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• Apr 22, 2022

I first dipped my toe into internet culture in college. Back in 2004 I launched a Xanga blog, lol. Remember those? From my dorm room I’d write posts about life and love, trying to construct a personality that was both funny and deep. I’d subscribe to classmates’ Xangas primarily to spy. Particularly on one student who I suspected was dating a guy I liked. My heart sank when I found him in her ‘follower’ list. 

Fast forward to post-college, when Google BlogSpot was hot. It seemed everyone had a personal blog tracking their journeys through young adulthood. Mine became a career. Launched in 2008, my random musings about and showcasings of natural hair became, over time, an award-winning site — Black Girl with Long Hair — that was referenced in the Chicago Tribune, Essence Magazine and NPR. 

While the scenery changed, my habits did not. I found myself, just like in college, watching what other bloggers were doing, and often feeling either threatened by or insecure about their various moves.

I had a years-long beef with blogger CurlyNikki, when I accused her of plagiarizing my content and she responded by posting my emails to her public blog, leading to an onslaught of cyberbullying. 

I had a similar falling out with a former college classmate who wrote a post on her blog, Sheena LaShay, declaring that my blog was stupid. This led to a series of escalating back-and-forth attacks that ultimately resulted in her trolling me for years, giving me the nickname “Crazy” and periodically writing posts recapping our back and forth and mocking me for it.

I was always on high alert during these times. Watching. Anxious. Feeling that whatever I was doing was directly threatened by what someone else was doing. And having outsized reactions to anything I perceived as a threat. 

It’s no surprise that when I launched my product line, BGLH Marketplace, back in 2014, those anxious habits followed me. 

The idea for BGLH Marketplace was simple. On my blog, I’d noticed a trend. When women with natural hair got to a certain point, say 5 to 7 years into their journey, they stopped focusing so much on brands and started focusing more on ingredients. While younger naturals were quick to snatch up whatever product was hot, new or trendy, older naturals seemed to notice what I had — a few central ingredients, when used correctly, can cover the majority of haircare needs.

What if I make products that contain just those central ingredients?” I thought. “I could capture an evergreen market that uses my products for years.”

It seemed like a good idea and it *was* a good idea. I learned how to create formulas that were fluffy, soft, and smelled amazing, all while moisturizing deeply. I started hearing what would become a common refrain “Your body butters are the best I’ve ever tried. This is my product for life!”

I should have been happy. I had a repeat customer rate — 45% — that is way over industry average. From 2015 to 2019 BGLH Marketplace went from $60K in annual sales to almost $400,000.

But again, while the scenery had changed, my persistent insecurity had not. 

In the mid 2010s investors and big box retailers were betting big on haircare lines launched by black women. It seemed that every day, someone else was getting a Target, Walmart or Sallys deal. 

TGIN, Alikay Naturals, Melanin Haircare, The Mane Choice — I watched as all these former natural hair bloggers were elevated overnight with big box deals, while I was in my kitchen, and later my tiny workshop in Bed Stuy, hand scooping whipped butter into containers.

Big box was out of the question for me. Aside from technical issues, like the fact that my products had no bar codes or shelf stabilizing ingredients, there was the simple fact that I didn’t have the margins. Hand whipping and scooping butters is an expensive affair. In addition to sourcing premium ingredients, I was consistently paying my staff above minimum wage. There was no way I could sell my products to a big box brand at a 60% (or more!) discount. The whole thing was dead on arrival.

Even though I was relieved to shutter Black Girl with Long Hair in 2018 to focus on BGLH Marketplace full time, I missed blogging. And yet I stayed silent. I hadn’t promoted BGLH Marketplace much while Black Girl with Long Hair was active. And this trend continued after it shuttered. From 2018 to early 2022 I wrote a few blog pots here and there about the benefits of my whipped butters and black soap. But that was it. The anxiety brought on by others’ success, and the shame of having a brand that felt very DIY compared to sleek big box brands kept me quiet.

And I kept quiet even as successes piled up. In 2020 BGLH Marketplace hit $750,000 in sales. In 2021 the number was $1 million.

But in 2022 sales began to flounder, and for the first time it looked like we would earn LESS in total sales than the year before. Most marketing was done to our email list, and it seemed we had hit upon ’email fatigue.’ Our customers were happy to receive regular communications from us, but weren’t buying at the rate they were in 2021. 

I turned to marketing professionals to audit my brand, nervously submitting my passwords so they could take a deeper look at my email, social media and Google ads marketing.

In a post-audit phone call I waited as a marketing agent gathered her notes. 

Ms Noelliste your site is remarkable.”

Really?” I replied, relieved but confused.

Yes. Your SEO ranking is quite high for keywords having to do with natural hair and beauty.”

Right!” I replied. “Because I kept all the archives from the years I was a blogger and they drive traffic to my site.”

Right,” she replied, and took a breath. “But few of these people are interested in your products. You’re driving high amounts of traffic, but not the right traffic. I’m a bit confused. Why weren’t you blogging about your brand and your products in the same way you blogged about natural hair?”

The question struck me like lightening. I had been pushing my brand hard via email. But my blog — my virtual home, and the virtual home of the brand I was staking my future and my children’s futures on — was radio silent. 

Without realizing it, I had let my insecurity muzzle me.

The marketing agent continued.

Because you haven’t been blogging about your products, you don’t really show up for search results having to do with whipped body butter, whipped shea butter, etc. It’s why your sales are floundering this year. People can’t find you. The lack of product-specific blogging has cost you a lot of money.”

My heart sank as she spoke, both disheartened by what she was saying, and relieved that I had a clear diagnosis to my sales problem. 

The other thing I learned in my audit? That my insecurity about being a DTC (direct to consumer) brand was foolish. Big box deals can be wonderful, particularly for marketing and pubicity, but they have a mixed records on sales because margins are so slim. Many brands with big box deals still have to push customers to their own websites, where margins are more generous and they can capture consumer data. 

It’s been a few months since my audit and the lessons are still seeping in. The sobering realization of just how much my fear has cost me. Consider this blog post an opening salvo. A shot to the heart of my fear. 

In my opinion — and the opinions of 40,000 customers — BGLH Marketplace whipped body butters are the best in the world. Not just because they’re fluffy and absorbent, contain no synthetic chemicals and are food grade. Not just because they’ve helped countless men and women relieve eczema and grow their hair out. But because the original idea behind them is a powerful one.

Beauty products come and go. But we’re not betting on trends. We’re betting on ingredients. Shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter, African black soap, almond oil, coconut oil, argan oil, sunflower oil, olive oil — they’ve been used for centuries to moisturize and heal hair and skin. Our intention is to modernize and make accessible these age-old wonders.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Because — finally — you’ll be hearing from me.💗

~Leila N.

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