Source: New York Times
One of the major ironies of the multi-billion dollar global beauty industry is that sometimes top consumers of certain products are not the producers. Case in point: black hair care. According to the market research firm Mintel, black women spend approximately $500 billion on hair care. To put that figure into perspective, that’s about 35 times larger than the gross domestic product of my birthplace, Jamaica. Black women spend more money on hair care than any other group, yet very few hair care companies and beauty supply stores are owned by individuals of African descent. It is for this reason that a recent article in The New York Times struck a hopeful chord. The disproportionate levels of ownership of companies marketing black hair care by non-blacks remains and realistically, may persist for some time. However, there are signs the market is shifting as black women develop greater inroads into the massive hair care market.
It’s Who You Know
According to Lori Thorps, a professor of journalism at Temple University, during the 1950s and 1960s, women typically bought their hair care products from door-to-door saleswomen or white-owned hair stores. When black homeowners began integrating predominantly white neighborhoods, white families fled in mass, which scientists call “white flight.” The abandoned shops left space for immigrant entrepreneurs, such as Koreans, to start businesses like beauty supply stores that catered the black population. Because of the cultural and language connections Korean and often Chinese business owners, have with suppliers of hair care goods, it has been challenging for black owners to gain a foothold in the hair care market.
A Natural Fit
During the early and mid 2000s, women of African descent began to seek hair products to help care for natural hair in unprecedented levels and it was obvious that beauty supply stores simply lacked the products they needed. In response, black women shared hair recipes online, created their own products, reviewed them and promoted them on hair forums, blogs and YouTube channels. Over the last decade, some product lines have made their way into major retailers. The success of such products rests on the perception by consumers that the creators of products are also users of those products. One business owner featured in the article explains why trust and reputation is so important. Rochelle Graham-Campbell, owner of the product line Alikay Naturals, states “They [consumers] want to know, who’s the face behind the brand? Are you able to relate to my hair? Are you able to relate to my struggles and to my journey of being natural?” Ms. Graham–Campbell, who is known to many by her YouTube moniker, BlackOnyx77, will soon be selling her products in Target stores.
As black women extend the success of product creation to opening their own brick and mortar beauty supply stores, they find that challenges can be overcome by their ability to connect with the consumer. Indeed, I believe that one of the key strengths black women entrepreneurs have in successfully competing with other beauty store owners is that they are able to speak directly, and often personally, about the effectiveness of the products they sell. The road to successful entrepreneurship isn’t easy and will certainly require ingenuity but is possible. Currently, many black owners lack social networks with suppliers, many of whom are located in Asia. As a result, they may have to charge higher prices for products to compensate for higher overhead. Still, business owners have an edge, they say, because consumers may have a vested interest in supporting owners who can relate to their beauty needs and who want to support their business ambitions. Supporting black owners of beauty supply stores isn’t just about shopping at the store with the largest inventory, but also about supporting the economic empowerment of other black women.
What do you think are the major hurdles to wide-spread black ownership of beauty supply stores?
Given the challenges some of the women in the article cited regarding suppliers and costs, would you be willing to support beauty supply stores owned by black women even if it meant paying up to a dollar more for hair products? Why or why not?