercup Setting Powder, $24.95
Sacha Cosmetics’ Buttercup Setting Powder is described as “flash-friendly, finely milled” and shine-absorbing. It is said to produce a non-cakey finish and is available in three shades: buttercup, buttercup light and buttercup no color.
“It’s a holy grail product that solves the major problem of flashback,” he said about the brand’s international best seller. “For years, we watch beauty pageants and see beautiful Black women walk out on stage and look like clowns — no more. Today, every makeup artist working a pageant has a Buttercup Powder.”
This statement, though delivered in the least braggadocios way by the brand’s founder, holds so much weight. After serving as the official cosmetics supplier of the 1999 Miss Universe Pageant, the 2000 Miss USA Pageant and several other international beauty pageants, Sacha Cosmetics proved once again that it’s a brand of purpose and quality when its Buttercup Powder was worn by every winner of all five major pageants in 2019.
“Last year, for the very first time, all five top beauty pageants in the world — Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss USA, Miss America and Miss Teen USA — were won by women of color and my Buttercup Powder [was used] on all their faces,” Maharaj shared. “It is a truly transformational product.”
While the popular setting powder remains an international fan favorite, domestically, in Maharaj’s home country, that’s not the case.
“Locally, it’s not our best-selling product,” he ironically shared. “Our best-selling product in Trinidad is our liquid lipsticks that look equally exquisite on light, medium and dark skin. And because we have so many shades of that, it’s become our best-selling product.”
Taking into account the current state of the world, the brand even tweaked the formulation of these lip products, allowing them to be transfer-proof during mask-wear.
“Today, with the pandemic, we have started reformulating just a little bit to make all of our foundations and all our makeup mask-friendly,” he outlined. “So, you put on your foundation and you put on your liquid lipsticks and then you apply the Buttercup no-color powder over it and you put your mask on and it doesn’t come off.”
Speaking on this type of “innovation,” which he credits as the key to success and longevity in the beauty space, he added that this is “the world’s first mask-friendly makeup.”
While many associate these ingenious methods of creativity with European and U.S.A.-founded public brands where resources are assumed to be more plentiful, Maharaj defies those odds by continuing to produce his brand’s products in the country where it all began: Trinidad. And his reasons for doing so are both noble and valiant.
“We will not manufacture anywhere else,” he stressed. “For instance, they asked me if I would manufacture in Ghana. I said no because we have workers who have been here for 40 years, then their children come and work here. We have a lot of institutional knowledge here.”
Maharaj further reinforced that the Sacha Cosmetics employees keep the brand afloat and, without them, its heart would be lost.
“I can start over without money, without equipment, but I can’t start over without my workers,” he said. “They’re the bedrock of the company and they make things with passion and love. They’re always coming up with ideas and we’re one big family, so I would not manufacture anywhere else.”
This familial approach Maharaj has adopted from the founding moments of his business to now only makes for a more authentic and receptive work environment for his staff of proud Trinidadian people — a group that is known for its pride and warmth.
“We have always been free people. We’ve always been one,” he said. “When I went to university, you would have people of all ethnicities, all countries, and you would find that Trinidadians of all skin tones, all colors, all religions banding together. So, it’s the cultural ties also — historic ties.”
Maharaj ended our chat with these powerful words that speak to the essence of Trinidadian people and the overall Caribbean experience: “We are the only people in the world who, I have seen, don’t tolerate one another — We embrace one another and that’s the big difference.”
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If you enjoyed this story, you might like to read my personal essay on how my Trinidadian accent helped me embrace my Caribbean heritage.
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