This year, Sally Beauty and Cosmo Prof hosted the second iteration of their Cultivate Cohort of Women Entrepreneurs initiative through which they help accelerate and empower women-owned beauty brands through mentorship, grant opportunities, and distribution deals via SallyBeauty.com and Sally Beauty stores. As part of their 2020 initiative, the winning brands, which include UniQurl, True + Pure Texture, Peculiar Roots, and Pattie Yankee Products, were given the opportunity to partake in a four-week long virtual boot camp designed to equip these entrepreneurs with the tools necessary for success.
Among the sessions offered to the winners was one which featured Gabrielle Union and Flawless by Gabrielle Union co-owner and celebrity stylist Larry Sims. MadameNoire was given the exclusive opportunity to sit in on this session, during which Union and Sims shared personal anecdotes and imparted sage advice with these brand leaders as they continue to climb the ladder in the beauty biz.
“Part of our initiative is to lift as we climb,” said Union. “Fifty percent of us are going out of business just during COVID alone. So however we are able to help, we do. We highlight other Black-owned brands on all of our pages. As we climb, we want to lift as many other businesses up as we can.”
Added Sims, “We really feel like there is enough to go around for everyone and if there is an opportunity for us to celebrate Black-owned businesses who are building at the same time, we’d love to use our voice and our platform to celebrate them.”
Here are some of the golden nuggets from the session:
Get rid of the scarcity mindset
“A lot of what stops us from sharing resources and information is fear-based thinking and operating from a place of scarcity. It’s the mindset that there is only so much to go around and I have to hold onto every last morsel or otherwise, I’ll be obsolete and that’s just not true. We have no problem promoting other textured hair companies because we’re not in competition,” said Union. “We do what we do and other companies do what they do. You can big-up so many other businesses and it doesn’t take anything away from you. It doesn’t take away from your sales or your platform or your business plan. If anything, it shows that you’re seeing the bigger picture, which is that all of us are rising. You know, not ‘I’m good as long as my plate is full and everyone else is starving.’ Been there, done it. I have the t-shirt and it’s a terrible experience. If you have to be the one person with a seat at the table, you’re at the wrong table in the wrong house.”
Protect the integrity of your brand
“When we first launched in 2017, it was not a Black-owned company and it showed. It was a Black-fronted company. A lot of Black hair companies will put a Black face out front but everyone who is making decisions from the scientists in the lab to the stockholders — nobody else looks like the consumer and it shows. I was so excited at the thought of the opportunity without really understanding the difference between a Black-fronted company and actual Black ownership,” Union shared. “You have as much say as you have ownership. When we first launched, I happened to be in the throes of the side effects of IVF and I had almost like a headband of straight baldness and I wasn’t comfortable wearing my hair. They didn’t want to wait for my hair to grow back. They didn’t want to wait for me to be comfortable. Even though my name was on the product, I didn’t have ownership. I was like, I need to wrestle back control of this company.”
She added, “A lot of times when we are not in control of our own business, there is such a desire to exploit us. We are unapologetically blickity Black-owned and Black-focused. We are Black-marketed, Black-PR, Black everything. It’s made a world of a difference and it feels better.”
“That’s just the reality of being a Black woman in America. My level of preparedness when I’m dealing with Flawless or any of my other businesses is, ‘Where are the issues at? Let’s come up with solutions on top of solutions on top of solutions so that we are beyond reproach. I don’t want anyone telling me anything about my company that just with a bit more hard work or better communication, I could have figured out on my own. Even though it’s impossible, just trying to magically know what’s around every corner but you know just being prepared. But also, leading with humility. I can be as prepared as I want to be. I can be as successful as I want to be, but I don’t have all of the answers,” Union said. “The level of preparedness, I can’t say enough about. You’ve got to go the extra mile. None of it is fair, but it does put you in a very unique position in the larger business world. We’ve been doing the work for a long time and that’s just who we are as Black folks in this country and it can serve us if we allow it to.”
Build your team
“You have to have a team in place. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to build businesses and keep them afloat. The people on that team, you have to be in alignment. Your morals, your ethics,” the actress and entrepreneur advised. “They gotta be in alignment. I’ve had to have some really uncomfortable conversations and changes had to be made when people have fallen out of alignment.”
“The thing that gets me through it all is being super passionate about what I say yes to. I was once in a place where I said yes to everything because I felt like I need to constantly build and I was trying to keep my feet flat and planted in this industry, but with hard work, I feel like I can only say yes to the things that I am passionate about,” shared Sims.
“I have to prioritize my joy, my peace, and my grace. I grind hard. I work hard. I play hard. On the schedule, there has to be some sleep. There has to be some food. I gotta see my kid. I gotta see my man. Sometimes, you’re not going to get it all in in a day and that has to be okay. That’s where the team comes in. There has to be a team in place,” Union chimed in. “We can’t operate from a place of fear. We can’t operate from a place of scarcity. ‘I have to do it all or they’re going to take it away.’ No, they’re not. You can’t neglect your businesses, but you have to prioritize yourself. I can’t do anything for anyone else or any of these businesses if mama is circling the drain.”
Check your ego
“F your feelings,” Union said. “It’s not about that. This is a business. There is a way to be collaborative with a business in a way that doesn’t become a slave to someone’s feelings. There has to be a collective goal and ego and pride cannot factor into that.”