Black women, it’s high time we understand how critical this moment is in regard to how much we influence and contribute to the hair care industry.
Thanks to the digital revolution, we stand poised to reap the benefits of being launched from the same catapult that propelled the likes of Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. These men were all lucky enough to live and build businesses during what we now refer to as the Industrial Revolution. Their vision and tenacity opened doors and birthed whole new industries.
Well, we’re going through a new revolution—a hair revolution—in which our hair has become the clear focus of the beauty industry, and also the moneymaker. Only this time around, we can find ways to have a bigger stake in the profit. But here’s the thing: we have to do this now.
Who’s Running the Game?
The Black hair care market is at least an $684 million industry. Hardly any of that cash makes it back to the Black community. A walk into your local beauty supply store will typically reveal a slew of brands that are Korean-owned.
Oddly enough, in 1965 the Korean government banned the export of raw hair, making it impossible for U.S. business owners to manufacture wigs using Korean tresses. Not long afterward, the U.S. government banned the import of any wig that contained hair from China. As a result, Korean business owners were able to dominate supply and distribution of weaves, wigs and extensions. Aaron Ranen’s 2006 Black Hair documentary estimates that Koreans own close to 60% of the Black hair care industry market share.
Black Women Have Influenced the Hair Industry… So Why Aren’t We Reaping the Benefits?
The Black hair care landscape has changed significantly since 2006, with the emergence of the “natural hair movement” (which has contributed to a 26% decline in relaxer sales). Black women choosing to rock their hair unprocessed has birthed an entirely new industry. And while there are Black owned (and formerly Black owned) companies that have grown of this movement, there are also large
This tells me that we can completely change the focus of major hair companies and where they’re putting their money (many of them would have never invested in products for natural hair unless we made them do so), but we can’t financially benefit from this “trend” we’ve created.
What if Black women just up and decided next year that we all want our creamy crack back? What would happen then? These companies would keep it moving from the natural hair product lines they’ve been “dedicated” to, and start producing more creamy crack. We have the power, for real. We’re not just talking about new products that our strands have inspired creation for, but also new jobs, machines, technologies and infrastructures. These major hair companies have had to switch gears entirely to accommodate what we think is cool. But still, there’s no sign that our influencer status in the hair game is actually helping us.
This is really a unique window of time we can’t afford to lose. It’s critical that Black female (and male) entrepreneurs approach the hair care industry opportunities from a macro perspective. Creating products is great. In fact, Ultra Distributors reports that major natural hair brands have seen a revenue increase of over 1,400% between 2009 and 2013, corresponding to an estimated $150 million in revenue. But my hope is that Black entrepreneurs can get into the business of supply chain management as well.
Let’s Start With Social Media
Last year, the Small Business Association published a report entitled “Access to Capital Among Young Firms, Minority-Owned Firms, Women-Owned Firms and High-tech Firms.” Unsurprisingly, it revealed that African-American and Latino firms operate with “substantially less capital overall—both at startup and in subsequent years—relative to their nonminority counterparts.”
We may have a lack of access to capital, but some of us eventually break through. Finding Black business owners and creators in this game has become seemingly easier. From Instagram to Facebook to Twitter, many of us have the access we didn’t have just some years ago to find businesses and startups we want to support. With social media platforms at our fingertips, we can create the habit of sourcing out the best of Blacks in beauty, hair, and even the nail artistry business, and start supporting them, one by one.
At the end of the day, there is $7.5 billion dollars in Black beauty spending up for grabs… Will you get yours?
This story has been updated.