Segregation at the Beauty Counter: A Case Against Black Beauty Companies

28 comments
August 11, 2011 ‐ By TheEditor

Iman CosmeticsDo too many black beauty companies lose by focusing on the differences between the races?

By Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Almost 100 years ago, Madam CJ Walker became America’s first self-made female millionaire of any race by creating hair products specifically for black people. This brilliant entrepreneur took advantage of the beauty industry’s decision to ignore black consumers by instead serving them well. An economic visionary, Walker also created a beauty school that fed a job market for the black women selling her products. Madam CJ Walker’s acumen in the field of beauty was an overall boon to African-Americans.

In the ‘50s Abram Minis, founder of Carson, Inc., made a grip formulating ubiquitous household products like Dark & Lovely. Black entrepreneurs Edward and Bettiann Gardner founded SoftSheen in the ‘60s, the firm responsible for the infamously greasy Care Free Curl. The early ‘70s saw the birth of Fashion Fair cosmetics, launched by the owners of Johnson Publishing to help black women find make-up that matched their skin. Black businesses have been central to the development of products African-American women need to look good.

But recent moves by mainstream brands make the original need to have our own beauty companies questionable. Revlon and similar entities now shell out millions for spokeswomen like Halle Berry hoping to attract our audience. Mainstream brands like CoverGirl are partnering with stars like Queen Latifah to design lines that target consumers of color. Pantene has created highly popular shampoos and conditioners for relaxed and natural hair.

Black customers may want to support our beauty businesses to reverse years of economic inequality and keep money in the community. Yet, this is an increasingly difficult task, because beauty giants are snapping up black-owned companies, even as they manufacture products for people of African descent.

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  • http://www.aleliabundles.com A'Lelia Bundles

    Much thanks to Ms. Brew-Hammond for the shout-out to Madam Walker in this very informative article. As Walker's great-great-granddaughter and biographer, I'm always thrilled to know that others still admire her role as a pioneer of today's hair care industry. Today we celebrate her legacy as an entrepreneur–but also as a philanthropist, a political activist and a patron of the arts–through our Madam Walker Family Archives (the largest private collection of Walker photographs, letters, business records and artifacts) and the Madam Walker Theatre Center (a National Historic Landmark). It is a joy to see so many successful, new hair care companies emerging and taking what Madam Walker and others started more than a century ago to the next level.

  • http://www.aleliabundles.com A'Lelia Bundles

    Much thanks to Ms. Brew-Hammond for the shout-out to Madam Walker in this very informative article. As Walker's great-great-granddaughter and biographer, I'm always thrilled to know that others still admire her role as a pioneer of today's hair care industry. Today we celebrate her legacy as an entrepreneur–but also as a philanthropist, a political activist and a patron of the arts–through our Madam Walker Family Archives (the largest private collection of Walker photographs, letters, business records and artifacts) and the Madam Walker Theatre Center (a National Historic Landmark). It is a joy to see so many successful, new hair care companies emerging and taking what Madam Walker and others started more than a century ago to the next level.
    A'Lelia Bundles
    Author, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker http://www.aleliabundles.com http://www.madamcjwalker.com http://www.madamwalkerfamilyarchives.wordpress.com

  • http://www.aleliabundles.com A'Lelia Bundles

    Much thanks to Ms. Brew-Hammond for the shout-out to Madam Walker in this very informative article.
    As Walker's great-great-granddaughter and authorized biographer, I'm always thrilled when others are inspired by her legacy.
    I grew up in a household with parents who both were engaged as executives in the hair care industry and remember visiting drugstores and beauty supply stores measuring shelf space devoted to black-owned hair care company products. Today all these companies are struggling to survive and to expand their customer bases. I would love for all of you to visit our websites.
    Best wishes
    A'Lelia Bundles
    Author, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker http://www.aleliabundles.com http://www.madamcjwalker.com http://www.madamcwalkerfamilyarchives.wordpress.com

  • CurlyQ

    What made my hair grow is no more heat jus rollers giovanni products from tj max and my homemade mix is Shea butter melted water glycerin and cocoa powder from trader joes omg the smell is to die for if you like chocolate and it also curbs your hunger if you wear it all day which I only do in winter but in summer I jus leave it in at night and conditioner wash in the morning bun and go hope I helped some ladies trying save money

  • http://www.mineralindulgence.com Tatianna

    Everybody needs to stop lying to themselves! Blacks traditionally DONT support Black owned businesses or they raise the bar much higher in expectations than they would non Black owned businesses. That is the dirty little secret that we dont want others to know but is truly why Black owned businesses are rare. I ONLY use natural products for myself (head to toe) and my children too because just as the doctor said in the statement above, chemicals are slowly but surely killing our communities. I use the Mineral Indulgence line of products and highly recommend them to anyone wanting to buy good products created by a black owned business. Not sure if its ok to put a link here but I will include it for anyone that may be interested…..Tatia

  • Seventhrama

    There is a qualitative difference between "segregation" and "overspecialization" at the Beauty Counter. The latter will lead to extinction, while the former just keeps on changing its name. Many of the comments here have addressed issues of variations in hair and skin types. Others have addressed issues of chemicals used in products for various hair and skin products. Money seems to be the focus of the article and not so much about the products themselves. If it is all about money then what’s in today will be out tomorrow and back again the next day.

  • Elizabeth aka Betty

    Madame C J Walker invented the product but mainly sold the product to white women for years without utilizing her product amongst the African American community. African Americans were still utilizing the straightening comb heated over a flame from their kitchen stove in order to make their thick hair more manageable even into the 50's and the 60's. Even when they went to the beauty parlor the process was basically the same. Innovation came when they put an electric curling iron in the stores for purchase. Relaxers, botanicals, etc. were not available to the African American community until the 70's and 80's, and then only to licensed beauticians. It was never even suggested before then that the products would work on African American hair. Even in beauty schools for hair African Americans were made to process all hair but white beauticians were not made to learn or share techniques for African American hair.

    • http://www.aleliabundles.com A'Lelia Bundles

      Hello Elizabeth aka Betty,
      I found your comments about Madam C. J. Walker interesting…and puzzling. I'm sure you must have conducted your own research but I would truly be interested in learning about your documentation for your comments about Madam Walker mainly selling "the product to white women for years without utilizing her product amongst the Africa American community." I've never found any evidence of this. As Walker's great-great-granddaughter and biographer, I've been researching her life for more than forty years, so feel as if I can claim some authority on the topic. My documentation shows that she started selling products as Madam Walker in Denver in 1906 and marketed only to black women. She continued to do so until her death in 1919. In the photos I have in my Madam Walker Family Archives of her 1917 and 1918 conventions, I see no white women.
      For Atlanta Post readers who would like more info about Madam Walker, I hope you'll visit our websites.
      Best wishes,
      A'Lelia Bundles
      Author, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker http://www.aleliabundles.com http://www.madamcjwalker.com http://www.madamwalkerfamilyarchives.wordpress.com

    • http://www.aleliabundles.com A'Lelia Bundles

      Hello Elizabeth aka Betty,
      I am wondering if you can share the original source to document the idea that "Walker invented the product but mainly sold the product to white women for years without utilizing her product amongst the African-American community." I'm Walker's great-great-granddaughter and biographer and have done several decades of research about her and don't think there is any evidence to support this idea. Madam Walker started her company in 1906 and marketed to black women first in Colorado where she was living at the time and then throughout the U.S., the Caribbean and Central America. All the photographs I have of our employees, her conventions and her customers show black women. I'd welcome you to read my book and to visit our websites for more information.
      Best wishes,
      A'Lelia Bundles
      Author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker http://www.aleliabundles.com http://www.madamcjwalker.com

  • http://www.ethnicaficionado.com Linda

    The last sentence "In exchange for our money, we must hold these companies accountable for how they treat us. Increasing black hiring at mainstream entities is certainly one way to keep beauty-related capital flowing into our coffers" is the most critical. Support the product lines that support our specific needs. This extends to salons, spas, beauty emporiums whatever. Ask if there are Black experts on staff. Ask if there are ethnic skin or hair aficionados. Do not patronize the companies who don't. Take time to research and find those experts who can address your interests and then use them. http://www.ethnicaficionado.com

  • Lisa

    I think the bottom line is that African Americans brings in the most money when it comes to the beauty industry this includes hair and makeup. It doesn't surprise me that Carol's Daughter is making product for others. Usually they get rich off their own and then they cross over to please the majority. It is crucial that we support our own communites who give back to support us.

  • http://www.pyramidoftruth.com Asar

    we need more not less Black hair companies. TRUE ADVERTISEMENT SHOULD BE MORE INCLUSIVE.

  • kim

    I have a company and make a strong effort to supoort black maufacturers. However, black manufacturers have to be willing to hold on to their companies. They allow white companies to buy them out and then they change the products. I can tell the difference in Soft and Beautiful when it was black owned and now. I don't bother to buy their products anymore. The quality has changed.

  • http://www.coillyembrace.com Myi

    What I find truly amazing about this discussion is that we seem to give little thought or concern to what is in the products we are using. As a physician I am concerned that many of these products sold to all women contain chemicals that are known to be toxic. African American women face high death rates with breast cancer. Chemicals used in the making of our so called "beauty products" are linked to cancer. There is also the recent, and much overdo discussion, regarding the safety of relaxers…especially during pregnancy. There is nothing beautiful about cancer and/or other diseases.

    I am tired of the same old faulty debate regarding our beauty and the products we use. What should be important is not necessarily who makes the product but what they are putting in it. It is time that we demand products that promote not only our beauty but our health. This means re-examining what we define as beautiful. This means that our publications must ensure that those advertisers who spend millions of dollars on full page ads in "women of color" publications and/or millions of dollars on their "spoke models" actually have safe products. Those advertising dollars are not worth the health of our community.

    I hope you can move on to the real issues African American women face when dealing with issues of our beauty. They are real and they are an issue of our health.

    • http://www.drtraciwilliams.com Dr. Traci Williams

      I agree Dr. Myi. I've created a responsible skincare product line for my high-end clients for that very reason. Lower priced products will be posted on my website soon.–

  • teresa

    I think black hair care companies should be trying to be more open. I understand the business aspect. Broader range of customers=more money. African American hair is so very different from other hair types. The texture is different and the way it is cared for. Other companies like pantene are stepping up and coming out with products that cater to african american hair. These black hair care companies should go ahead and be more open but still create products that fill that need for african american hair. They should not abandon or alienate the clientele that they started their business with.

    • Guest

      Pantene is also adding ingredients like mineral oil to most of the products that "cater" to African American hair which is not absorbed and therefore most of these products are useless!

  • girlygurl

    Black Expressions is a good line of makeup for women of color of all shades and tones.

  • Carmen

    I don’t know about makeup because I don’t wear it but as far as hair care products go, I’m an expert. As an adult, my hair was never longer than shoulder length and I could not figure out why. Then I started to do some research and it doesn’t matter how many Black faces you slap on the box or even if you have black people working in the lab, if your products contain sulfates and mineral oil they are not good for textured hair.

    But as soon as I started making my own products, my hair grew like a weed. It’s waist length now. We need to be educated on the ingredients of these products.

    • Carmen_N

      From one Carmen to another, what are you bottling and where can I get it?

      • Tasha

        To the second carmen, I think that we black women have to stop believing what anonymous people say about what worked for them, then running out and buying the products/materials only to find out it doesn't work as they said. Some are lying, some are just using it as a marketing tactic to get us to buy buy buy on emotion rather than common sense. It works like a charm on black women unfortunately with piles of "recommended" expensive hair care products sitting on our shelves collecting dust. I have been guilty of it too, but I'm starting to become suspicious of claims that others make online about what works for them.

      • Diane Washington

        What can I do to research what ingredients are best for my hair? What products did you put together?

    • lar

      What did you use to grow your hair like weed? How did you make your own products? Please share.

    • E.C. from D.C.

      Forreal I'll take 2 of everything you've got. lol Mine won't go much past my shoulders.

    • jada

      for yall wanting to know how to grow long hair become a member at longhaircareforum those ladies will take care of you

  • Niasia

    Well I’ve usually bought the mainstream brands b/c the ethnic brands forget about light skinned women. Even if it is a lighter shade it’s not quite right for my tone.

  • Kierah

    I was disappointed when Carol's Daughter went with the recent campaign. It seemed like an outright abandonment of their core consumers. Once a company gets sold, the focus usually moves away from the people who put the company on the radar in the first place. It's sad particularly when it's done in our community where the resources are few and far between.

    • Tasha

      This is a common theme among "black" companies and individuals. They benefit from the support of blacks, then abandon them at the first opportunity. I look forward to the day that these companies see the err of their ways.

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