Tracee Ellis Ross is just one of those celebrities that we love to love. From meeting her as Joan Clayton on "Girlfriends" to knowing her as PATTERN BEAUTY's brand owner and the rich aunty—we have no choice but to stan. When she first started her brand, she took into consideration the things she was looking for as a consumer. During her early teen years and while on the set of "Girlfriends," she realized that the current products on the market weren’t working for her.
Ross launched PATTERN with the goal of giving the Black community haircare products that work. However, the journey wasn’t as easy as some would think. It took her nearly 10-years of hearing no before the brand got off the ground. Now, she’s being tapped to speak as a distinguished speaker for Amazon Accelerate, the premier conference dedicated to Amazon sellers happening September 13 and 14 in Seattle. There, the actress will drop gems for new and potential entrepreneurs, shedding light on the harsh realities of being a business owner.
Ahead of the Amazon panel, EBONY sat down with Ross to learn more on her ups and downs as a business owner and also Joan Clayton's new business venture.
EBONY: You’ve been an actress for so long. Where did the inspiration to launch your own brand come from?
Tracee Ellis Ross: The truth is that I’ve been trying to find products for my hair way longer than I have been an actress. I started dreaming about the products that I wish existed when I was a late teen, and it was during "Girlfriends" that the idea for PATTERN was born. I had tried nearly every product on the market and hadn't found the products, tools, and formulas, or the narrative, that truly addressed mine or my community’s needs. I realized there was a gap in the market and that I was not the only one looking for products that were created with us in mind and that actually met our needs.
I wrote my first hair care brand pitch a few months after the show wrapped its final episode. It was the template for what exists today. It took 10 years of pitching, trying, iterating, and visioning. I knew that I could bring a brand and collection to life that disrupted the industry and celebrated our authentic beauty. Every time I heard “no” or someone questioned my experience it reinforced that voice inside of me that said, “In all these years, these products still haven’t been created and especially not in one brand. The gap exists, there is a need, and I know I can fill it.”
Over the years, we’ve seen more celebrities stepping into the beauty space. Were you nervous about doing so?
Not at all. When I started my journey, the “celebrity brand” trend wasn’t a big thing. But, most importantly, I didn’t launch into being a founder or a CEO as a celebrity. I was a consumer who wanted to answer a need I knew existed, and I wanted to change how we as Black people were marketed to. I was tired of being told our hair was difficult or a problem to be fixed. I also knew I wasn’t the only one to notice that the products available to us were the same products that my grandmother had to choose from. I knew that what I was building with PATTERN was fresh, authentic, and needed. I am the majority owner of PATTERN and I have full creative control. From product testing to campaign photoshoots to meetings with retailers, I am in the day-to-day of the business as CEO. And as the founder, I hold the vision and mission of the brand in my hands.
Having a business that is lucrative and purpose-driven requires attention. Although this is my first time being a CEO and founder, I’ve always been incredibly organized, and I’m not afraid of hard work. I am also fortunate to work with an incredible team. Part of my greater mission as the CEO and founder of PATTERN is to cultivate an inclusive work environment by giving women of color a seat and voice at the table, whether in product development, marketing, or customer service. I am always striving to expand on this and am grateful to continue learning.
What are some of the things you’ve done to keep Pattern Beauty so successful?
I think the number one thing is that our products work. They do what we promise. There is curl activation, hydration, curl clumping, detangling, and size value. PATTERN supports hair that looks good, feels good and is healthy—“juicy and joyful hair” as we like to call it.
Also, our content is centered around celebrating Black beauty. Anyone whose hair needs extra hydration can use our products, but we share the beauty and power of Black people in our content.
What started with 7 SKUs in our Wash Collection has grown to over 50 products, tools, formulas, and accessories available in 10 different retail locations across the globe. We launched September 2019 and then the world shut down March 2020, so PATTERN was a pandemic baby. We grew our assortment, our customer base, and our brand footprint in really difficult times. It was our community and the mass of amazing curlies, coilies and tight-textures who kept pushing us to grow and scale and innovate. And it was our community who flocked to Amazon trying to buy our products. Seeing the third-party sellers and the community interest, we knew we had to launch on Amazon to meet the customer where they are. Amazon allows us to ship faster, stay top of mind for shoppers, get exposure to new customers and engage with them with features like Shoppable Collections & Display Ads.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to break into the beauty space?
Don’t take 'no's' personally. Have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish. What are the goals of your product? For whom do you serve? Then, identify the unmet need you are meeting and what partners would complement your journey. Your brand identity and visual language is essential to your customer understanding who you are.
When it comes to getting your products into the hands of the people that need it, I can’t think of a better partner than Amazon to deliver results. Amazon delivers innovative capabilities to empower small and medium-sized business success and is a great partner to work with regardless of where you are in your entrepreneurial journey. Customers trust they’ll get fast delivery and great service with Amazon, which made choosing to sell on Amazon a no-brainer.
What about the partnership with Amazon and speaking at Accelerate drew you in?
I love an opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge about running a small business. Amazon Accelerate is a perfect platform to do so, as the company unveils new tools and resources sellers can use to grow their businesses in Amazon’s store and beyond. It is a great event for small business owners to feel connected to the broader selling community, hear inspiring success stories, and learn directly from Amazon about the latest innovations they are building to further support seller success. As the founder of PATTERN, I know how impactful that connection can be for entrepreneurs working to grow their businesses.
(For a lighthearted question) Could we look at Pattern Beauty as Joan Clayton’s next business venture and a young Morgan Childs-Garrett as one of the brand's models?
This made me laugh out loud. Yes, to both of these parts. I just think we would need to keep Toni off the set of the PATTERN campaign shoot. I imagine she would be an intense stage mom. Toni and Joan would have to sit in the café next door and have a cocktail.