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Is a Black business obligated to always cater and market to a Black clientele?

It’s an provocative question considering the current dustup over global cosmetic company Black Opal’s new marketing campaign.

Let’s just say that it is pretty…ahem…diverse.

As reported by Black Girl Long Hair:

Black Opal, a well-established cosmetic line, found themselves in hot water yesterday when they responded to a series of Facebook comments regarding ads which seemed to distance them from their overwhelmingly black customer base.

When Black Opal’s Twitter and Facebook followers saw the ads, they asked some valid questions. Most were black women who were under the impression that Black Opal was a brand geared toward black women or brown-skinned women in general.

You can read the exchange between Black Opal and its customers here. The company does assert emphatically that “our leadership has never issued a ‘non-inclusive’ statements” about its product offerings or sales objectives.

Also, on its Facebook page, the cosmetic company posted an archived New York Post profile from 1995 of the company with the caption:

Here’s a little history on Black Opal. Black Opal has never been sold or acquired since it was founded in 1994.

An opal is a precious gemstone that can take on many variations of colors. The black opal is the most rare and most valuable.

Skin of color, like the Opal, is varied, unique and precious. It comes in many diverse hues and tones and demands specific skin care products to address its special needs. Black Opal was born out of that need to treat the rare jewel that is skin of color.

Today we are are a brand for every shade of beauty and as our founder, Carol Mouyiaris stated in the 1995 article below “We are not exclusive.”

And the company also issued a statement to us about what exactly they represent:

Black Opal is a cosmetics brand for every shade of beauty. Black Opal was founded in 1994 by Carol Mouyiaris, a woman of Jamaican decent, and Dr. Cheryl Burgess, an African American board certified dermatologist, to address the skin concerns of women of color. Black Opal has never been sold or acquired, and we continue to support the original brand mission today, by bringing to market products that address the needs of all women of color. As the global environment continues to blend ethnically and culturally, Black Opal is working to ensure we are developing beauty solutions for the wide array of ethnicities, cultures and multihued skin represented in today’s women of color.

Although it claims that it was never exclusive to Black customers, the company does admit that it was founded to “address skin issues for African Americans,” which sounds exactly the same to me. But I’m not a lawyer…

Still, even without the acknowledgment, I think the cosmetic company will have a hard time explaining then why its marketing for the better part of its existence was aimed at Black people, particularly women?

Honestly, I really don’t see why it can’t just be forthright with the people and say, “look, we are trying to grow our market and stay competitive. So while we will continue making products for Black folks, we also, for the sake of survival, have to say All Skin Matters…”

Maybe I am being idealistic here, but I really don’t see folks not being able to understand that. I certainly think it would have been a much more respectful response worthy of a customer base, which has held the company down since its inception.

And in many ways this escape clause Black Opal is using with its consumers is very reminiscent of how we are often treated by mainstream businesses, particularly in the entertainment field, which builds bottom lines using Black dollars, only to dispose of us completely when more White and affluent audiences/customers begin to notice.

It also doesn’t help that this renewed commitment to all diversity follows a growing number of Black-owned businesses that have allegedly “sold out” to either White investors or White clientele. Like last month’s announcement that the makers of Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage partnered with Bain Capital, making Bain minority stakeholders. In lots of ways, Black Opal’s newest ad campaign speaks to deeper fears and concerns we have as a community about the inability to build and sustain not only wealth, but a cultural identity (i.e. a beauty standard) in this country and beyond.

Still, the cosmetic company’s new focus also highlights the tough position in which many Black businesses find themselves. What I mean is that in addition to competing for sales within an already niche market, Black Opal also have to compete with major international cosmetic conglomerates who nowadays are now more willing to actually market to customers outside of the European beauty standard.

So, in spite of our desire to want the products and services we created to always remain For Us, By Us, the reality is that the structure to keep our businesses within the community is just not in place.

And who is to say, that if it were possible, Black businesses should only cater to a Black clientele? As Sundial’s founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis previously told MadameNoire in response to some of its customers’ fears that it was selling out:

“Black companies, like every other company, have to grow and broaden its customer base. If Black businesses don’t do this this, they die on the vine.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I do believe that it is possible to be a Black-owned business that does not exclusively market or target Black people. And although I’m not co-signing how Black Opal went about explaining this to its customer base, I do believe that it does make sense, from a survival standpoint, to broaden their reach.

After all, who better than to represent the standards of beauty for people of color within the cosmetic realm than a company that was originally founded with the formulaic needs of Black women in mind?

Now, what we should be concerned about is whether or not any of these Black-owned businesses are not only taking Black dollars but helping to generate them, by hiring Black people.


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