Over the past two weeks, we have seen a resurgence in support of buying from Black-owned brands in the wake of protests following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police. The civil unrest has pushed us to take a deeper dive into all facets of disparities faced by the Black community, including the business of Black beauty, and I am so here for it! As a Black beauty editor, I have pushed to highlight groundbreaking and up-and-coming Black-owned brands on this platform along with issues endemic to Black beauty.
I am also seeing folks express outrage after finding out that their so-called favorite haircare brand isn’t Black-owned and I am a bit concerned about where we are directing our anger. I say “so-called” because if that product was really their favorite, they would know more than the color of the jar or bottle it comes in.
I worked at a Black-owned beauty supply store while I was in college and braiding hair. Most folks never remembered the name of the “only brand that works on their hair.” Just the color. That is literally why some companies come out with dupe brands that are the same color combo to trick you into buying their products. (You’d be surprised how often it works.)
But, let’s get back to the anger about brands not being Black-owned. Cantu has NEVER been Black-owned. (Though it was woman-owned until 2015 and its Apple Cider Vinegar Dry Co-Wash works bomb AF on natural hair.)
Africa’s Best has NEVER been Black-owned. It was founded in 1924. Who, besides Black haircare legend Madam CJ Walker and Annie Malone, was doing big things in the Black hair manufacturing realm at that time? And, if they were, don’t you think we would have had a write-up somewhere in Black hair history on it? (Side note: depending on the dept, 55-75% of its team leadership is Black).
And, while many were heartbroken about formerly Black-owned brands, — like Sundial Brands, which is SheaMoisture’s parent company, The Mane Choice, and Carol’s Daughter–most didn’t just leave us in the dust. Sundial founder Richelieu Dennis still provides oversight for the brands and launched a $100 million dollar fund and incubator programs to help women of color entrepreneurs. He then went on to buy ESSENCE in 2018, making it fully Black-owned for the first time in 20 years. And, after The Mane Choice founder Courtney Adeleye sold her company to MAV Beauty Brands, she launched a $30 million financial literacy fund for women. Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price is still actively involved on all fronts of the brand.
What you should be big mad about are the ingredients in most of the products that are on the shelves. For years, I have been talking about how our haircare products are literally killing us. Yet, I have to be prepared to slap box with someone who claims I am pushing an agenda every time I mention how Black women’s products are the most toxic on the market and are causing cancer, early-onset puberty, and respiratory and reproductive issues.
But again, let’s get back to the brands founded mostly by White men and have names that conjure up Blackness (because, marketing #101). Most of the brands we are angry at for not being Black-owned, for not hiring teams that reflect America’s diversity, or for not putting us in their social media feeds didn’t have to. We have given them our hard-earned dollars without even thinking twice about what they represent or holding them accountable. We just wanted it cheaper and faster than the small Black-owned business that has a higher price point and has to be shipped because it isn’t on shelves.
And it can’t just be because we don’t like how Black folks do business. How many news reports have we seen of Black bodies being choked out, disrespected, and treated like criminals inside of Asian and general market stores? Folks complain for a week or so and then go right back to business as usual.
Our Black buying power is everything. The figures on how much we spend annually in the U.S. Black haircare market range from $2.5 to $8 billion. Add in weaves, extensions, hair tools, and our general market purchases, and that figure is closer to $500 billion. That’s more than one-third of the annual Black spending in America.
And general markets see this. They do annual studies on our spending habits that show Black women are trendsetters and influence spending decisions for all other demographics. That is why, in less than two weeks, brands are doing 180-degree turns in their performative support of Blackness. This is really about the color of money — and they don’t want to lose our dollar.
No, I am not knocking us for wanting to support Black-owned beauty brands. Hell, I built a whole directory around it. What I want is for us to be intentional about what we buy and who we spend our dollars with. Read the labels and see what’s in what you’re buying. Follow the brands. See who represents them and what stories, what images they are sharing about us. And, be willing to drop a few extra coins in support of “us.” If we can spend $300 on a weave, we can spend three dollars more on a hair product from a Black-owned brand that respects our dollar.
I also want us to not just demand Black-ownership for our products, but also to demand resources that go beyond putting our products on shelves. Let’s be big mad with the banks and investors who continue to say there is no value in investing in businesses of color.
Black women and people of color are the fastest rising demographic of entrepreneurs. Black consumers outspend every demographic when it comes to hair and beauty. Yet, we are the least funded and the least supported.
In 2017, Fortune reported that women of color got less than one percent of the $85 billion invested by venture capitalists. In 2018, Digitalundivide’s “ProjectDiane: The State of Black Women Founders” found that Black women, in particular, have only raised 0.0006 percent — $289 million — of the $424.7 billion total tech venture funding raised between 2009-2017.
I spoke with a Target representative last year who works in its supplier diversity department and helps get Black-owned businesses on shelves. He said most businesses that approach him aren’t ready–the products don’t have shelf stability and their manufacturing process isn’t scalable to meet high volume demands. This is mostly because they lack resources.
He laid out some other key things that most small businesses need help with when coming through his doors. They include getting certified as a minority or woman-owned business, how to stand out and drive traffic, and knowing how to tell your story. This is important to note because retailers are not required to market brands. So, without proper preparation, a business could make it on the shelves and instead of it being a win, it could leave them bankrupt. (Yes, this has actually happened.)
So, as we challenge corporations and retailers to pull up or shut up and push for 15 percent Black representation, I also want to challenge each and every one of us to be informed and intentional about what we shop, share and support. It involves more than getting a good conditioner from a Black-owned brand. We also need to advocate for our health, our economic power, and our entrepreneurial growth. The work must go beyond hashtags or reposted images and be ingrained into all levels of conversations surrounding the business of Black beauty.