I’ll never forget watching Aron Ranen’s 2006 documentary “Black Hair: The Korean Takeover Of The Black Hair Care Industry” which chronicles how many Black business owners were slowly shut out of the industry beginning in the 1970s. My jaw-dropped when the film mentioned that the near-monopoly was so strong that the largest Black hair care trade magazines weren’t even printed in English, but Korean. How could Black people lose ownership of industry for us especially when we take so much pride in our hair and celebrate women in history like Madame CJ Walker, the first self-made female millionaire in America of any race? The answer is layered, but thankfully, the tide appears to be turning and Black women are showing signs of growth, in business opportunities in the Black hair care market, and not just in our hair inches.
In an article exploring increasing opportunities for ownership within the Black hair care market, the New York Times profiled a number of Black women who are haircare business owners and entrepreneurs. Beauty supply store owners Judian and Kadeian Brown, who run Brooklyn, New York’s Black Girls Divine Beauty Supply, note that customers and store keepers alike are shocked when they find out they’re owners and not just staff. To be sure, they’re still in a rare minority: the article points out that they’re “among only a few hundred black owners of the roughly 10,000 stores that sell hair products,” with the vast majority of the owners still being Korean. But even that lopsided statistic is prompting groups like Atlanta’s Beauty Supply Institute, to start training blacks to open their own stores. Black women are taking charge of the dollars that we spend on our hair all the way around.
Of course, one area where Black women have been particularly exploding and gaining entry into the Black hair care business over the years is within the digital space, especially as there has been an increasing emphasis on natural hair care. At HelloBeautiful we create such content too, and cover a long list of brown beauty bloggers and vloggers who specialize in Black hair care content that empowers readers all while featuring products made by other Black women or companies, including Carol’s Daughter, Miss Jessie’s Shea Moisture, Kinky Curly, and more.
One popular beauty entrepreneur, Patrice Grell Yursik, who is the founder of Afrobella and often regarded as the “The Godmother of Brown Beauty Blogging,” aptly told the NYT: “We’re aware of where our dollars are going, we’re aware of the power of our dollars, we’re aware of the cultural significance of the way that we choose to wear our hair…there’s been a lot of taking back the power, and a lot of that is from the Internet.”
This taking back of power is incredibly encouraging and in line with overall statistics that show African-American women were the fastest growing entrepreneur group in 2013, with the number of businesses started at an estimated 1.1 million. I’d argue it’s also necessary, considering that in 2012 alone the Black hair care market was worth an estimated half trillion dollars, according to market research firm Mintel. Yes, trillion. An astronomical amount of money, and meanwhile according to Friday’s jobs report from the Labor Department, some 10.6 percent of adult African-American women age 20 or older are unemployed, unchanged from a year ago.
Now we know that Black women aren’t going to stop getting our hair done on Saturdays or stocking up on our products, but the signs of increased opportunity and movement in capitalizing on this industry that we patronize so strongly is a spark of hope. Imagine if we invested that half-trillion dollars into other Black women’s bank accounts, rather than just on our heads.
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