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Interview with documentary filmmaker Aron Ranen on the takeover of Black haircare business

Avatar • Oct 25, 2009

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

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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.

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Myra EsotericOyanJolie-LDNperfectly humanAdlyn Recent comment authors
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Jc
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I find it interesting from a business perspective that black business owners wouldn’t address the fact that price and convenience matter to the consumer. Surely it would make business sense to think that if your target market (ie black consumer) is not going to pay $25 plus shipping for product then it should be the case that you either sell to a niche and be content with it or you make a cheaper product?!

BajanPrincess82
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BajanPrincess82

THANK YOU JC! I totally agree with the statement. I would think that a HUGE part of where we shop and what we buy has to do with price and convenience.

Nichole
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Nichole

Very interesting. Thanks for posting this. I will definitely think twice before shopping in a Korean owned beauty supply store. I was already on the fence about it without having the facts. It never sat well with me to shop somewhere that don’t use the products themselves and can’t tell you anything about how it works. An issue that should also be addressed in terms of black businesses being more competitive. CUSTOMER SERVICE. I have left several black hairstylists because no you’re not doing me a favor by doing my hair. Thank goodness I can do my own hair know… Read more »

laela
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laela

Great post! I stopped shopping at these spots because yes, I’m usually treated like a criminal! I definately agree with JC though, price of these black-owned beauty products are a bit steep. But at the same time, if they are the all-natural kinds without the cheap mineral-oil fillers, than yeah it’s going to be expensive. It sucks that so much of it revolves around location and geography. How many whole foods stores with the Kinky Curly products do you see in predominately black neighborhoods anyway? Ugh, I think all the stakeholders — Korean businesses, black businesses, hair salons, businesses that… Read more »

AdriB
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AdriB

I agree with the pricing dilemma. This issue extends even beyond haircare products. I recently became frustrated with the overpricing of black-owned businesses when I went to a local music festival and the jewely, natural beauty products, and clothing were 2–10 times more expensive than products you would find at general fairs, often from white owners. For a long time I bought into the whole “small businesses can’t get wholesale prices” claim, but at that moment, I put it all together in realizing that the non-black festival table business owners have businesses that are just as small. It all comes… Read more »

thelady
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thelady

I don’t mind the prices so much as not having a local option, plus if I want to buy some when I’m out of town I’d have to check my bag and pay extra on the plane, and some of companies don’t even ship US mail!

broadbandette
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broadbandette

Sounds like Korean-owned businesses started selling Korean hair to the black haircare market and it subsequently lead to Koreans owning beauty and hair supply stores in black communities. If it’s Korean hair coming from Korea, I can see how they’d have a lock on that, and honestly, shouldn’t they… it’s hair from the head of a Korean person who lives IN Korea. As Chris Rock demonstrated, you can’t really sell black hair to black people. Chris Rock also revealed that many black haircare products once owned by blacks were sold to larger white-owned companies, giving us a big FAIL on… Read more »

Jc
Guest

@laela — actually many of the ingredients used natural or synthetic are equally cheap. For example shea butter and coconut oil — extremely cheap at source (circa $10 for a kilogram (2 pounds).

Hair conditioner ingredients for high end and store products (note that they are usually very similar), cost around $2 a jar. The extra amount that you see is set for profit and ‘prestige’ — i.e how much you does the manufacturer think that you should pay

Brandy
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WEALTH. Wealth is the only reason to support a “Black” owned business. The amount of money put back into a community indicates the amount of money that stays in that community. To achieve this it means that the community will have to pay higher prices and receive poorer service for a certain amount of time. I saw a doc about 10 years ago about this. If you have to buy greeting cards and 1 card costs 60 cents at hallmark but your sister is selling greeting cards too but hers cost 1.00 and are not as nice you would do… Read more »

Adlyn
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Adlyn

So true Jc!

I’ve studied a bit of economics myself and companies/entrepreneurs will charge as much as the market will allow. There are of course other contributing factors to price: If the product is high demand or the ingredients are in abundance the prices go down, if there isn’t much of the of the item in question or the demand goes down the prices go up.

perfectly human
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perfectly human

I still cant get over why this would not be interesting to Oprah but the Chris rock documentuary, which did not do much in educating or finding a solution, made it to Oprah. I am interested in this documentary because this is truely madness. In Brooklyn on every block is a beauty supply store, nail salon and chinese food. Yes it’s cheaper but the quality of the food and the way the food is handled, is enough to turn your stomach and the same with the cleanliness of the nail salon. They do not care about us as customers, they… Read more »

Jolie-LDN
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Jolie-LDN

This looks like a well formulated strategy by way of acquiring all their competitors in order to gain the competitive advantage in the market.… and all the black owned businesses need to do is sit strategize and ACT! they can easily wipe them out… pricing strategies, distribution strategies and targeting …

Oyan
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Oyan

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… Read more »

Myra Esoteric
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Myra Esoteric

Why is a white man so concerned with black women’s hair and dividing the Black and Asian communities?

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