July 27th, 2010
Beauty, Hair
Beauty Discussion: Can Black-Owned Hair Care Companies Make a Comeback?
By The Fashion Bomb Staff

As we all probably already know just from a quick glance at our monthly bank statements, black hair care is big money. And we all know the first black self-made millionaire, Madame CJ Walker, made her fortune selling hair care products. But can we say the same for black-owned hair care companies nowadays? Are there even any black-owned hair companies left?

Let’s get into a little history.

Back in the 80s many black-owned cosmetic and hair care companies dominated the market in products for black consumers—for many it was due to the popularity of the Jheri Curl style (that money dripped long all the way to the bank). Large white-owned companies who previously ignored the needs of the black hair community were seeing declines in profits and were looking for new markets to tap. They began to take notice that blacks spent a much greater percentage on hair and skin products than their white counterparts. So they put their heads together and began to employ tactics like buying struggling black owned cosmetic and hair care companies and signing big contracts to have leading African-American celebrities like Anita Baker, Billy Dee Williams, and Jayne Kennedy become spokespeople for their products. Soon white owned companies began to dominate the market as black owned companies could barely keep up financially.

Seeing this as a major issue, ten black hair manufacturers founded the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute (AHBAI) and launched a three million dollar campaign urging consumers to buy black. They used the symbol of “The Proud Lady” (shown above at right) as their official logo so consumers could quickly identify products manufactured by black owned companies. This symbol can still be seen today on such products. Sadly, the overly aggressive gestures of white owned companies left many black companies unable to compete.

To add injury to insult, then president of Revlon Irving Bottner told Newsweek magazine, “In the next few years, Black-owned businesses will disappear. They’ll all be sold to the White companies“. He also implied that black cosmetic and hair care companies made inferior products. He also stated “We are accused of taking business away from the Black companies, but Black consumers buy quality products–too often their Black brothers didn’t do them any good“. #ohnohedidnt

You know what happened next? Reverend Jesse Jackson in all his rhyming glory joined forces with AHBAI and his own PUSH Coalition and staged a mock funeral and boycott of all Revlon products. They wanted to achieve more support of the then 21 black-owned cosmetic and hair care companies, to force Revlon to remove operations in South Africa, and to demand an apology for Bottner’s remarks. With slogans like “Here lies Revlon dead because of greed, couldn’t stand to watch Black business succeed” and “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we’ll bury a company we cannot trust” and the support of publications like Essence, Jet, and Ebony who refused to run Revlon ads in their magazines, the boycott was a success.

But then we all know how that wound up—Halle Berry’s smiling face is all over Revlon ads today and all those black-owned hair care companies? Well, there’s about three or four of them left today. Bronner Brothers, Luster Products, and Dudley Products are among the few that still exist today.

And get this—back in 1993 large white-owned company Shark Products makers of African Pride hair care products tried to sue a smaller black-owned company for using the word “African” in their products’ name claiming trademark laws were violated. They believed they owned the exclusive rights to use the word “African” and the African nationalist colors. Whaaat? Three months later Shark Products dropped the suit. Better had.

We were so adamant about buying black back then, what’s the deal now? A hair product junkie myself, I take a glance in my beauty cabinet and of all the conditioners, lotions, and potions in there, I can only count one product made by a black-owned company: a large bottle of Luster’s S-Curl Moisturizer Activator. Hey, it helps manage my new growth.

Do you buy black? And can black-owned hair care companies really make a comeback? What are your thoughts?



Extra credit reading: BOBSA Black Owned Beauty Supply Association’s website

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33 Responses to “Beauty Discussion: Can Black-Owned Hair Care Companies Make a Comeback?”

  1. Sierra says:

    It’s all about GOOD products! If the products are good, and they give the customer the results that they want – then the product will sell, the products will build its own reputaion, and the company selling it, will do well! PLUS, let’s not forget price — the price needs to be simular to that of other products that have the same types of ingredients, and same amount of ingredients.

  2. sun.kissed says:

    I happen to do sales for Luster Products and the business is definitely white-dominated. Most people associate the brand only with Pink Lotion, but we carry full line of products including shampoos, conditioners, relaxers, gels, oil sheens and a new product called Colorlaxer, a relaxer and color combined.

    With the right products, marketing and prices, blacks can definitely make a comeback.

  3. J says:

    They’re already making a comeback now that Target carries SheaMoisture, Curls, Jane Carter, Miss Jessie’s, Kimble, Ted Gibson & soon Kinky Curly products.

  4. puff says:

    there are a lot of smaller/indie hair line such as carol’s daughter, oyin handmade and darcy’s botanicals that are black-owned and which make wonderful hair care products… i do buy some mainstream stuff like herbal essences (my hair isn’t snobby!), but i’m willing to shell out a little more for quality organic ingredients and to companies that deal ethically. if they happen to be owned by black people, that’s just the cherry on top of the icing. they may not be market dominators just yet, but i think a lot of them have the potential to make it really big.

  5. esme says:

    i think as more black women go natural there is going to be a large foothold for black owned hair care companies again. large white owned companies are refusing to address the needs of black women who are wearing their hair in it’s natural state and that’s where companies like miss jessie’s, qhemet, andb hair rules come in. we can only hope the trend expands and that white corporations who don’t have our best interests at heart won’t try to take those over too.

  6. Shanhia says:

    What about Carol’s Daughter?

  7. Danielle says:

    @Sierra just to add to that concerning price, I’ve read/heard that unfortunately black hair companies (product manufacturers, beauty supply stores, etc.) are shut-out from a lot of the discounts given to non-black companies in the same industry. I’m hearing that’s why many black companies have their prices set higher than their counterparts because many of their competitors (especially Korean and other Asian companies) have the lower price game on lock down.

    It’s tough on the consumer who has to choose lower price points over supporting the community.

  8. daphne says:

    As long as Black women are desperate to “fix” their hair, they will be less concerned with who the maker of a product is and more concered with whether or not the product can rid her of “naps”. Can the product make her hair “good”? If she thinks maybe, she’ll buy the product. Doesn’t matter if the company is white, black, or asian owned.

  9. kingsmomma says:

    The more I learn about what makes my hair happy, the more I learn what ingriedents work teh best for me and for the most part black owned businesses tend to create products specifically for my hair needs.
    I don’t think black owned hair businesses will dominate with more women embracing their natural textures. Big Business isn’t oblivious to this shift. Pantene released Relaxed and natural, mizani now has a “naturals” line. Many of these white owned businesses will continue to succeed by simply introducing new “all natural, for naturals” lines and black women will continue to purchase them.

    Unfortunately, the quality products come at a cost. There are many women that will justify purchasing a 4 oz hair creme for 25 bucks, but there are many more that will buy a 4 oz hair creme for $8. Supporting black owned and operated business has to become a commitment. I will continue to do my part in supporting a black owned business until that business “sells out” i:e changes formulas to gain a mass following.
    There are several hair black owned hair companies out there that survive by word of mouth and blogger recommendations. They don’t have the resources to compete against Beyonce’s Loreal or halle Berry’s Revlon.

  10. Bethany says:

    As someone already mentioned, as more and more black women go natural, we’re turning to smaller companies such as Oyin Handmade. For my hair, it’s always been what works, not who makes it, but going natural affords me the opportunity to try out other products like the ones made by Oyin. And gladly so.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think black hair companies are making a comeback. Especially in the natural hair care arena. I just purchased a few products from the kinky-curly line, based on what I saw on youtube. I bought them at Target.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am surprised no one brought up Jane Carter Solutions. Her products are amazing and all natural ingredients. Her products are starting to pop up everywhere even the Vitamin Shoppe.

  13. Wendy says:

    This is a very good post and it brings up alot of valid points. My hair is natural so I try to use as many homemade items or items that are made by women that focuses on black natural hair. I think that if we all want to use more prouducts that are black owned/made then maybe we need to start to look at the smaller companies that are on the come up. There are alot of natural sistas out here that make and sell their own goods via their websites, blogs, or whatever. Don’t get me wrong these products are not just for natural hair a vast majority of them can be used on relaxed hair as well. Perhaps we (black women) just need to look more within ourselves to find out what really works with our hair instead of what these companies (whether white or black) is pushing on us to make a profit.

  14. lola says:

    there are black owned companies but I think the issue is the public doesnt know abt them or their product ranges bc they dont advertise as widely as the revlons of the world. their budget is smaller but they also seem to only advertise primarily in publications Iike Essence, Jet, Uptown etc i/o using some of those ad dollars in more general interest mags like People or even mags like Vogue. KLS Phat Farm and Sean Jean did it so why not the beauty companies? If they are worried abt being rejected by mainstream publications do like the “white” companies and use diverse models in advertisements specifically for those mags. White girls need conditioner too

  15. Beelle says:

    The quality of the product is much more important to me, but if its a quality product that agrees with my hair (that happens to be from a black owned company) then I’m all for it. Today its so much easier to buy all natural quality products from black companies. Brands like Oyin; which I adore may be a bit pricey but its so worth it. I consider my hair to be my crowning glory and its a delicate labor of love.

    If I calculate the amount of money I’ve wasted on brands that did nothing for me then I’m still better off. Besides, brands like Oyin and Qhemet are dedicated to knowing the science of black hair and what it needs to remain healthy. In the spirit of keeping some of my fave brands going, sign the petition to prevent big business from trampling over small companies that specialize in handmade cosmetics here
    http://bit.ly/dqA2vW . Claire I hope this is ok. I just don’t want to see smaller specialty companies go under because big business has a hand in legislation.

  16. lola says:

    One other thing re: prices

    consumer aspect – if you are willing to spend stacks on weaves/a lace front/fresh do every week then you shouldnt have a problem spending $25 for a hair product that is formulated for your type of hair. Unless you spent all of your money on your hair and only have $4 left for product… which is a whole other issue

    company aspect – bc a lot of these companies are small unless they own their own facilities they have to pay upcharges in order for their orders to be filled. Most factories have fixed operating costs and a company needs to make their minimum requirements for it to be worthwhile for them to even produce the product, otherwise they (the factory) lose money. because they dont have the volume to negotiate better costs they (small beauty companies) end up paying more for the same product it cost a bigger company to produce for less.

    Think of it like this (DISCLAIMER: TOTALLY MAKING THESE NUMBERS/THIS SENARIO UP) – Old Navy can sell Cashmere for $20 bc they can lump their buy of 10k sweaters in with Gap’s order of 25k and Banana’s 25k. the producer looks at that and realizes that they can pay their workers for 6months. Lola’s Store can only buy 2k sweaters but she has to sell them for $150 bc her order is so low and the producer needs at least x amount to pay the workers to make those sweaters. Same yarn, same producer but different proces bc of volume. If the order for Lola’s store increases then she get a better price and may be able to lower her price to $100.

    does that make sense to yall? I worked in sweater development so thats the best way I cld explain it :-)

  17. Danielle says:

    @ Lola–great point! Also since many banks are extremely conservative with lending, even big “successful” companies are finding it tough to get a line of credit to finance the orders from the suppliers so imagine how tough the smaller companies have it.

  18. I buy black products but unfortunately alot of black people seem to bash black products for their prices and ingredients. I did an article about this on my blog… Black businesses can’t grow if we don’t support but we choose to bring them down. We’ll buy Pantene and L’Oreal and if it doesn’t work –there is no massive “I hate Pantene” campaign online…but let it be a black company “I hate them…Don’t buy from them”….I see it everyday and it is annoying. I will continue to support black businesses regardless of these online rants to not support them.

    I co-sign Danielle- black companies don’t get the same deals on ingredients, therefore they have to spend more money and have to sell it for higher prices than a white company with billion dollar sales do- obviously.
    All I hope people would do is to research themselves before jumping on bandwagons to not support black businesses..there are 4 or 5 that stand out in my head that people bash so much. People don’t even know why they refuse to buy some of these products…they just don’t because “______” said not too. Research ladies!

  19. sojazzy1 says:

    I recently had the opportunity to gain a glimpse into the business side of the black hair care industry while drafting a business plan for a beauty supply store that I wanted to open and you wouldn’t believe how political the black hair care industry is. One of my mentors told me that she had to go to court with a manufacturer because they blatantly refused to sell her products because she was Black. Koreans have a hold on the black hair care market right now and can therefore set the entrance requirements for the market. Everything from location of beauty supply stores, selection of product and prices are all at the present time majorly ruled by Koreans. Until Black’s can come together and enter the market like our Korean counterparts did then we will have to continue to struggle with issues such as higher prices.

  20. Cleveland Cutie says:

    Great post!

  21. Naajiya says:

    I think Black owned hair care companies can definitely make a come back, but only if they make major initiatives to upgrade their products. The few hair care companies that are in the market are not up to date with the type of products Black people need and want. We need better quality and more professional products for decent prices. We should not allow “other people” to take over every business opportunity that we have, especially when noone knows Black people better than we know ourselves.

  22. wallflower says:

    Love this post! I like to make my own hair care products…

  23. Stephanie says:

    There are black owned hair product companies that have the highest quality ingredients around. The Hair Care Company uses 100% essential oils in our products and we have sulfate free shampoos. Since the products are all natural, the cost is slightly higher than products with synthetic materials, but the products are good and get the job done. If you are looking for all natural hair care products for women of color, check out The Hair Care Company. http://www.thehaircarecompany.com

  24. Angela says:

    I just wanted to inform you and your readers of this very important fact – Madame C.J. Walker’s historic company still exists today and has never stopped manufacturing all of the original hair oils! Please visit our website at http://www.madamewalker.net to view and purchase the full product line. The website also contains valuable information about Raymond Randolph’s purchase of the original Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1985 from the Walker Trustees and how his family continues to keep Madame Walker’s true legacy alive.

  25. Tia-Bia says:

    There’s also celeb stylist Anthony Dickey and his Hair Rules styling products and salons.

  26. Annie says:

    Smaller companies are really responding to the needs of their consumers like Anita Grant. Natural, organic, very transparent ingredient lists, working with fair-trade partners. The quality is there now they need our support. The money I pay gets me a higher quality product for my body, doesn’t gouge labor markets and is upfront about where the proceeds go, also the breakdown as far as price is cheaper considering how much less I run to replace product. I think localization movements will take over these multinational, globalized companies that either don’t or only half way respond to our needs.

  27. Crazy Dog says:

    The white companies and you blacks that cannot see the continuned state of bondage the your in can kiss my %^#(**#

  28. ikeboy says:

    The lady named Stephanie Suthers is true to the game. She started natural products 25 years ago. This is a black owned company for natural hair care. her products are what we need. She is all black and has hair past her waist.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I co-sign Lola’s messages. Lola your 1st post hit it on the nose. Besides prices & ingredients, our perception is also based on quality (product & presentation), consistency, and location. With a good plan, some networking, and marketing, this can be challenged especially w/ the diverse platforms we have today (printed & online).

    sojazzy1 – Your topic has been on the tongues of many. Talk is powerful, but we can’t just talk amongst ourselves (so glad this post was published). An outsider’s only going to be about the profit.

    Your comments are motivation to those facing this challenge. Wish us luck.

  30. Turah says:

    From a consumers perspective i Want products that are free of synthetic chemicals PERIOD !!! No Petroleum, ” mineral ” oil and ALSO, I see aloT of products that claim to be Natural but have huge amounts of soybean and olive and canola oil all in one bottle. What do i look like a freakin CHICKEN wing !!! Im not buying that i dont care !!! now im buying & making my own products because noone has INTEGRITY anymore. Carols Daughter has sold out to the white people. Furthermore ! people dont know how to separate PROTEIN FROM MOISTURE these are 2 different categories. Sometimes pH is not balanced in products, another thing is that for example : i have dry hair so i cant just put huge amounts of teatree oil in my hair because of my hair type and teatree oil is very acidic & should only be used diluted of course for DANDRUFF not to nourish my hair. People with oily hair would benefit from it not me!!!! i dont have dandruff issues. SCALP & HAIR are 2 different categories, but alot of people are not knowledgable. SO !! i have been making my own studying constantly so i can have the best product for my dry hair & scalp.

  31. Turah says:

    These companies can flourish if they have integrity, quality products, knowledgable, excellent advertising & marketing skills because i didnt know about these small companies. Some of them need to step it up CAUSE I WILL PAY !!! END of story. IF i can buy & make my own which i do !! i spend alot of money. Of course i will by there products instead of having to make my own. Either way im gonna end up spending money !!! AND I DO NOT MIND its easier not having to make my own man its alot of work.

  32. Turah says:

    alot of those synthetic chemicals are linked to cancer and other life threatening diseases. That is all !!

  33. Mark Stevens says:

    We made a line of products that black women loved. Had a very successful black woman that put her daughter through college selling our products as a business associate.

    The company had bad management and close three years ago.

    All of the equipment and inventory is still in place. If anyone has some ideas on how to get the company up and running again, email mark@stevensresearch.com

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