Rihanna’s billionaire success is a testament to unbridled inclusivity
  • In August, Forbes reported Rihanna’s wealth exceeded $1.7 billion.
  • On September 24, the billionaire will be showcasing a diverse cast of models in a fashion show. 
  • Rihanna’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in her business strategy is a lesson for CEOs.

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As a high schooler in the mid-’90s, Kailei Carr would shop at different drugstores looking for the perfect shade of foundation for her brown skin but left empty-handed. Even the darkest color available was at least three shades too light.

It wasn’t until years later that she found brands like MAC that included her shade. Still, Carr felt like her brown skin was an afterthought of mostly light options.

That changed in 2017 when the music mogul Rihanna debuted her Fenty makeup line, which included 40 shades ranging from mahogany brown to pearly white. And Fenty’s marketing featured people of color exclusively. Carr quickly became a loyal user.

“I wasn’t just included. As a Black woman, I was centered,” Carr, who is the CEO of the Asbury Group, a diversity consultancy, told Insider. “She captured a market.” 

And it paid off. In August, Forbes reported that Rihanna’s wealth was $1.7 billion, the majority of which stemmed from her retail empire, which includes the $2.8 billion makeup company Fenty. Her lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty, promotes luxury and body diversity in equal parts. The Grammy-winning singer also dropped a skin-care line, Fenty Skin, last year.

Rihanna’s financial success with Fenty is a testament to the potential of inclusivity. In a time when representation is no longer optional, corporate executives are being pushed to show they value and respect people from all backgrounds and all skin tones.

“She saw the need, the opportunity in society, and she put a team together. She had the fortitude to create these products and do it in such a compelling way,” Carr said. “She centered inclusivity.” 

Rihanna’s work will soon be making headlines again. Her third annual Savage X Fenty fashion show is happening September 24 and is set to feature a cast of queer, transgender, and BIPOC models. It will be the latest show of how much the business mogul prioritizes diversity.   

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published in August. 

Start with diversity and inclusion 

Rihanna applies Fenty Beauty makeup to a model onstage

Rihanna applies Fenty Beauty make-up to a model in 2018.
Mark Ganzon/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty

Rihanna’s success comes down to priorities, according to Susan Harmeling, who teaches at the Marshall School of Business and is a cofounder of Equitas Advisory Group, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm. 

“Diversity is everything to this brand and its success,” Harmeling said.

This is evidenced by the variety of products offered by Rihanna’s brands, the affordable price points, the inclusive and intentional marketing, and how she talks about her brands, Harmeling and Carr both said. 

Savage X Fenty offers lingerie in sizes from extra small to triple extra large. Its tagline is: “Lingerie for every body.” And it offers lingerie at affordable prices, with items as low as $5. At Fenty, “flesh” or “nude” doesn’t just mean white.

“It’s about having a lens of inclusion at every level,” Carr said. “That’s what she’s doing that other leaders can look to.” 

Diversity and inclusion aren’t simply noble causes; they’re also what customers, investors, and prospective employees are increasingly looking for, according to a growing body of research.

“Diversity is good for business, period,” Harmeling said.

Challenge the status quo 

Before Savage X Fenty, Victoria’s Secret was the industry behemoth. It prioritized ultrathin, mostly white models with the occasional plus-size model or model of color.

Rihanna flipped the script with representation of plus-size models, transgender models, models in drag, models with limb differences, and models who are little people.

Business leaders should reconsider who their products and services primarily serve and look for opportunities to serve different ones, Carr and Harmeling said.

“Rihanna democratized beauty and lingerie. And if you democratize and humanize, what you’re doing is very pragmatic and very profit-driven because you’re expanding your market,” Harmeling said.

Build diverse and inclusive teams

Only 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and even fewer are Black, but business leaders like Rihanna are changing that.

“I would suspect her team is very diverse,” Carr said.

Harmeling agreed, saying that great ideas in business often come from discussions among people from different backgrounds.

“Make sure you get a diverse team and consult with that diverse team about what’s going to work and what isn’t,” she said. “Diversity expands your market. That’s a win.”

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