Aliza Polkes
Copywriter & Editor @ Yotpo
December 7th, 2020

“I got to a point where I spent more time complaining about things, and whenever I get to that point, I tell myself: pull up or shut up.”

On November 19, 2020, we hosted an Amazing Women in eCommerce Online event, where we asked our speakers about how they’ve been navigating the political, social, and cultural upheaval of the past year, what it takes to succeed as a women in the eCommerce space, and much more.

We opened the event with a Q&A between Angela Johnson, Director, Strategy & Consulting at VaynerCommerce, and Sharon Chuter, Founder and CEO at UOMA Beauty, a radically inclusive beauty brand that’s been making headlines since it launched at ULTA Beauty in 2018. Sharon also started the Pull Up For Change movement, calling on major companies to be transparent about the number of Black people they employ on a corporate level.

Read on for some of the most inspiring quotes from Sharon’s interview. 

WWD has called you one of the 50 most forward-thinking executives shaping the future of the beauty industry. You’ve worked with major multinational beauty and consumer brands, including Revlon L’Oreal, Pepsi, GSK, and Benefit Cosmetics. Can you go back to the beginning and take us through this journey of how you got to where you are today, including what led you to start UOMA Beauty?

“I was an executive. I had broken all the proverbial ceilings, but something was different. You know, I was over 30 now. And I was just very unhappy. I realized I had no fulfillment in the business anymore. Beauty remained a very exclusive industry, and they didn’t cater to people who look like me. It was an industry that told people you weren’t enough and you had all these criteria you had to meet to be enough.

I cannot change the fact that I was born Black and I don’t want to change the fact. And I realized that the cost for my success was stealing everything about me. I had to not be Black. I had to change my accent … and so I got to a point where I was extremely frustrated at corporates in general. I was the only Black person in most rooms I walked into. I got to a point where I spent more time complaining about things and whever I get to that point, I tell myself, pull up or shut up, talk is cheap. Whinging and whinging and whinging: are you going to do something about it?  

I chose to pull up and do something. And that was why I left. I quit my beautiful job. And of course my parents were like, what is wrong with you? … [but] I didn’t care about anything else other than rediscovering myself. Because like I said, in the journey to break this proverbial glass ceiling, I had to lose everything that was me. And so my journey to UOMA beauty was one in reclaiming my identity, reclaiming my person, confronting my own biases, understanding the consequences of my biases and submitting myself to become a tool for change. It was therapy for me. And that was why I built this brand to really be a place where everybody can come and also have their own therapy, and where we can have the tough conversations. Everybody can turn up and be their authentic selves every day. That’s what I set out to do when I left my corporate job in 2017, and it’s what we continue to do in 2020, whether it’s trendy or not.”

What advice can you give companies to ensure that their support of social causes isn’t just lip service?

You have to first embrace your own biases. Then you have to be mortified by the consequences of your biases. And then that ignites a fire in you to truly become an ally. Some of us go beyond being an ally for change, but also become an advocate for change. And that’s what these companies need to be doing.”

We’re living through some incredibly turbulent times, to say the least. Can you share some tactics or examples of what you’ve done to ride through the uncertainty at UOMA Beauty? And how have you kept your customers engaged? Have you made any shifts in your marketing?

“We didn’t turn away and change our strategy. We doubled down on our strategy because our brand is about community. Now more than ever, people need somewhere where they can feel like they’re home and they belong. And so we did that. We doubled down our focus on the customer. We doubled down on our DNA. We got more vocal than we were even the year before. So it was literally anti-everything I should have done smart, right? And it paid off. My team is going to grow five times next year. And I think it is a testament to values-led business.”

As a woman, what do you think are some of the best qualities to ensure success in a male-dominated space?

“You need to love yourself. You need to trust yourself. I’m a good example of that. I’m a weirdo. I’m a crazy person who should not succeed, like, literally, I should not succeed, but the same things that stifled my promotions in my younger years are the things that make me a great entrepreneur today. Imagine if I had dropped those things, imagine if I had been less vocal, imagine if I didn’t speak up. So those exact things that people criticize you for: you keep going for it.

I lead with compassion and I embrace that, because that’s what makes me different. That’s a strength that I have as a woman. And it’s my superpower. So I will tell women, embrace yourself. The most important thing is to show up as yourself and trust yourself. And every single time people doubt you, prove them wrong.

So you go about being your own bad-ass woman in your own way, whether it’s through love and compassion, whether you’ve got a little bit of that oomph and that fire: whatever it is, we are all effective in our own different ways. Get inspired by people, but be yourself. You have to figure out what your superpower is. You have to figure out what your purpose is and how you want to ride into your purpose.

For instance, for me as a female or a woman of color, here are the things I set for myself as boundaries: I would never backstab. I will never fight another person. A lot of times I missed [out on] jobs because I didn’t play the corporate game. But guess what? I run my own business now. And so you have to really draw your own lines. You have to believe in yourself and just follow that path wherever it leads you. So I would tell everyone, be yourself, love yourself.”

To learn more about Amazing Women in eCommerce and to get involved, visit our site, join our social community, and be sure to nominate an incredible woman in your life as a 2021 Amazing Women in eCommerce Honoree!

Contributed to the article: Aliza Polkes