SheaMoisture f*cked up.
I know it, you know it, and their CEO Richelieu Dennis knows it too.
On Monday, the Black-owned beauty company set off an internet firestorm after releasing an ad centered on the premise that “hair hate is real.” To illustrate that, the ad featured a woman who appeared to be biracial, along with two white women, one of whom talked about how hard it was to embrace her natural hair color of red as opposed to blonde. It was a huge misstep for the brand, whose core audience has long been black women, for whom hair struggles move far beyond color.
The discrimination women of color have faced for their hair textures — too often deemed “wild,” “unruly,” “unprofessional” and a myriad of other insults — has a long and storied history. Every Black woman alive has, at one time or perhaps a million times, felt the sting of Western beauty standards ringing in our ears each time we are told that our hair is either too much or not enough. We are constantly bombarded with images of standards of beauty that do not resemble us. So when we see it from companies we perceive as our own, the pain runs deeper.
Black women are mad, they are hurt, and, frankly, they have absolutely every right to be.
As the controversy went viral, SheaMoisture quickly released an official statement acknowledging the brand’s misstep and telling Black women, they hear us, and will do better.
Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be – to disrespect our community, and as such, we are pulling this piece immediately because it does not represent what we intended to communicate. You guys know that we have always stood for inclusion in beauty and have always fought for our community and given them credit for not just building our business but for shifting the beauty landscape. So, the feedback we are seeing here brings to light a very important point. While this campaign included several different videos showing different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate the breadth and depth of each individual’s hair journey, we must absolutely ensure moving forward that our community is well-represented in each one so that the women who have led this movement never feel that their hair journey is minimized in any way. We are keenly aware of the journey that WOC face – and our work will continue to serve as the inspiration for work like the Perception Institute’s Good Hair Study/Implicit Association Test that suggests that a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their textured or natural hair. So, you’re right. We are different – and we should know better. Thank you all, as always, for the honest and candid feedback. We hear you. We’re listening. We appreciate you. We count on you. And we’re always here for you. Thank you, #SheaFam, for being there for us, even when we make mistakes. Here’s to growing and building together…
But talk is cheap, right?
Well, yes and no.
First and foremost, what is evident from the visceral reaction from SheaMoisture’s core base in the wake of the controversy, is the lack of transparency from a business perspective on what the company’s move to general market means.
In a recent live chat with our team, which came just days before the ad was released, Dennis explained the thought process behind the move, promising that their partnership with investment firm Bain Capital would not change their commitment to Black women.
We are moving forward to build this brand into the first global, family-owned brand with the purpose of our community at its core – one in which anyone who has supported us from the beginning until now can be even more proud – and there’s nothing disappointing in that. The only thing we’re looking to change is the world – and the way it does business. We think it’s time that somebody did.
And yet, as consumers, I, like all of you, found myself disappointed in what I saw as more of the same. The Internet was asking, why are all these blonde and red hair women dancing around in our ads?
As a result, for the last two days, across our timelines, in our group chats and Tweets, we’ve all seen countless Black women ready to toss SheaMoisture out in a boycott of the brand.
But allow me to be frank: you can be pissed at Pepsi and walk away. You can be pissed at Nivea and walk away. You don’t get to be pissed at Shea Moisture and just walk away. They (implied, wypipo) walk away from us all the time. But we need to build each other up, investing in each other so that our community can flourish, especially during these racially-charged times.
SheaMoisture has the historical receipts to back up their commitment to do better based on what they’ve already done. The company literally invests millions of dollars a year to support the infrastructure of their cooperatives in West Africa–backing the businesses of over 14,000 women. They also provide over twenty scholarships a year to women from disadvantaged communities to pursue higher education in top-ranking entrepreneurial programs. From an innovation perspective, in the last 18 months alone, SheaMoisture has launched 60 new SKUS specifically for women with 3b and 4c hair types–historically underserved hair textures in the beauty industry.
I say all of that to say, a longstanding legacy of serving our beauty needs and taking it further with community investment and involvement should not be erased by one (albeit horribly tone-deaf) ad.
Furthermore, there is a bigger discussion to be had around supporting Black businesses, growth, and reaching the realms of the upper echelon of retail. The Black haircare industry is notoriously exclusionary when it comes to Black business owners. According to Nielsen, Koreans own 60% of the Black haircare market.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, only 2.1% of American businesses with at least one employee were Black-owned in 2014. About 14% of those Black-owned businesses were operating for less than two years.
Taking things one step further, White-owned businesses in America create 55.9 million jobs, which is enough to employ 44% of the working-age White population. These White-owned businesses produce annual revenues of $12.9 TRILLION dollars. The Donald Trumps, Rupert Murdochs and Koch brothers of the world could literally pay every working White person $102K a year.
Compare this to Black-owned businesses, that currently create 1 million jobs a year, which is enough to employ 4% of our working-age Black population. These Black companies produce annual revenues of $187.6 billion, meaning they could give every working Black person $7K a year.
$102K to $7K. Let that marinate.
I want someone who has the best interest of Black people in America sitting at the table. If that took Dennis and Shea Moisture getting money from a White-owned investment company, I say, grow baby grow. And if that means more Black jobs in a Black-owned company, frankly, I am ok with that.
Because let’s be real — too many White-owned brands are doing one of the following: buying and absorbing existing Black-owned companies or just using their massive research and development and investing in one C-level person of color to create their own chemical-heavy faux “textured hair” products. And you know they are reveling in this media mishap and gearing up their ad dollars to sell you the product (that probably isn’t even as good), with which you will replace your SheaMoisture.
So yes, I was hurt and disappointed, just like you. We have every right to feel the way we do. Yes, this was a huge mistake and SheaMoisture needs to make it right.
But they also employ Black people, spend money with Black brands and media and are building Black wealth. I want to help them do this. When we buy their products, it’s not just about soufflé butter or hair masks. We’re literally helping to employ Black men and women, helping communities, and funding an opportunity for that next entrepreneur, who could be you.
And as you grow, you too will also, inevitably, make mistakes. And when that happens, you’ll want to be forgiven too.
Dennis spoke out about the controversy on a recent episode of NewsOne Now. Take a look:
HelloBeautiful’s Keyaira Kelly contributed to this piece.
Editor’s Note: Shea Moisture has an advertising relationship with Interactive One, the parent company of HelloBeautiful.com, which remains effective. However, the above op-ed is in no way part of any sponsored package and all opinions belong to the author.