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Brief Published: 14 Sep 2020

Colour Under Scrutiny: Avoiding Skin-Tone Bias

Extra
Jackson’s Art is leading a campaign to dismantle the “racial-bias preserved in the name of paints”

The Black Lives Matter movement is bringing all forms of racial injustice to the fore. In many industries, skin-toned colours are often ingrained with bias towards whiteness. Brands, including Stylus, are beginning to scrutinise and revise their palettes in a vital step towards greater representation and inclusivity.

‘Flesh’ tones and the colour ‘nude’ have long encompassed pale shades of peach and beige – a clear association with white skin – across many product categories. Major art supply companies are among the most recent to come under fire for the way they constitute and market their skin-toned paint colours and palette sets – in particular, the shade known as Flesh Tint (or Flesh Tone). This generic, historical name given to a peach hue is thought to have originated from 17th-century portrait painting, where subjects were often upper class and white.

UK company Jackson’s is leading a campaign in a bid to dismantle the “racial bias preserved in the name of paints” and make skin-coloured hues more inclusive. Its own Flesh Tint oil colour has been renamed Pale Terracotta, while its Handmade Soft Pastel Portrait set is being expanded to cater to all skin colours. Responses from other art suppliers have been collated on Jackson’s website.

While diversifying product ranges is a positive step forward, brands need to ensure their colour names are appropriate and carefully considered. This was well-demonstrated by US handicraft giant Crayola, with its recent launch of inclusive skin-tone-inspired crayons. Colour names were chosen to be descriptive and straightforward, such as Deepest Almond and Medium Deep Rose. Read more here.

Marks & Spencer was recently challenged for its use of the colour name Tobacco for underwear. Although it’s a shade from the company’s design colour palette, the negative/harmful connotations of the plant within society were overlooked. The company has acknowledged the oversight and is reportedly reviewing improvements.

See Refocusing the Lens of Diversity for more on better Black representation and inclusive product narratives.

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