Speaking on things which you know nothing of appears to be a growing trend across the Internet and you can add New York Magazine writer Kevin Roose to it’s long list of recent offenders.
Beefing up the hype for his column’s latest series, “Dumb Money,” in which the writer says, “we’re going to periodically trawl tech blogs for the worst examples of Silicon Valley stupidity, then subject the investors behind them to public mockery,” Roose decided to give an example of a said stupid investment, and surprise, surprise he settled on natural hair. The columnist wrote:
“Some of tech’s clunkers never get off the ground, but others manage to get big, high-profile investments despite having no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (For example, what kind of genius decided to throw $1.2 million at NaturallyCurly, the ‘leading social network and community for people with wavy, curly and kinky hair?’)”
As a white man, I wouldn’t expect Roose to see the redeeming quality of a social network for people with wavy, curly, kinky hair or to understand the popularity of natural hair bloggers like Curly Nikki, Afro Bella, and the revenue-generating platforms they’ve built on such a “throwaway” concept. However, as a “lead business writer,” I would expect him to understand the value of it—from a business standpoint. You don’t have to be a part of the market that a site like Naturally Curly would appeal to to understand the business case for such a concept, and you certainly aren’t on your Ps and Qs if you don’t realize what a booming industry natural hair and it’s social media counterparts are.
We obviously know these things because we live it and breathe it every day, but it’s not as though the natural hair boom is a phenomenon we’ve kept hidden in the kinky-curly community. In December, USA Today wrote an article chronicling the shift black women opting for natural hair as opposed to chemically straightened has had on revenue in the black hair care industry. The author noted that:
“The number of black women who say they do not use products to chemically relax or straighten their hair jumped to 36% in 2011, up from 26% in 2010, according to a report by Mintel, a consumer spending and market research firm. Sales of relaxer kits dropped by 17% between 2006 and 2011.”
Since we know black women didn’t opt to forego hair products altogether, that 17% of sales clearly went right over to the natural-hair industry which is continously growing in investment and sales, which is why sites like Naturally Curly not only have redeeming qualities, they have remarkable revenue. Latoya Peterson went one step further in her rebuttal on Racilicious.com, writing:
The viability of the natural hair care market isn’t something only discussed in publications geared toward minority markets. Inc. Magazine ran a case study on Mixed Chicks after discovering they faced a huge quandary: their product line was so successful that Sally Beauty Supply allegedly created a knock off called “Mixed Silk.” Mixed Chicks is a growing company with revenues of $5 Million a year — Sally’s is an established behemoth with more than $3 Billion a year at its disposal. While the lawsuit may ultimately endanger the business the two founders (both WOC) built, the existence of Mixed Silk proves that even huge brands are looking to jump into the natural hair care market.
And here we come to the problem.
Roose’s thoughtless (and factless) comments illuminate some of the problems in Silicon Valley, namely that the space is controlled by people who are fairly myopic. If this market isn’t something they understand or participate in, it doesn’t exist. And these kinds of perceptions create an environment in the marketplace that disadvantages minority/women fronted businesses seeking investment to create products for their communities.
Peterson is absolutely correct. As we’ve talked about countless times before, the black community absolutely must strive for financial independence via entrepreneurship, but what that often looks like in it’s beginning stages is securing investment capital from institutions that are not owned and operated by black people. Sure, we see the value in creating products specifically for us, and though the rest of the world clearly should with report on top of report indicating that black buying power will reach $1.1 trillion in just three short years, as Black Voices points out, Roose’s dismissive comments are reflective of a larger mindset of individuals and corporations who have no desire in backing, much less buying, black. And then we are left once again struggling to prove our value in more ways than one.
In a lot of ways, the joke is on Roose because if he were more business savvy he’d be trying to get in on the goods and purchase some stock in companies like Naturally Curly and the slew of others that will no doubt follow—not to mention the wellspring of corresponding products that are popping up on shelves by the day. Unfortunately though, black people will still bear the brunt of his condescending remarks as long as people with power buy in to his mentality that investing in black is whack.
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