There’s an old saying that goes: “We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who believe and are saved.”
The proverb is a perfect characterization of Carla De Roy, co-owner of The Beauty Box by Sheriff cosmetic boutique in Winnipeg.
Back in the 80s after being turned away from a major brand name makeup counter due to her skin colour, De Roy saw an opportunity for industry transformation. She took the act of discrimination and started The Beauty Box by Sheriff, which caters to women of all ethnicities in a diverse business model that includes retail, online, bridal service, hair service, education and children’s parties.
“I was a single mom with three girls,” she said. “At that point, we decided that women of colour do want quality higher end products. We want to feel great about ourselves, and we came up with our own line of Canadian made cosmetics.”
De Roy’s daughter Amanda Sheriff, who co-owns the business, said that she’s had to deal with discrimination in the modeling industry and also in her retail space.
“As we were building our brand, and we are living in Winnipeg from Toronto, we needed to gain Winnipeg’s respect, and it almost seemed as if, because of the colour of our skin, we were kind of being looked down upon,” Sheriff said. “So, to put our faces out there trying to get our brand into other Winnipeg businesses, we didn’t really think that was a smart move on our behalf. So we did have to hide behind our company as a white company.”
The Beauty Box by Sheriff has gained a solid customer base over the last several years, emboldening Sheriff and De Roy to use discrimination as a high-octane fuel that propels their business forward.
“It’s only recently that we’ve come out into the open and just said, ‘You know what, this is who we are, take it or leave it,’ ” Sheriff said. “But for the sake of business, especially being here in Winnipeg, we had to position the business as a white face.”
Sheriff said she’s had to be careful about featuring too many models of colour in marketing programs, adding that a mix is needed to affect broad appeal. Sheriff and De Roy have even denied owning the business in order to sidestep discrimination.
“We just figure that what we’ve seen in the past, if some people know (that we are the owners) I’m not sure how supportive people are to that,” Sheriff said. “It never was a lack of self-love. That’s not the issue here. We need to put food on our tables, and in order to do that, sometimes you have to bend and sell what people want to see.”
De Roy classified most of their experiences with discrimination as systemic racism that is committed unintentionally, adding that sounding white over the phone sometimes leads to customer surprise upon arrival at the boutique.
“You can almost see the reactions in some of the adults, and it’s not all of them,” she said. “They look completely shocked, walking in and thinking, oh my goodness, if I knew I wouldn’t have booked. Because we have a 50% deposit, they’re not going to cancel.”
Despite occasional racial awkwardness, the business has earned a five star rating online, which has inspired the mother-daughter team to dream big.
If race isn’t involved, we’re going to take over North America,” Sheriff said.
“We want to grow the company and offer franchises,” De Roy said. “It’s going to be unified for all to come. We don’t care if you’re white, black or Asian. Everyone is welcome.”