Natural Hair and Hotcombs: The Challenge of Selling Out
The goal of many entrepreneurs is to grow such a large customer base and generate an upward trend of returns such that their company is acquired by a larger company. But at what cost? Natural hair care lines that were once remarkably successful within communities of color have transitioned to corporate (read: White) ownership, leaving the consumer to wonder who is truly targeted for and benefitting from the product.
Carol’s Daughter, founded by Lisa Price, was created in a Black woman’s kitchen. To many of us, it represented a brand name success story to the homemade concoctions passed down from our grandmothers and mothers alike.
Though the product line experienced initial success, tension over marketing strategies that transitioned to focus on the “mainstream,” “polyethnic space,” or a definition of beauty [that] is now colorless,” impacted the bottom line between 2010 and 2011. But through a series of press interviews and celebrity influencers, including Jada Pinkett-Smith, Carol’s Daughter was able to bounce back and has now been acquired by L’Oreal.
Morgan Jenkins, the author of “The Whitewashing of Natural Hair Care Lines,” reported on Raquel Savage’s experience at a recent hair expo. According to Jenkins, Savage felt a “dilution of Blackness” and drew concern from Carol’s Daughter sales reps who said, “the textures that work best for these hair [products] are curly to wavy to very curly, as opposed to saying it’s for ethnic and women of color.”
“The transformation of marketing natural hair care lines is a strong testament to what Black consumers gain and lose when their beloved products became [sic] a part of larger corporations – ‘mainstream’ can be a loose euphemism to erase Blackness altogether.”
To Jenkins, her experience at the expo demonstrated a shift from the company’s original narrative and she wasn’t pleased.
But even if there was no measurable change in marketing strategies, this wouldn’t be the first – or last – time that a Black-owned company was accused of potentially “selling-out.” In 2010, Madame Noire reported on “7 Businesses that went from Black-owned to Corporate,” with notable brands like Rocawear, Phat Fashions, and Soft Sheen making the list. Additionally, News One has reported on “Top 10 Things You Thought Were Black-Owned But Aren’t,” including BET and Mark Ecko.
But is casting a wider net really a problem? Some Black entrepreneurs insist that Black people don’t buy their products, or enough of them. But with Black buying power set to reach $1.7 trillion by 2017, we wonder if a wider appeal is truly necessary for our Black-owned companies.
Attempts for Black-centric marketplaces have tried and failed, while others have sought to shift focus from products-based to service-based r in hopes of maximizing our buying power. Though no single formula exists, PushBlack encourages its family to make ardent efforts to buy Black when possible: supporting Black-owned businesses, organizations, and professionals so to build a collective empire.
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