The History of Black Hair Care Entrepreneurship

In my bio, I believe I mentioned that I am a theater major. What I did not mention is that I am also a slight history nerd. Especially when the topic is Black history. Over the course of the semester, as I’ve sifted through different articles about the industry, there is always a brief explanation about the history of this industry and its humble beginnings. The history of black business owners, entrepreneurs, and inventors is so relevant to American history even though their stories are rarely ever told. As I went to write my final blog post for the semester, I felt as though it would not be complete without a short history lesson on how far this industry has come and to possibly reflect more on its potential growth. I want to explore how even when racism was rampant, black owned businesses, specifically in the hair industry, were able to thrive.

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I remember learning about Madam C.J. Walker in elementary school. She was a black woman and the first recorded self made millionaire by profiting from the black hair industry. She was the daughter of enslaved parents and was orphaned at the age of 7. Essentially all odds were against her on a systemic and individual level. Even so, she was able to become an extremely successful entrepreneur and innovator. What about the black hair care industry helped it to become a space for entrepreneurs to thrive?

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In Africa, hairstyles could indicate tribal identity and social status. Enslaved people brought and cultivated these traditions with them through the slave trade. Hair continued to play an important role in everyday life. Post emancipation, black people became more interested in processing and pressing their hair as they felt a new pressure to try and adhere to white European beauty standards. Because hair has always had an important and unique role within the black community, Madam C.J. Walker was able to profit from this and thrive in a space that was not white dominated. Like any entrepreneur, she identified a problem and built her brand around a solution. After suffering from a scalp disorder that caused her to lose her hair, she created products for black people the expand the length and amount of their hair. Crowdfunding and crowd-sourcing through the internet obviously did not exist back then so instead, Walker would travel around the South and Southeast promoting her products and giving lecture demonstrations of her “Walker Method”. She would also train other hair beauticians to practice this method and even opened her own school.  During the civil rights era, the culture shifted and Black people began to take ownership of their natural hair and wearing afros. Hair became highly politicized. With this expanded even more opportunities for entrepreneurs to find problems and solutions and start a business. I believe that these more dated stories of entrepreneurship are rich examples for the idea of bootstrapping as it relates to starting a business. Walker had no other choice but to use her own funds and networking skills to create a prototype and gather sufficient funds for a startup and later on a million dollar company.

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*Afro pick used to style afros

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*pictured: Angela Davis, civil rights activist wearing an afro

Natural Hair and the Service Industry: Salon Owners

A few years ago, I used to be obsessed with reality television. Jersey Shore, America’s Next Top Model, American Idol, etc. You name it, I probably had seen it even though most of these shows were a bit mature for my age. I believe it was around the time that I was in high school that this new show had aired on VH1 called L.A. Hair. It followed the life and career of a black business owner named Kimberly Kimble who owned her own hair salon and had a plethora of celebrity clients. Besides the necessary messy drama involved in the story, I actually was very inspired by the business aspect of the plot and getting a sort of inside look at the hair stylist industry. The show portrayed Kimble receiving a diverse group (gender and ethnicity) of clients, but also the majority of her clients, including celebrities, were black women. Looking back on the show, now that I am taking an intro course on entrepreneurship, I am realizing how this reality show actually did cover some important topics about owning and running a business as an entrepreneur. Although the owner was extremely gifted with styling and caring for hair, she still had a whole team of stylists to help run the salon. Even her mother would sometimes come in to work hours, help supervise, and mentor her daughter. Later on in the show she went on to hire a nail technician and a female barber to add to what her business could offer. The show also expressed lessons on how one can learn and collaborate with competition, the different tactics used with advertising and in gaining everyday and celebrity clients, and rules on keeping a positive and professional environment even when things get chaotic. Unfortunately, the show only had one season, but even with one season on a major network, the name and reputation of the salon gained an exponential amount of attention. Kimble was even booked as head stylist for Beyonce’s majorly acclaimed visual album titled Lemonade!

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Before I finished this blog, I thought it was only appropriate to mention the company Devacurl. The company has been around since 1994 but I have only heard of it in recent years. Maybe you’ve heard it? Being someone with curly hair, it is a name that I have heard pop up many times. Unfortunately I have not had any interaction as a consumer with the company yet, but I know a few people who have and have no complaints. What I find so intriguing about this company is how multifaceted it is. Not only does it sell its own products, but salons and hairstylist can become “devacurl certified”, meaning not only are they trained to cut, style, and care for curly hair, they are also trained to teach their clients about better ways to maintain their curly hair. The company does claim to be for all curly hair types, but I am a little skeptical because usually companies that are not specifically geared towards the hair care of black women will not take the time to learn of the proper way and proper ingredients needed to care for natural hair that grows out and towards the sky. But just the fact that the company acknowledges that curly hair is complicated and comes in many forms is enough to convince me to try out the products and service.

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I believe that the services offered within the curly/african american natural hair community and industry are extremely important because of the extreme and unique (for lack of better terms) “personal-ness” that comes along with the business providing the service. Many people, especially clients with curly hair often for a unique and strong bond of trust and loyalty with their hair stylist. The familiarity and loyalty these businesses form with their customers is something I feel as though businesses in other industries could only dream of.


Is Natural Hair affordable?

The past few blogs have mainly highlighted smaller hair care businesses. Whether a smaller, lesser known brand like the concoctions that self made entrepreneurs sell on YouTube, or popular brands that are sold in major department chains like Target, the products and services sold in the natural hair industry are no doubt expensive. That said, black women have in general had a history of spending a ton of money on hair. Whether it be on weaves, wigs, shampoos, curl creams, black women invest a lot of money into their hair, causing the industry to continuously grow exponentially. Major hair care lines such as Pantene, Dove, and Suave have recently recognized the growth and potential of this industry and have adapted by either using ingredients in their products that are also used in black hair care products such as being sulfate free and incorporating shea butter, creating new products that are supposed to cater specifically to black people, for example, Pantene has a gold series and uses black models and models of color to advertise it, or these major brands will buy out smaller hair care companies that have already been catering to black people’s natural hair. Everyone wanting in on the ever-growing natural hair care industry has caused a lot of tension between small homegrown businesses and major hair care lines. With the variety of hair care businesses within this industry, one might wonder how owners decide on pricing for their multitude of prices. According to my textbook titled Entrepreneurship The Practice and Mindset by Heidi M. Neck, Christopher P. Neck, and Emma L. Murray, there are multiple ways to value a product. When the natural hair care industry was still in its early stages of growth in the early 2000’s and there weren’t many competitors, many owners could probably use skimming as a way of pricing. I would imagine today that a lot of natural hair care products are priced through competition-led pricing because usually the brands I see in stores are all in the same range which is about from $10 to $15 depending on the product. I also believe that in the natural hair care community, there is a lot of value-based pricing where the products price depends on how much value it has to the customer. Buying these high end natural hair care products has a plethora of benefits for its consumers involving the quality and health of their hair.

Yelani hair care line

Yetunde Jude is founder of a natural hair care line called Yelani All Natural Collection. She is also the author of The Black Hair Care Revolution – A Simple Pocket Guide to Growing and Maintaining Natural and Permed Hair. She is an upcoming and very notable entrepreneur and inventor in this industry. There are countless interviews on the web about her work and daily life and she even has an article on her on the Forbes website. Jude was always interested in hair care and from a very young age, she learned a bunch of different home remedies to condition her hair from her mom. She had observed how multiple African American women would stop to ask her how she kept her hair so soft. Then she identified the problem. Many African American women desired softer, more manageable hair, but did not have the means or knowledge to achieve these goals. After seeing the impact her advice had on Black women’s’ self esteem, with a charitable heart, she started out with a website and then a book full of tips on how to care for kinky curly hair in its natural state and when it was chemically processed. Later on, she began to create her own products. Jude claims that all of her products are plant based, even the preservatives. When asked how she stays true to her brand, Jude is sure to mention how Yelani only works with companies that share the same vision and values, which I believe is an important note for all aspiring entrepreneurs. The Forbes article had mentioned how the most important challenge for startup businesses is appealing to investors. In relationship to my blog, this made me curious about how much hardship was faced in this step by aspiring natural hair entrepreneurs. I could imagine some push back by investors on the lines of race. When I think investors, I think older white people. So, how does a business model with products and services specifically for and by mostly women of color convince investors to commit? I would imagine the lack of being relatable would make it more difficult to attract investors. That being said, my guess would be that even a business that says its products are for women of color with kinky curly hair can still be useful to other hair types. Jude says all of her products are plant based and all natural, so I cannot imagine any products in the line having the ability to damage any hair type, because although hair on black people is usually thick and course, it is by far the most sensitive to damage and breakage. All in all. The work of this young African American mother is nothing short from inspiring. I am sad to say I have never tried this product though. I did look at the prices of some of the products on Amazon and it is safe to say as a “broke college student”, I can definitely not afford to try these products. Maybe one day in the near future. But that experience might have just inspired my next blog post. Why are most of the products and services involved with the Natural Hair Care Industry so expensive?

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Natural Hair and Entrepreneurship

So the concept for my blog came to me when scrolling through Youtube videos. In my free time, I am always watching videos on hair care, looking for new home remedies and products for long, healthy, thick, and curly hair. There is a whole community of mostly female identifying people creating videos and sharing routines and home remedies for taking care of their hair. One day I came across a channel called Curly Proverbz. I believe the woman who runs the channel is Afro Latina and she has this beautiful long thick curly hair that looks so healthy. Her secret to growing and retaining the length of her hair was developed through research in Aryuvedic remedies. In the United States, Aryuveda is considered as alternative medicine. The concept has its origins in India, but it is practiced all over the world. Essentially, it is the process of becoming the best version of your earthly self through the use of different herbs and natural ingredients, meditation, and prayer. Curly Proverbz focuses on the herbs and natural ingredients used in the Aryuveda process. These ingredients have been proven to dramatically stimulate hair growth and retention. Through this research she managed to create her own concoction of oils and herbs that helped her hair to grow amazingly long and thick. Even though all the ingredients of the concoction are known and accessible to her followers, she still manages to sell her own bottles of the mixture and has even created her own company. I told this story because I feel like it is entrepreneurship in one of it’s simplest forms. She was able to identify an issue which was women of color having a hard time growing long healthy hair. She mentioned how she had observed that most of the hair used in the synthetic hair industry is from Indian. Indian and other east Asian women have been growing thick, long hair for centuries. Yes part of it was genetics, but through research, she would soon discover that the key to that luscious hair was in the process of taking care of it. Some other favorite curly hair youtubers who have used their YouTube for business opportunities include: Lipstickncurls, Shimahair21, and Snoblife. I also appreciate how social media such as Instagram and YouTube are huge advertisement vehicles for the natural hair care industry. It is such a community, it is so easy to find reviews on products and it makes the businesses and services of this industry feel so much more personable.

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