Black women outspend other women by a factor of two to six times (depending on which source you believe) when it comes to hair care. While we represent less than 10% of the population, we spend most of the money spent on hair care in this country. A black woman will take care of her hair- no matter what the cost. Hair care is deeply embedded in our culture as India.Arie so eloquently described in “I Am Not My Hair”. This is tremendous spending power that is being spent largely outside of our community. The vast majority of the money spent by black women on their hair is going to large white-owned corporations, and to Asians who have effectively cornered the market on distribution and retail of black hair care products. As a black owned company servicing the black community, this is something we are obviously interested in and concerned about. How did things get this way? Is there anything we can do about it? Should we do something about it? Why should you even care? In this article, we will address all of these questions.
The first question we will address is “Why should you care?” If you’re getting the products you need at a good price, should you be concerned with who you are buying them from? This needs to be considered from two perspectives. First, there is the cost/benefit to you of doing something different than what you are doing today. Secondly, there is your responsibility, if any, to the community.
We established Treasured Locks in April of 2002 because we simply could not find high quality products for African Americans in our neighborhood or city. Living in a largely white area, when we went to the local drug stores and grocery stores to find products, we found a huge variety of products for Caucasians, ranging from poor quality to pretty good and some even very good. But, when it came to African-American beauty products, we found an extremely limited selection and the products that were on the shelves were mostly full of cheap fillers. Even the local beauty supply store sent us to the “Asian beauty supply stores” located in the Black neighborhoods. When we ventured over to the Asian beauty supply stores, we found not much better quality (if any better) products and a lack of service. The people behind the counter knew nothing about our hair care needs and concerns. Wanting the best products for our hair and skin, we chose not to settle for the inferior products we were being offered and turned to an alternative source (the Internet) to get a greater selection. Today, after having had our business for a few years, we receive emails from women on a daily basis thanking us for providing them good information on their hair and skin care needs and for providing them with choices of products that are actually good for them. We also find that even with brands such as Black Opal that are distributed nationally, that many local stores don’t carry the entire line or have dropped Black Opal entirely. Women write to us thanking us for making these products available to them again. Our customers have found that they can have choices not being offered in their local stores by shopping with us. They have also found that they can find experts to talk with who share their experiences and can give them advice.
If you can find the products you need (quality and selection) at your local Asian Beauty Supply store, should you go out of your way to buy them somewhere else? How far should you go? How much more should you pay? Only you can answer those questions. A running poll on BOBSA shows that most of the women who answer the poll say they will make at least some effort to buy from black owned companies. But, polls are often skewed simply by who the people are being polled. The women answering the poll on BOBSA’s site are a.) on the Internet and b.) on a website all about trying to improve the situation of Black Suppliers in the beauty industry. We think that skews the results. Our intuition tells us the broader population buys from the source that is the least expensive and most convenient. And, more than ninety percent of the time that is going to be the Asian Beauty Supply store on the corner or the White-owned grocery or drug store.
We are big believers in capitalism and the American way of life. We think the free market is a wonderful thing. It presents us with almost unlimited choices and opportunity as both consumers and as business people. But, we believe that there are also responsibilities that go along with being a consumer. Are you spending your dollars wisely? When you spend your money is your spending in line with your values? You might not have considered how buying a bottle of shampoo or a relaxer is a moral decision. But, on some level, it is. We prefer to patronize businesses that are in our “community”, all things being equal. Community can be geographical (we prefer local merchants over national chains) or along class lines (being entrepreneurs, we like spending with entrepreneurs) or racial lines (we prefer to shop with black owned businesses). As a company, most of our suppliers are black owned companies. Personally, we consciously avoid certain corporations even though their prices might be cheaper and they have the same products as others simply because of the way they treat their employees or the community or even their customers. We’re not masochistic about it. Ultimately, we end up doing what is best for us. But, when we’re deciding where we’re going to spend our hard-earned cash, the supplier’s values and position in the community is one of the factors we take into consideration.
The state of the ethnic hair care market is this. Currently, the market is about $1.5-2.0 billion/year in the United States. Black hair care products make up the largest single group of this market. Given that the Black community is economically disadvantaged, if we could buy from and sell products to ourselves, this would be a great way to help ourselves out of the hole we are in. We trail in business ownership, income, wealth and in just about every economic category there is. By sending our hair care dollars out of the community, we are passing up a tremendous opportunity to help ourselves. What has happened is mostly White-owned companies manufacture the products we buy and Asians distribute and retail the products. We even have a term for their beauty supply stores- “Asian beauty supply stores”. Even here in mid-America (Cincinnati, OH), Asian beauty supply stores dominate the landscape. Walk through the black neighborhoods of any city and you’re likely to see the same thing.
For the most part, Treasured Locks buys directly from manufacturers. But, on those occasions where we have had to buy through distributors, our experience has been the great majority of them have been Asian owned and operated. And, most of our experiences have not been pleasant. Coincidence? The Koreans have done a wonderful job of creating their own supply chain and helping each other into the chain while effectively keep African-Americans out. They do a great job of taking care of their own. Some have accused the Asians of racism and predatory business practices. Some of that may be true. But, our view is, for the most part, they have been shrewd business people and we have simply handed the market to them.
When a large African-American owned ethnic manufacture does manage to spring up it seems that inevitably they end up selling out to large White-owned corporations who see the value of the market that, for the most part, Black people are not stepping up to serve. In April 2002, we founded Treasured Locks for several reasons, one of which was to be a Black-owned company serving the Black community. As a small company with limited resources, we cannot go head-to-head with the established corporations who are placing their products on your grocery store or drug store shelves or even with the Asian Beauty Supply stores in the Black neighborhoods. One of the questions we get on a daily basis is “Can I buy your products locally?”. The answer is “Not yet.”. But, we have found a niche that we think we fill nicely and will expand as our growth allow us to. Through the Internet, we have found a way to serve our community, to help a few small manufacturers that we represent and, hopefully, to provide a living for our family and to raise productive members of the community (our children).
We find the term “Asian Beauty Supply Store” to be extremely ironic. And, frankly, annoying. Do they supply products to the Asian community? No. The vast majority of their clientele is Black. Where else do you hear of a store called by a term, not based on what it sells or to whom they sell it, but named for the ownership of the store? We think this is a sad state of affairs and would like to see this trend reversed, if possible. If you’re interested, there are a couple of videos available that document this in much more detail. One is the Black Hair Care DVD available for purchase at: http://blackhairdvd.com/ and for viewing free at You Tube (it’s in several installments including periodic updates).
If this link doesn’t work, go to YouTube and do a search on Aron Ranen and/or Black Hair Documentary. Another is also on YouTube. Some claim this isn’t “fair” that Koreans have taken over the market. But, we’re not even going to go there. The fact is they have, and the question is “What, if anything, are we going to do about it?. It begins with awareness and education. We hope that this article will prompt you to think about whether you choose to do anything about it and what you will do. If Black people vote with our dollars, we can effect a change in this situation. We are certainly not powerless. Money talks!
There is an organization called BOBSA(Black Owned Beauty Supply Association) that is attempting to do something about the state of the Black Beauty Supply industry. We learned of BOBSA through viewing the Black Hair DVD. The idea sounds promising. But, a review of BOBSA’s website didn’t instill us with a lot of confidence that the organization has a solid plan for correcting things in the industry. This is not a criticism of BOBSA. But, we have joined other organizations and paid dues that just seemed to go into a black hole. So, admittedly, we’re a little skeptical. We plan to keep our eye on BOBSA to see if anything we find worthwhile comes out of it. We’re hoping it will.
So, what are we asking from you? First, of all, just to be aware of the state of things and to be conscious about the decisions you make. We are not suggesting you boycott Asian Beauty Supply Stores or stop buying your favorite L’Oreal or other products. We’re not asking you to break the bank to buy from Black companies. If you can find your favorite shade of Black Opal lipstick at your corner store for less than you can buy it from us, there’s no reason for you to pay more to us.
We are asking that you consider giving Black owned businesses a chance and to consider other factors besides just price when making your purchasing decisions. Ultimately, if a Black owned business is not providing you with any value, you are not doing anyone any favors by buying from them- because they will not be in business long. Treasured Locks makes an effort to provide value in several ways- great products, great selection, personalized service, availability anywhere in the country, availability of information and advice, etc.
We hope you find this helpful. If you’d like permission to reprint this article or post it on your website, please contact us through our website.