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A Masterclass on Manifesting: How Rihanna Built a Billion-Dollar Cosmetic Empire

This is Rihanna’s world. We’re just living in it.
IMAGE SHUTTERSTOCK
ILLUSTRATOR RAPHAEL QUIASON
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A little over 15 years ago, a young nobody from Barbados became a breakout star practically overnight with the single “Pon de Replay.” The song shot to number two on the Billboard charts, a miraculous feat for a singer’s first single. And just like that, Rihanna became a household name in the year 2005 after her debut album, Music of the Sun, went platinum.

Fast forward 16 years, eight albums, and nine Grammys later, and Rihanna has accomplished what no other woman in R&B or hip hop—two male-dominated genres—has done: become a billionaire. The ever indomitable singer took a page out of Jay-Z’s book and used her superstardom as a platform for a bigger and better career—one that would launch her into the boardrooms to sit side-by-side with the most powerful people in the world. Fame was just a tool for Rihanna’s greatest legacy yet, the multi-billion-dollar cosmetic brand Fenty Beauty.

At only 33, Rihanna is a billionaire, an R&B icon, and a completely self-made one at that. Unlike Kylie Jenner, whose self-declared “self-made” billionaire status is laughable, Rihanna wasn’t born into privilege and never even graduated high school.

Here’s how the businesswoman built her empire.

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Million-Dollar Music Career

Robyn Rihanna Fenty, who remains a citizen of Barbados, was only 15 when she was discovered by record producer Evan Rogers, who sent her demo to Def Jam Recordings. At the time, Jay-Z was the newly appointed president and CEO of Def Jam, and he was at first skeptical of the young girl taking on ambitious songs. When the two finally met in person in 2005, Jay-Z introducer her to Antonio “L.A.” Reid, a media mogul who had by then signed Avril Lavigne, Pink, and Usher. Jay-Z and Reid were so impressed by Rihanna’s in-person audition that they committed to not letting her leave the Def Jam building until she signed a contract with them.

According to MTV Archives, Jay-Z was so sure of her potential that they all stayed in his office with all of their lawyers drafting up contracts until 3 a.m. just so another record label wouldn’t sign her.

“From meeting her at four [p.m.] in the office till three in the morning, I was absolutely certain. That doesn't happen too often,” said Jay-Z.

We all know how the story goes from there. Rihanna went on to release eight studio albums between 2005 and 2016, appeared in seven films, and headlined five world tours that brought in over $317 million in revenues. She’s sold over 250 million records in her 15-year career and is one of the best-selling artists of all time.

She’s endorsed countless brands throughout the years, one of her biggest being a $25 million deal in 2015 with Samsung. But she’s perhaps best known for being the first black woman to be the face of Dior in 2015 and becoming the creative director of Puma in 2014. These lucrative deals in fashion were just stepping stones for her next big venture, Fenty Beauty, which wouldn’t launch until 2017.

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At the height of her music career and celebrity status, Rihanna had already amassed a reported net worth of $210 million in 2018. For a musician, that’s a pretty impressive number, but what she earned over the span of 13 years easily tripled to $600 million in 2019 when Rihanna’s earnings from Fenty Beauty started pouring in.

Billion-Dollar Cosmetic Empire

In the span of four years, Rihanna, the Fashion Killa, built a billion-dollar empire. She never graduated high school, much less go to college, but her decade-long career as an entertainment artist and a fashion icon gave her the insight to build a brand that dared to be truly inclusive. Fenty Beauty filled the empty space in the luxury beauty industry that demanded for radical inclusivity, diversity, and representation. Fenty did that by simply having over 50 shades of foundation for women and men of all races.

In its first calendar year, Fenty Beauty raked in over $550 million in revenues, which bumped up Rihanna’s net worth from $210 million in 2018 to $600 million in 2019.

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Four years later, Fenty Beauty is now reported to have a $2.8 billion valuation, according to Forbes. The brand was formed as a 50-50 venture with European luxury conglomerate LVMH, which is headed by the world’s richest man, Bernard Arnault. It was previously rumored that Rihanna only owned 15 percent of the profitable brand, but Forbes confirmed it’s in fact 50 percent. The giant stake bumped up her net worth by $1.4 billion.  

Rihanna’s other earnings come from Savage x Fenty, just another one of the businesswoman’s mega-successful companies. The lingerie brand secured a $115 million investment earlier this year, growing its valuation to $1 billion. Rihanna reportedly owns 30 percent of the brand and her cut is worth roughly $270 million. Jay-Z and Rihanna connections go way back, and the two are still closely associated today as Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners is reportedly a shareholder in Savage x Fenty, as is private equity firm L. Catterton, the investment arm of the illustrious Arnault family. That means Bernard Arnault, the most powerful man in fashion, is all in for Rihanna’s vision.

With her music career earnings, her notable stakes in Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty, Rihanna’s net worth is estimated to be $1.7 billion—for now. Fenty Beauty is only getting started, and with the pandemic curiously doing well for sales in cosmetics, revenues are on a consistent climb. Fenty Beauty is pitching itself as the LV of makeup, the premier brand of beauty, and it’s poised to dominate even more of the market.

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And just how is she spending her billions? Her real estate portfolio includes a $4.45 million condo in L.A., a $13.8 million home in Beverly Hills, a $14 million penthouse in Manhattan, and a multi-million property in her home country of Barbados. Still, this is a humble portfolio compared to her peers.

As an R&B and hip hop artist, money and wealth were a central theme in plenty of her songs pre-Fenty. In "Pour It Up," she sang "My pockets' deep and they never end." And in "Nothing Promised," she prophesized, "I'ma just wake up and hug this money." Talk about manifesting.

What Silver Spoon?

But it’s not all champagne, fast cars, and high fashion with Rihanna. The artist and businesswoman founded her own charity organization in 2012 called the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) which has raised and donated over $80 million for over 150 projects close to the singer’s heart. A bulk of CLF’s donations have been made over the last few years, coinciding with Fenty Beauty’s meteoric rise. In 2020, they leveraged more than $36 million to support 45 organizations fighting COVID-19 in 14 countries. The foundation also donated $11 million to police and criminal justice reform organizations. And just a few weeks ago, CLF donated $3 million to Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations to fight growing anti-Asian sentiments in the U.S.

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Rihanna’s successful endeavors have resonated with fans not only because she did it all in the spotlight, but also because she is, without a doubt, a self-made billionaire. There's no famous family backing or inherited fortune here. Forbes ranks ultra-high net worth individuals through a score system, with 10 being “self-made who not only grew up poor but also overcame significant obstacles,” and 1 being, essentially, a silver spooner.

Rihanna, who grew up all the way in Barbados, dominated the R&B scene due to pure talent, and used her music career to catapult her business career, ranked 10. And it’s not hard to see why.

The only bad side to all of this? Fans bemoaning the fact that she still hasn’t released an album since 2016. Don’t hold your breath though because it still doesn’t look like she’ll be releasing any new music soon—she’s too busy working and counting "a billi-on here, a billi-on there," according to Nicki Minaj.

Wherever Rihanna goes from here, let’s just say she’s far from where she was in her 2015 hit single “Bitch Better Have My Money.”

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Anri Ichimura
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