Inside SCAD’s Beauty Boom

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Bachelor of Fine Arts business of beauty and fragrance program partners with the region’s cosmetic and fragrance experts for a beautiful — and healthier — future


SINCE 1978, SAVANNAH COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN (SCAD) has prepared talented students for creative professions, with degree programs ever-evolving to keep up with — and exceed — industry standards. Forty-five years later, SCAD offers more than 100 graduate and undergraduate degree programs  — from social media strategy to immersive reality to sneaker design — at locations in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Lacoste, France; and online via SCADnow. The fastest-growing undergraduate major? It’s not film or fashion design. It’s the business of beauty and fragrance Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Worldwide, the beauty industry brings in $500 billion in revenue. It also has had an enormous and, at times, negative impact on the environment and individual wellness. 

Group of art students in a photography studio
Fashion photographer Alexi Lubomirski talks with Savannah College of Art and Design students during a workshop for the Bachelor of Fine Arts business of beauty and fragrance program. // Photo courtesy SCAD

Leaders in the industry approached SCAD to develop a program that would build a pipeline of entry-level talent into the field, and in 2018, classes began. Meloney Moore, Associate Dean of the De Sole School of Business Innovation at SCAD, pioneered the major after a seven-year tenure as a marketing executive at Estée Lauder.

“Everyone uses at least five or six beauty products a day, whether they recognize it or not,” Moore says. “Whether that’s your shampoo or body wash or deodorant, or whether that’s sunscreen when you go to the beach. Beauty is a part of our grooming process.” 

For Moore, the impact of beauty goes below the skin, too.

“It was a big emotional journey for me, working in the beauty industry,” she says. “It was intimidating at first. Then, what was eye-opening was understanding what people believe beauty means, how they view themselves and how we give them the tools to improve confidence and to support their lifestyle, health and well-being.”

Art college students working on a project together
Photo courtesy Savannah College of Art and Design

Now, Moore translates those formative experiences into lessons for more than 150 students each year — and counting — as part of the SCAD De Sole School of Business Innovation.

Business of beauty and fragrance is what SCAD refers to as a “go-to-market major.” The coursework trains students to research, identify whitespace opportunities, collaborate with creatives to develop packaging, execute 360-degree experiential marketing plans and develop a business model to successfully launch their own new brand in the marketplace. 

The in-depth knowledge of aesthetics, style, cosmetics, fragrance and adornment sets students up for careers as entrepreneurs or with industry leaders, from L’Oreal and Rare Beauty to indie brands. 

For example, Moore describes how fragrance plays a role in the experience of walking into a high-end hotel or through the university’s door, and in turn, how that fragrance becomes part of a brand. 

“… what was eye-opening was understanding what people believe beauty means, how they view themselves and how we give them the tools to improve confidence and to support their lifestyle, health and well-being.”

— Meloney Moore, Associate Dean,
De Sole School of Business Innovation at SCAD

“We have a signature scent at SCAD — Santal — and you can smell it in our Magnolia Hall, Poetter Hall and SCADstory,” she says. “It is very beautiful, and everyone recognizes that when they come into the room.”

The program also empowers the next generation of beauty leaders by partnering closely with local experts who promote clean practices and sustainability.

Vogue was onto something when an article in 2020 named Savannah the country’s new clean beauty capital. Today, Savannah’s retail scene is bursting with young businesses looking to course-correct the beauty industry through the use of naturally sourced ingredients native to the coastal city.

That was what Cari Phelps had in mind when she launched her natural skincare business, Salacia Salts, in 2012. 

Woman holding fancy soaps in a basket
Salacia Salts owner Cari Phelps // Courtesy Salacia Salts

“I had the concept to use salt in skincare formulations, as it’s a naturally powerful ingredient and it’s naturally occurring,” says Phelps. For an extra degree of sustainability, the salts are sold in reclaimed packaging using glass wine bottles.

Phelps, who graduated from SCAD in 1999 with a degree in graphic design, was ahead of the clean beauty curve. Now, she helps current students by providing materials and sustainable packaging for classes.

“Since SCAD launched the business of beauty and fragrance degree several years ago, even more eyes will be on our city, and they will be expecting innovation and thought leaders to blossom from this area,” Phelps says. “I believe we can claim Savannah as a green beauty oasis in the United States.”

In addition to Salacia Salts, The Soapery, Yaupon Teahouse and Apothecary, Pelindaba Lavender, Savannah Bee Co. and Nourish are just a handful of other businesses that offer their knowledge and resources in contribution to the program. For example, Savannah Bee Co. frequently hosts educational tours of their facilities, while The Soapery often employs SCAD students. 

Beauty college students working together
Photo courtesy Savannah College of Art and Design

“This program would not be a success without the local beauty community in Savannah,” says Moore. “The partnerships that we have made with the local community and the local business owners have been phenomenal. They have been so supportive.”

Further afield in Charleston, South Carolina, is the RMS Beauty headquarters.

The big-name brand was founded in 2009 by Rose-Marie Swift (RMS), a prominent makeup artist for 30-plus years who pioneered the clean beauty movement when she ventured to make cosmetics with safer ingredients. In 2021, an investment firm acquired the company, which was generating $30 million in sales, with plans to continue growing as the demand for healthier beauty products rises. 

Group of women talking
Rose-Marie Swift of RMS Beauty speaks with SCAD beauty students during a workshop. Swift is a pivotal partner in the success of SCAD’s business of beauty and fragrance Bachelor of Fine Arts program. // Photo courtesy SCAD

Swift has been another pivotal partner in the success of SCAD beauty by leading masterclasses in creative direction as well as providing internships and product donations. “Her passion for this generation is impressive,” says Moore. “Our students love her, and she is a great program mentor with a wealth of knowledge.”

And it’s not just the university benefitting from the local collaboration. 

Like Phelps, some SCAD grads will choose to take their beauty knowledge and plant their business roots back in Savannah’s fertile soil.

This story and more in the September/October issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today.