Jillian Wright's career may be long and winding, but it has only ever been dedicated to serving the people a unique and special spa experience.
Starting her first spa in 1999, there wasn't much competition by way of luxury spa treatments in midtown New York. She set up shop on 57th and Madison, in the back of a doctor's office.
“They just said here - have our recovery room. We believe in you," Wright recalls, “so I hit the pavement and started promoting myself. Back then, there wasn't a lot of competition - social media wasn't around."
In order to create a cult following and to get people talking, Wright called The Daily Candy in for a facial. Three weeks later and following an article on how wonderful their treatment was, Wright booked 100 facials in 24 hours. She hasn't stopped since.
Off the back of her spa success, 11 years later she decided to expand her entrepreneurial endeavours. And in 2010, there came the time to launch her very own skincare brand.
“I knew what my clients wanted and liked," she thought, and utilized this knowledge in her efforts to create a luxury line tailored to mimic those years of success in the spa.
But the landscape had changed. She admits to having believed people would come because of her name and the brand she had already built. But the competition was vast - the marketing more intricate, and the industry in beauty brand overload. There were so many more players in the skincare game to contend with.
“I was humbled," she laments - “I thought based on my reputation and years in the industry that if I built it they would come." In the new industry she was now trying to navigate, she uncovered the vast expanse of Indie beauty. What was Indie? Where did they fit - and where could Wright showcase the line along with similarly minded, small batch, luxury brands?
Having searched tirelessly, she found nothing suitable. There was no place for 'Jillian Wright Skincare' to call home. She desperately wanted to do a trade show. However, she comments “I didn't find one where I felt I fit in.“
“Why don't we have a platform?" she asked, “why don't we have somewhere to go?" And with that was her next business opportunity. If there was no trade show for her Indie brand to go - she would make a destination.
“Out of frustration," she said, “I'm going to start my own expo."
She had found over 400 brands after only a few days' worth of research and could not explain why there was no trade show in existence for these brands to showcase their full potential to the wider world.
“This is where I belong," she thought. She had found her calling, and it was marrying beauty and business - making a ton of connections along the way.
A client of five years at that stage, Nader Naeymi-Rad was the first person Wright would go to with her idea. This was back at the beginning of 2015, when her idea was a mere fledgling, with no financial backing or plan. He simply said - “why not?" and therein, the Indie Beauty Expo(IBE) was born, with Naeymi-Rad beside her as co-founder. The first show for a curated list of brands chosen by Wright herself, debuted August of 2015.
There's so much to be excited about," she comments as she looks back on what has now been four beauty expos, between Los Angeles and New York, each getting better and broader as they go. The database she compiled that originally contained 400 brands now contains 4000 and will not likely slow down in growth.
The expos aren't simply brand displays, however. Wright wanted to build a show that would teach, sell, network and become profitable for participants. Every brand would be working toward one goal - to sell - but by involving themselves in the show they would also become involved in panels and seminars about the industry and navigating the dense market that accompanies it. Bobbi Brown, having just relinquished ties with her namesake brand, spoke at the last expo alongside a panel of industry vets.
When asked about her favorite brands, there were simply too many to feature. Success stories however are uniquely incredible and Wright brimmed with stories from post-show expansion and brick-and-mortar brand pick-up.
Take Linda Treska for example; Founder & CEO of Pinch of Colour, who arrived at IBELA for the first time with just two products in hand.They were hand-made samples of their first Waterless color cosmetics line. Meeting with vendors, buyers, bloggers and press while there meant they would ultimately be under much pressure to produce more goods, and a sellable product, before the next expo in New York. During the months in between, they worked tirelessly to present a more professional and well-rounded approach to the line, and after IBENY, they are now selling at INUF Skincare in Hong Kong, Francesca's Collection, and Anthropologie.
Of IBE, Treska says, “it's the best show out there." And indeed Wright has become the go-to person for luxury indie brands looking to break into the wider market. Given this, she is currently setting her sites further afield for the next expos, and has people working in Europe to decide on a venue for her debut there. Her first show In Dallas will take place in three weeks also - her latest expansion in the U.S, on May 9-11. As long as there are Indie beauty brands, this lady looks to be the one that will lead the industry. Props to Wright for noticing the gap in the billion dollar market.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.