Last month the Chicago Tribune published an article that explored the practice of black owned businesses that conceal their race to ensure the survival and growth of their businesses. We asked several black-owned brands, and an industry expert to weigh in on the discussion:
My position is simple: the reality of it is is that black-owned businesses are starting with a mark on their back. While I have never had to personally hide who I am, I don’t shame people that do. Until you’re in someone else’s shoes you don’t really have the right to tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I read a lot of stories about silicon valley and people being turned down and not taken as seriously as their white counterparts. To me it’s not about being proud, its about taking your business further than where it is. If that means you hire different races to represent your brand in better markets do what you gotta do. I’m not hear to judge anybody else’s choices. Changing people’s mindsets can take 10s and 100s, and 1000s of years. People want to make money today. People start businesses to make money now, build or do now. They hire employees they have to pay now.
Before I started to go more public I would get tons of interest from white companies for features…Today some of the big name publications, they aren’t checking for me like they were before. They [white people] have always lived in a world where they have been the national standard and when you see a black face on something the assumption is “it’s for black people.” Also, this practice isn’t new. Diddy doesn’t own Ciroq, but the owners were trying to appeal to a black market. It’s just business.
Jackie Mgido, owner of Vault Cosmetics offered these thoughts:
I work in the TV industry. I’ve been a Makeup Artist in the industry for 18 years, and most of my celebrity clients are white. When I opened up my studio I was asked to hide my identity and put a white person in the front, and I refused. I use personality and education to penetrate the market. I think a lot of time people have to cover up because they’ve invested in it but they don’t live that life. I think with any black owned brand in the beginning people won’t buy because they think it’s a black brand, but if the quality of the product is good they will buy. I don’t think I would ever have to hide my race ever. Being the face of my brand hasn’t hurt my brand at all.
I haven’t seen where there are black owned beauty brands that are hiding. People want to know and believe in the brand. I think it’s important to be really open with consumers. I think there are so many more opportunities for people of color so that when it comes to beauty products it’s really personal. Maybe the beauty industry is a little different, for beauty, people want to feel that personal connection, so I think it really begins with the quality of the product. I think when it comes to beauty, what consumers are looking for that the brand understand who they are. We’re living in a different time where everything is affirmational. The are so many new black owned businesses and there is a whole new thriving entrepreneurial feel. There are doors more open for us to do more things.
We launched in Boston where race matters, especially when it comes to your business. So in terms of being in a Caucasian market in Boston I’ve had to almost create the illusion that I am not a black owned business. We haven’t listed an about us on the website, and if you see the iconography on the website we did that intentionally to make sure there was no race specified. Being passive and not listing it led to more sales. We have caucasian clients that work with us but have no idea we are a black-owned business. The quality of our products is about the quality of the products, it’s not about race so I don’t want to use race to build my success. In the beauty industry, women of color spend so much more in comparison to their counterparts. But we push and continue to push.. we have diverse teams and service diverse clientele, but we don’t really talk about who owns the company. We want our quality to stand out first.
What do you think? Is it important for you to know the race of the owners of the businesses you support?