Aron Ranen is a Los-Angeles based documentary filmmaker and film teacher who in 2006 completed a 4‑part series on the Korean takeover of the black haircare industry
Among the things he found were
- A Korean law dating back to the 1960s that bans the export of Korean hair, ensuring that wigs made of Korean hair can only be made in Korea
- Korean-American businesses sometimes won’t sell wholesale products to black manufacturers, as a means of edging them out of the haircare business
- Some Korean-American haircare shop owners have been in business for decades, while black owned shops struggle to survive
- Some Korean shop owners refuse to sell products from Black-owned businesses in their stores as a means of keeping Black haircare operators out of the business
- A severe lack of unity in the Black community when it comes to haircare — low price and convenience is often valued over supporting Black business owners
- Aron also witnessed the creation of the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association whose aim is to gain a larger stake in the $9 billion black haircare and cosmetic industry.
I posed some questions to Ranen about his documentary:
How did you get interested in the black haircare industry?
AR: I am interested in this subject because it is so wrong, yet fixable.
Your documentary talks about the Korean takeover of the black haircare market. Did you ever get to the bottom of WHY this happened? I mean, why Korean immigrants? And why black haircare? How did blacks lose their grip on their own market? Where did the breakdown begin?
AR: In my film I trace it back to 1965 when the Korean Wig merchants targeted the US Black consumer, and lobbied to have the Korean government ban the export of the Raw hair…giving the Koreans a lock on manufacturing human hair wigs and extensions. In the documents exposed in my film, it only describes the black market as it’s target..not why.
Your portrayal of Korean immigrants was mainly as part of the problem, i.e. contributing to a lack of black ownership in the haircare industry. But did you ever find anything in their collective story that you were sympathetic to?
AR: I understand the daily beauty supply employee works long and hard hours, it’s the folks at the top that have been behind keeping African Americans, and Black Londoners out of the industry.
In a few articles I’ve read you point to ‘micro loans’ as the answer for black business. Why did you come to that conclusion?
AR: I believe the only solution is to open 100–500 stores right next to pre-existing Korean owned shops. That means investment, not loans..we need the Black Capitol to realize this is a good investment..open the stores, create the distribution channel, and keep the dollars in the communities as well as getting rid of the “criminalization of the consumer” which exists in many Asian owned stores. This will create a rainbow of jobs from $10 in the stores to $100,000 running marketing and distribution. I can see Reality shows on BET where people compete to get their products in the Black Owned stores!
In everything you saw and heard, what were you most shocked by?
AR: The lack of interest by Oprah, Bill Cosby, the Black Churches in seeing this as an opportunity..and creating buzz and economic action around the Hair and supply business.
Here is part 1 of Aron’s 4‑part documentary:
And here are the links to part 2, part 3 and part 4.