Rihanna’s billionaire status proves diversity & inclusion can be a winning business model

OPINION: Musician turned entrepreneur Rihanna's focus on inclusivity is living, breathing, profitable proof that diversity and profitability can coexist.

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 19: Rihanna attends the ‘FENTY Beauty’ by Rihanna launch at Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge on September 19, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Our good sis Rihanna understood the assignment. 

She has basically quadrupled her net worth in four years through her Fenty Beauty brand. (I no longer care about Ciara’s prayer for Russell. Can ya girl get a cheat code for Rihanna’s prayer for Fenty instead?)

Rihanna did not come to play with these ho*s nor these ho*-ettes. She came to slay. “Bitch Betta Have My Money” was a warning, not a summer jam. It was a lesson, not a lyric. A lesson on how to flip this game on its head. 

Pay me what you owe me.” (*in my Martin voice* Gina, that ain’t no damn lyric!). Sis was preaching and teaching, but we weren’t listening. 

Our favorite bad girl is now a billionaire — and she did it kinda on the low, while also kinda in plain sight. While we were all in her face worrying about when the next album was dropping, she was in her bag, stacking her coins, creating a beauty empire. (Proof positive that not letting the world place you in a box is #goals.

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The ultimate lesson in all of this? Mind the business that pays you. That’s it. That’s the lesson. 

At Fenty Beauty’s launch party in 2017, Rihanna said, “I don’t think (anyone) in this building is as excited as I am today.” The musician turned entrepreneur had a vision. She knew what was up. Ownership is king. (Or queen rather.) Four years later, it’s this same ownership — not the albums ya’ll keep sweatin’ her for — that’s catapulted her to billionaire status. In fact, her earnings from Fenty Beauty are responsible for roughly 82% of her billions, according to Forbes

“All I see is dollar signs.” (Again, we were not listening.)

But what stands out even more than her newfound billionaire status, is how she got there. Rihanna stayed true to a playbook that resonated with her. She didn’t code switch her brand to appeal to the masses. Instead, she reconceptualized the business world’s definition of who “the masses” actually were. 

Straight out the gate, she focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She said everyone is welcome here. We are “the masses.” And we felt that. 

(L-R) In this image released on October 1, Shea Couleé, Gigi Goode, Memphis Murphy, Chika, Tabria Majors, and Souizz are seen backstage during Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 presented by Amazon Prime Video at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California; and broadcast on October 2, 2020. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 Presented by Amazon Prime Video)

Fenty Beauty launched with 40 shades of foundation, marketed and made for women of all hues. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for the first time in years (and probably ever), little ole me, a throw-on-some-eyeliner-lipgloss-and-go type of woman, found a shade that actually matched my skin tone. 

And it didn’t stop there. I also found a creamy nude lip that I enjoyed. Back in 2017, purchasing just those two items amounted to more makeup than I’d purchased since my cringe-worthy teenage years buying tacky blue eyeliner from Target to sneak and apply in the girl’s bathroom at school. 

While I’m still a less-is-more type of girl when it comes to makeup, (mostly because I have no clue what I’m doing), when I need it, Fenty is the makeup line that I know has me covered. 

It’s that feeling of inclusivity that Rihanna has given her customers and has been key to Fenty’s success. Businesses should be looking at models of diversity and inclusion, like the Fenty model, as sustainable business models rather than relying on outdated models of marketing that only target white, monolithic audiences and leave the “others” of us begging to be seen. (Because, quite frankly, some of us don’t beg. We just talk with our dollars.

In this image released on October 2, a view of Fenty Beauty backstage during Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 presented by Amazon Prime Video at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California; and broadcast on October 2, 2020. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 Presented by Amazon Prime Video)

In the wake of everything we’ve been through in the past year, if companies still don’t understand that the future will look different than the past, then they have a rude awakening coming. The post-millennial generation is poised to be the most diverse generation yet. Nearly half of post-millennials are racial or ethnic minorities, according to the Pew Research Center. (We are not in Kansas anymore, my dear.) 

Old business models have to evolve. Companies will not be able to market by excluding chunks of the population and still remain on top. Rihanna is writing a playbook for these businesses to follow. Are they ready, is the question.

Her brand is authentic, and it provides living, breathing, profitable proof that diverse thinking reaches diverse markets with diverse pockets. There are major untapped markets left unserved simply because the decision-making voice of business in America has largely been white and male for generations. For various reasons, these men catered to the markets they knew best. That’s why diversity in talent matters as well. 

Diversity and inclusion helps, not hinders organizations, and we’ve known this for a while. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that employees at companies with diverse leaders were “45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.” One study featured in Forbes found that diverse companies produce 19% more revenue. Yet, businesses still continue to fear cultural innovation at their own risk.  

Victoria Secret is a key example of this. They thought the world would drool over size zeros with blond extensions forever. (Even more, they neglected to realize that some folks never were drooling!) Rihanna’s lingerie line Savage x Fenty basically said, ‘hold my drink real quick…I’m bout to do something.’ (And with her jaw on the floor, Victoria stood there and held the drink.

Victoria’s Secret had no choice but to try and play catch-up. The market shifted on them in the blink of an eye almost exclusively because of Savage x Fenty’s use of inclusion and diversity. Savage x Fenty has leaned into inclusivity by not only expanding the sizes and body shapes of its models, but also by being inclusive in gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, and more. 

Chika, Vanessa Romo and Shea Couleé  Shea Couleé, theGrio.com
Left to right: Chika, Vanessa Romo and Shea Couleé Shea Couleé seen backstage during Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 presented by Amazon Prime Video at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California; and broadcast on October 2, 2020. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 Presented by Amazon Prime Video)

You no longer had to fit within certain narrow, man-made parameters to wear lingerie. You didn’t have to be a size zero model anymore. You could just be you. All this inclusivity has primed Savage x Fenty to become a frontrunner in the global lingerie market. (Vicki, who?)

So all hail to our good girl gone bad. This success she’s experiencing is well-deserved and is a beautiful reminder that we don’t have to keep following the same old playbook presented to us. We can remix anything. Just because the world hasn’t seen something done before doesn’t mean there’s no room for it. And just because they don’t have a model or a playbook for it already, doesn’t mean it’s not coming to shake things up just the same. 

So the business industry can follow Rihanna’s lead, or they can get left behind like our dear friend Vicki. Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, “the masses” aren’t waiting around to find out. 

*cue Rhianna’s verse in Lemon*


Kamaria Fayola, theGrio.com

Kamaria is an attorney, poet, writer, and lover of all things created #ForTheCulture. She runs a blog, ‘Words of My Mother,’ has lived all over the DMV (heavy on the V), and enjoys skating, debating, and car karaoke. (Because, why not?!) She can be reached on Twitter at @like_tha_moon.

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