Live By the Lye, Die By the Lye: Major Hair Companies Eclipsed By Black-Owned Natural Hair Care Lines
Written by Danielle C. Belton for Clutch Magazine
This year popular cosmetics and hair care line Carol’s Daughter launched the site Transitioning Movement. Meant to help guide women giving up chemical relaxers into the oft-confusing and conflicting world that is “going natural,” the multi-million dollar corporation seeks to both inform — and expand their base.
Can you blame them? There’s money in those curls. But for once, it seems women and minority-owned product lines got to the market first.
Carol’s Daughter. Miss Jessie’s. Karen’s Body Beautiful. Qhemet Biologics. Oyin Handmade.Kinky-Curly. All leaders in providing products to those moving from chemical processes to natural. All still independently-owned. All started by women of color – like African American Karen Tappin of her namesake company and biracial black and Japanese sisters Miko and Titi Branch of Miss Jessie’s.
But that’s not how it typically goes down. While several natural hair care alternatives run by women of color dominated the conversation, L’Oreal and other major retailers saw their overall sales in the black hair care market fall in 2009.
Long gone are the days when you had civil rights activists pushing for stores to carry black hair care products on their shelves. Rainbow Coalition/PUSH, activist Rev. Jesse Jackson once spearheaded a campaign to get major retailers to carry black hair car and skin products in their stores in the 1970s and 80s.
Jackson’s effort was a sort of capitalist attack on racism. He famously held a funeral for cosmetic company Revlon when a representative declared black businesses would become extinct from larger white companies snatching them up. But the reverend had a point – black people shopped at Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, and a multitude of places. Why not carry goods for them and integrate the cosmetics aisle? Segregation divides us. Capitalism teaches us the one with the most money wins.
Racism can really impact your financial bottom line.
Yet, since racism is nonsensical, with every new black innovation, there’s typically a lag time between what black people want and when corporations start providing. This is why a company founded by black Americans, Johnson Products — creator of your grandmother’s hair oil of choice “Ultra Sheen” — found itself bought up by Proctor & Gamble. (And after floundering there for years, having its thunder stolen by the likes of multinational cosmetic corporations, it was sold to a black management firm in 2009.)
How does this happen when, since 1954, Johnson was one of the only people making black hair care products? It happens when Johnson becomes complacent and doesn’t adapt to the needs of its customers for so long that multinational firms finally are able to catch up, realize there’s money to be made, copy and improve on the product, then woo away their consumer base.
My father, a loving creature of habit, used Afro Sheen for decades. Myself, my mother, and sisters did not. We moved on to products less heavy and greasy, giving us better results.
And for a while, those came from the likes of the slowest adopters to black hair care, but once they smelled the money, were the most aggressive, dogged, and prolific.
But not anymore.