Basma Hameed is living her childhood dream to create her own cosmetics. She has developed a 40-shade foundation called Basma — now selling online and soon to be available in stores at beauty giant Sephora.
“It’s still hard to believe, but it’s incredible,” Hameed, 36, said about her success. “You don’t [expect] somebody who’s a burn survivor to launch a beauty brand.”
When she was two years old, living in her native country of Iraq, Hameed was burned by hot oil in a kitchen accident — leaving permanent scars on part of her face that made her a target for bullies.
“I was called every name you can imagine,” she said. “They would just be pointing and laughing.”
Hameed started experimenting with foundation at the age of six to camouflage her scars, but she said the products available were too heavy and didn’t blend well with her skin.
“I had a lot of discoloration in my burn. I always struggled, even finding my shade,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t being represented by any of the beauty brands.”
Until recently, many foundations offered limited shade ranges that failed to recognize their diverse customer base.
“I promised myself that one day I’ll have my own beauty brand, where everybody feels accepted,” Hameed said.
Her family immigrated to Toronto when she was nine. As a young adult, Hameed established a successful career in scar camouflage, a technique where scars are tattooed over with flesh-coloured ink.
In 2011, Hameed opened her first scar camouflage clinic in Toronto and gained international recognition for her work. In 2016, she opened a second clinic in Los Angeles, where Hameed said she has treated celebrities and royalty (but she won’t divulge names).
Using her experience in scar camouflage, Hameed said she developed her lightweight, 40-shade foundation over the next five years.
“I understood colours so well that I was able to customize anybody’s skin tone.”
The beauty industry began to embrace, en masse, more inclusive products following the success of pop star Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty brand. It launched in 2017 with a 40-shade foundation that scored big with customers.
In response, major competitors widened their shade ranges.
“It’s good business sense, but it’s also reality,” said Cheryl Thompson, an associate professor in performance at Toronto Metropolitan University and author of Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture.
“There’s a whole world out there that isn’t of European descent.”
Global cosmetic retail sales totalled $80 billion in 2022, according to a new report by market research companies The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Co. The report projects sales to climb to about $105 billion by 2027, as beauty brands seek out new markets to expand their customer base.
Hameed launched her foundation, Basma in 2021. She quickly generated buzz on social media after Kourtney Kardashian’s makeup artist praised the product and posted photos on Instagram of reality TV star Kardashian wearing it.
“For a small beauty brand to have somebody like a Kardashian wearing your foundation, it was major for us,” Hameed said.
Her biggest break, however, came in March, when Sephora starting selling Hameed’s foundation on its e-commerce site in both Canada and the United States. The retailer told CBC News on Wednesday that it will soon start selling Basma in its 100 Canadian stores.
Sephora partnered with Hameed as part of its diversity and inclusion action plan, which it adopted in response to a 2019-20 company-commissioned survey on racial bias in U.S. retail. The majority of shoppers surveyed said they felt there was a lack of brands owned by, or made for, people of colour.
As part of its plan, Sephora Canada has committed to selling 25 per cent beauty brands owned by racialized companies by 2026.
“[Basma Hameed] is at the core of all we’re trying to accomplish,” said Thomas Haupt, Sephora Canada’s country general manager. “Diversity is important to us as a brand because it’s critical that we are truly reflecting the community we represent.”
Despite her recent success, Hameed still faces challenges. Some big-name competitors, such as Rihanna’s brand, now offer foundations with more than 50 shades.
Hameed also recently addressed criticism that her foundation isn’t inclusive enough.
Golloria George, a beauty blogger, said in a TikTok video that Basma’s darkest shade was too light for her skin.
“In the beauty industry, dark women should feel included,” said George, who describes herself as a dark-skinned Black woman.
Although foundation products have become more inclusive, they often don’t provide enough darker shades, said Thompson of Toronto Metropolitan University.
“I have a hard time finding foundation,” she said. “They just haven’t been putting the science into developing the products that are actually going to address all the little undertones in black skin.”
Hameed said she had to cap her initial line at 40 shades due to financial constraints. But in response to George’s complaint, she has spent more than two months developing two deeper shades that will be available next year.
“I want to make sure that everybody feels like they’re included,” she said.