Sisters Break Into Challenging Hair Industry To Open Beauty Supply Store
Most of us know that 9 times out of 10 when you go to the Beauty Supply, the owners and operators of the store are Korean-American. Despite residing in predominately Black neighborhoods and selling to predominately Black clientele, the store owners rarely reflect the demographic they serve.
This is why sisters Judian and Kadeian Brown’s store is so different. These two Black women, who are also licensed beauticians, own and operate Black Girls Divine Beauty Supply and Salon located off of Church Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn
Judian told the New York Times that she often encounters patrons who are surprised to learn that she and her sister own the store instead of just working there.
“I go, ‘Look at all the faces on the boxes. Who should be owning these stores?”
While we could all agree that more Black people should own these stores, that’s not the case around the nation. Of around 10,000 stores that sell hair products to Black women, only a handful of them are owned by Blacks.
According to the Times, Korean- Americans have owned and operated beauty supply stores in Black neighborhoods since as early as the 1960s. These ownerships fueled tensions between the consumers and business owners. There were complaints of racist Korean-American owners following Black customers around the store, assuming that they were going to shoplift. And others took issue because they see Korean dominance in the industry as a way to profit off of Blacks while simultaneously disenfranchising them.
Yet, historically and even today, that discontent has rarely resulted in Black consumers choosing to shop and support Black owned beauty supplies in large numbers, across the nation.
And in many cases, Blacks who were trying to break into the market, faced enormous challenges.
Black store owners ran into problems because wholesalers, who are often Korean, require retailers to buy in bulk to qualify for discounts. Where first-time Korean owners can join forces to split the costs among several store owners, the network of Black beauty supply owners is much smaller.
In Detroit, Princess Hill explained that she would have to order 10,000 berets to get a 50 percent discount and free shipping. But in reality, she might only sell 100 berets in a year.
The inability to get a discount up front often accounts for the higher costs Black owners have to charge their patrons, leading consumers to shop elsewhere and business owners to struggle and eventually close while Korean-owned stores thrive.
But Kaysong Lee, the publisher Beauty Times, says Korea-Americans shouldn’t be demonized for their enterprise.
Lori Tharps, co-author of Hair Story, said before the influx of Korean-American shop owners, there was no one serving the African American market in this way. Instead, Blacks often bought their hair care products from salesmen who traveled door to door.
“A lot of people think these people were taking it away from Black owners, but that’s not the case. They were creating new businesses. And they were doing it in places where nobody wanted to open a store.”
The challenges of breaking into a tough market, make Judian and Kadeian’s story all the more inspiring.
If you’re in the New York City area, you can visit their beauty supply and salon, Black Girls Divine at 3904 Church Ave in Brooklyn, New York.