With more than 20 years in the beauty business, Shawn K. Tollerson has been the driving force behind many of the most well-known and successful brands in the multicultural-hair-care industry. Recognized as a visionary and image maker for people of African descent, she has led groundbreaking marketing strategies, campaigns and product development for ethnic hair-care brands at global beauty giants like L’Oréal (SoftSheen-Carson), Revlon (Multicultural Group) and now Namaste Laboratories.
At Namaste Labs, Shawn has been appointed chief executive officer; she is responsible for driving the global vision of the ORS (formerly Organic Root Stimulator) brand and overall strategic leadership for the company. Key brands under the ORS portfolio include Olive Oil, Curls Unleashed and HaiRepair.
Most recently, she and her team have led the award-winning #NoStereotypes campaign, which confronts negative stereotypes in beauty. Also, Ms. Tollerson has been recognized as part of the 2017 EBONY Power 100 “Women Up” category alongside Issa Rae, Melissa Harris-Perry and Serena Williams—all of them known for spreading immeasurable #BlackGirlMagic all over the country. She was also recently honored with the 2017 Vanguard Award as part of this year’s Beauty Bash.
Read on as Shawn talks about her path to success in the Black beauty industry:
I did not start out on a traditional path. I did not go to beauty school; I do not have a professional hairstylist in my family, and those who have met me know that I am not a very high-maintenance beauty girl. However, I see incredible beauty when I see us as a people. It is my daily inspiration to uplift and showcase that beauty—in the way we define it, despite what the rest of the world thinks it should be.
God has blessed me, and for this I am thankful. I have been able to work for several major multinational companies and with the most amazing people you could ever meet in this industry. Despite the significant number of changes that have happened in this industry, it has been my motto to always remember who we are really working for: the consumer.
I started out managing advertising and public relations for Carson Products, which owned several
of the largest multicultural hair brands in the world. Subsequently, I began to manage key brands within the company and then progressed to managing brand portfolios. The company began
to acquire other companies and brands. At the same time that I was asked to work on those businesses, I had just become a new mother.
It did not occur to me that I was doing anything unusual; however, looking back, it was quite an enormous task. I simply brought my baby with me to the office, consumer research and photo shoots! My son literally grew up in this industry, with all of his “industry family, aunts and uncles” all around him. He was also quite spoiled being around all the models as a baby; we once went to a celebrity photo shoot. and he was like one of the crew, with no concern about anyone’s celebrity status. During this time, I grew from brand manager to director to vice president.
The company was then acquired by a multinational corporation, and I was asked to lead as vice president of marketing for the merger. This was an incredible opportunity to combine the top two companies into one industry powerhouse. I moved to Chicago and was about to step into the office of our No. 1 competitor. I worked in this role for many years— and then the company asked me to move to New York, which was not in the best interest of my young family at the time. I commuted until I could transition the business to a new leader.
I think I was unemployed for only a few days. I received a call from an incredible midsize company that was facing some challenges. I was hired as vice president of the marketing department and remained there for nine years. Despite the challenges, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my career, helping in the turnaround of a major brand and working with the most amazing team and leader. But I had been traveling for nine years between Chicago and Florida, balancing my family—which now included a baby girl.
An opportunity presented itself to work in Chicago with the leading brand at Namaste Labs, as chief marketing officer. Lightning struck twice: I was about to step into the office of another leading competitor. Since joining in 2015, I have had the opportunity to lead as chief operating officer
and now chief executive officer. During this time, the groundbreaking #NoStereotypes campaign was born, from some of the most dynamic and brilliant marketing minds around.
Namaste Laboratories, with its main brand, ORS (Original Root Stimulator), has a very long and rich legacy that started with an incredible family who created one of the largest, most iconic companies in this industry. Under the ORS brand, we have a portfolio of products that are recognized for using the highest-quality nourishing ingredients to address the majority of hair and scalp concerns experienced by our consumers.
It is an exciting moment for the company, as we are in the midst of the transformation of the ORS Olive Oil brand. After 20-plus years, the brand will be given a fresh, new look, with ingredient additives that will enhance the consumer experience. We are building our brand to make sure that from packaging to fragrance her experience exceeds her expectations.
As for the longtime user, we believe she will appreciate an upgrade that maintains the high-quality performance that she knows and loves. We also recognize that there have been major setbacks with our leading edge- control item—and our research-and-development experts have now re- engineered it after major consumer input and testing. This next-generation formula is now ready to deliver at a new level of performance. In the ORS Olive Oil brand, we are also continuing to innovate in hair straightening and texture reformation to ensure the healthiest results possible.
We have also refreshed our legacy line with HaiRepair: Now featuring coconut and baobab oils, it offers the solution to hair concerns related to dryness, breakage or damage.
Last, but not least, we are expanding into the natural-styling space with Curls Unleashed and Olive Oil for Naturals, ensuring that we continue to offer the best products possible for all beautiful curly hair textures. At Namaste Labs, it is our privilege to create products formulated to Celebrate and Honor the Beauty of YOU!
My advice to those seeking a career in the Black beauty industry is to genuinely love what you do and do it with love. The consumer is watching—and voting with her wallet. This industry, after all, is beauty; so you must not only keep pace with it…you also must strive to invent beyond it.
A version of this article originally appeared in Hype Hair December 2017 issue.