By Neva Lindell
Flori Roberts was the star of the show!
Flori got her start on Broadway, and toured as Carol Channing’s understudy for “Lend an Ear”. She later decided that theatre life was tough, so she segued into advertising and public relations. Performing was just a part of her rich, full life.
After overhearing two Black models say they could not find good skin care products, she recognized an unfilled niche. She and her husband, Dr. Craig Roberts, developed a high-quality line of cosmetics with varied color options for women of color and launched her namesake company and brand, Flori Roberts, in 1965. This was one of the first cosmetics lines for women of color sold in department stores worldwide and one of the most successful.
At first, she attended trade shows and visited salons, but she needed to get the necessary commitments for shelf placement. Finally, in 1967 Bamberger’s Department stores, agreed to display her makeup line. She expanded on that success and secured placement in other stores, including Macy’s, Foley’s, Rich’s, and Harrod’s in London and stores in the Caribbean and Africa.
Born in Brooklyn in 1929, Flori Levine was a tiny Jewish lady with a big poof of blonde hair and an even bigger smile. Her parents had fled Russia a few years earlier, yet she always walked the path of hope and optimism. That is what made her business successful!
Flori instilled that kind of warmth and welcome into her role as president of IBA (then ICMAD), extending her hand in the spirit of inclusion and positive action. She served as president in the early 1990s.
Many women were inspired by Flori, including Marva Kalish and Karen Acker. Marva was doing publicity for a brand of toiletries and fragrances based in the United Kingdom when she was recruited to serve on the ICMAD Board of Directors. She and Flori hit it off immediately, and Flori set about to help guide Marva in her board service. When Flori’ term as president was complete, Marva was elected to succeed. Marva established an outreach program with networking events nationwide and credited Flori for her success on the board. Membership soared!
“She cared about people,” says Karen, who served as ICMAD president in 2004-2005, when Flori served as Membership Chairperson and created the first ICMAD Mentor program. “The industry was in her heart. She wanted to be available to people and always tried to help the smaller entrepreneur member do well in business.”
In 1981, Flori launched a second line, Dermablend Professional, to help cover scars, birthmarks, and acne and later launched My Everything Crème in 1992. That same year, Flori and Dr. Roberts sold Flori Roberts and Dermablend brands to Ivax Pharmaceuticals. Ivax acquired Johnson Products 1993, one of the nation’s largest black-owned hair care companies. In 1999, Color Me Beautiful received Flori Roberts, Iman, and Patti LaBelle Fragrance from Ivax. Dermablend was sold to Soft Sheen and is now owned by L’Oreal.
Sharon Boone, Chief Sales Officer for Color Me Beautiful, said her first introduction to cosmetics was the Flori Roberts brand. She loved buying products at the department stores so much that she became a salesperson. When Sharon wanted to move into corporate management, she contacted Flori. When they met, Fori was impressed with Sharon’s nonsense approach and commenced with one of her senior managers to mentor Sharon as she rose in rank within the Flori Roberts organization. After learning that Sharon was in a senior sales role with Color Me Beautiful, Flori thanked her for “protecting her namesake.” “Flori Roberts was more than a cosmetics maven. She was intuitive and visionary. She knew what to do and when to do it.” she was a thought leader in cosmetics, advocated for women in business, and advocated for black models in print ads and magazine covers.”
Sharon reports that today sales for Flori Roberts products are mostly person-to-person, online, or in international entrepreneurial settings.
After the sale, Flori and Dr. Roberts moved full-time to Longboat Key (Sarasota area), Florida, where she became active in philanthropy, focusing on the performing arts and human services. She was a committed and energetic philanthropist who continued to smile, inspire, welcome others, and play center stage! Local non-profit professionals marveled at how well she transferred her business skills to the world of philanthropy.
Flori Roberts took her final bow on November 23, 2020, at 91. For her memorial, IBA Emeritus committee member Stan Katz gathered comments about Flori Roberts, including these:
- “Flori represented all that ICMAD is about – Independent entrepreneurs helping one another successfully navigate the marketplace here and worldwide. A great lady full of intelligence, charm, and wisdom.”
- “She was graceful and supportive to everyone. Helping small businesses meant so much to her.”
Photo Credit: Observer Newspaper