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By Lurie Daniel-Favors

When Chris Rock’s film Good Hair was released there was a lot of noise made about the fact that most of the people profiting from the massive Black hair industry are not actually Black. It seems everyone is benefitting financially from our collective addiction to hair that we don’t actually grow.

A few weeks ago Mintel, the market research firm reported that over the past five years there was a 26% decline in the sale of hair relaxers.  Natural hair sites all over the place did the hallelujah dance and many in the natural hair community greeted the news with excitement.  The idea that more Black women are beginning to embrace ethnically Black hair (i.e. natural hair) is one that makes many of us happy.

The numbers were truly astounding.

  • Relaxer sales are estimated to drop from $206 million in 2008 to only $152 million this year
  • In the past 12 months, nearly 70% of Black women “say they currently wear or have worn their hair natural”


  • Now, granted I haven’t seen 70% of Black women in my area with naturals (and I suspect part of that decrease is due to the prevalence of hair weaves…), but the numbers are encouraging nonetheless.

    But when I read the report, in addition to getting hyped over the increase in naturals, I was instantly reminded of Civil Rights era bus boycotts. Specifically the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.

    Why? Because just like the Montgomery boycott, for the savvy Black owned hair company, the numbers in that report can mean the difference between financial independence—or not.

    And our decisions as Black consumers may make all the difference.

    History in Context
    For those who don’t remember the details of the bus boycotts, here’s the quick version.

    After slavery, Black passengers were treated like scum third class citizens under legal segregation.  This was especially true when it came to public transportation.  After countless incidents where Black passengers were forced to either give up their seats for White passengers, kicked off of buses all together or subjected to racial violence terrorism, the Black community began to boycott the transportation system and demanded equal treatment.

    The Montgomery Boycott is one of the more famous protests. It lasted over a year and was a tremendous display of Black people really owning their monetary power. Despite the fact that Whites in Montgomery were completely unwilling to provide non-racist equal service to Black bus patrons, they very much wanted the money that Black patrons spent on bus tickets.

    During the boycott, Black taxi drivers stepped up to provide increased services. Black churches across the nation raised money and collected shoes to support the folks who chose to walk to work rather than submit to racist Jim Crow policies. The Black community rallied to keep Black folks mobile—and financially independent—during the boycott.

    However…in the pivotal moments after the boycott’s successful end, the Black community returned to riding buses operated by racist bus company owners.

    But what if instead of giving racist bus owners their transportation dollars going back to business as usual, Black patrons decided to keep their money circulating in their own community? What if during the boycott, the Black community created and maintained its own bus companies, met its own transportation needs and circulated those dollars within its own borders?

    What if instead of celebrating the fact that racists bus owners could no longer openly discriminate, the Black community rejoiced—and then decided it neither needed nor wanted to spend its money with those companies? What if instead, those boycotters chose to take their hard earned money and give it to Black owned bus companies that respected them and their humanity?

    Natural Hair Dollars and The Power of Choice
    Now, what this have to do with the decrease in relaxers and increase in Black women who are choosing natural hair alternatives?

    It all comes down to choices.

    Because believe it or not, the natural hair community is also at a pivotal moment.  We are literally shifting the commerce of the Black hair economy to one that rejects the idea that one must have straight hair in order to be deemed socially acceptable. And since Black women spend a hell of a lot of money on hair care, that shift is under some intense industry scrutiny.

    You see, natural hair websites were not the only ones reviewing that report.

    You can bet your lace front wig that large commercial hair product companies are keenly aware that they are losing money in the hair relaxer market. Anyone who has watched 5 minutes of BET lately knows that companies like Pantene and L’Oreal are hitting the airwaves hard to promote their new products for “naturals.” They’ve even adopted similar language, using terms like “co-wash,” “curl defining,” and “clarifying” to describe their products.

    It’s not because all of a sudden they changed their mind and decided that nappy/kinky/coily hair is beautiful. It’s because they are losing money to natural hair companies owned and operated by Black women. Companies like Going Natural, Karen’s Body Beautiful, Doris New York and Shea Moisture. And they aren’t going down without a fight.

    So now the natural community must choose how to spend our money and whom we will support with our economic power.

    Will we reward companies that played on our insecurities for decades? Will we support companies who profited by reinforcing a standard of beauty that was designed to exclude Black women and our hair?

    Or will we instead choose to support companies started by Black women for Black women? Will we reward those companies founded by sistas working in their kitchens who took the time to blend safe, natural ingredients in ways designed to promote the beauty and health of Black hair?

    Or will we…not?

    Just like those involved in the bus boycotts we have demonstrated our monetary potential.  We’ve shown that “going natural” isn’t just a trend and it is here to stay. Now we have to decide if we will throw our economic might behind those businesses in our own community who believe in the beauty inherent in who we are—or if we will continue in a (bad) tradition of supporting those outside our community who have shown little loyalty to our needs.

    Lurie is an attorney and the author of “Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl. You can find her on Twitter,Facebook and YouTube.

    Black Girl With Long Hair

    Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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    117 Comments on "[Opinion] Why Naturals Should Buy Exclusively from Black-Owned Hair Companies"

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    Cami
    I used to be a diehard PJ and tried just about every natural hair gel, pudding, and cream I could get my hands on. Literally. As long as it had a nice fragrance and didn’t hit my wallet too hard, I was all in. But after googling the ingredients of my total stash, I had to pitch it all, except for just two — Shea Moisture and Kinky-Curly Custard. I recently added two new ones to my stash, Naturally Silk Elements’ pudding and curling cream gel, and said good-bye to Kinky-Curly, but only because of the cost. That said, as… Read more »
    Janae
    I too can’t bring myself to buy any of the “natural” products made by what I call the relaxer companies. I just don’t believe their story. They don’t actually care about hair health (you can tell this by the like quality ingredients), their only goal is the bottom line & I would rather not contribute to it. Motions? No thanks. Dark n Lovely? I’ll pass. Elasta QP? Yeah right. I don’t want any of that junk near my head now that I understand ingredients & have made health my focus. I know everybody won’t feel the same, but to each… Read more »
    Janae

    Low quality, I meant. 🙂

    Jesse

    My all time favorite black-owned companies are Qhemet Biologics and Shea Moisture. Their products absolutely deliver the goods! Thanks for reminding us the power of choice. We can choose who we patronize with our hard earned money.

    Georgina

    Not one of the points here included quality of the product, which people go for, people buy products because they work well for their hair.

    Shea Moisture products are too heavy for my hair, Carol’s Daughter- expensive, so I’ll stick to what is cheap, and works best for my hair..plus I bet these black owned companies hire non-black employees, and non black owned companies Loreal etc hire black employees.

    awanda
    I am all for supporting Black owned hair companies, IF their customer service is up to par. If not, I will not support them simply because they are Black. I recently dealt with a Black vendor whose products were rated on this site. When I eventually received their product, I refused to order from them again, due to the very poor customer. I emailed them at least 3 times regarding my product which I had not received even though I had the tracking number. I didn’t received 1 reply to my emails. There is simply no excuse for this type… Read more »
    Dotty
    I agree with you Awanda and I hate when people diminish bad experiences with black owned companies as if to say you should care less about your money when the vendor shares your skin colour and be equally hard or harder on non black owned companies because they don’t share your skin colour. This mindset that some black women have has led to more than a few being ripped off due to wearing blinkers that say black vendor=must support. Anyone care to recall Moptop Maven or the woman who was selling some hair growth thing? Both disappeared into thin air… Read more »
    Cee Cee

    This is cool, but I hope your practice is the same when it comes to other companies owned by other races. I say this because I see a lot of us just cutting off black companies for one incident of poor customer service, but they take it (and go back for more) from companies that are not black owned.

    I am not saying accept poor customer service – no. I am saying be as hard on everyone else as you are Black people and yes that may mean you stop shopping at Forever 21 0_o

    awanda

    CeeCee, why would you assume I would only be this way with Black vendors? I will let any vendor or store I deal with if I’m not happy with their service. I don’t make excuses for any type of bad/poor customer service!

    Sylvia

    THANK YOU CEE CEE!!! It’s sooo funny how we are quick to cut down a black owned business for whatever we don’t like and get on the bull horn and try to turn everyone against them but I never see them doing that with non-black owned business! It’s like we look for a reason to put down black owned businesses

    First of all

    Thank you. I’m gonna try the Shea Moisture. I buy my hair products from Wal-Mart. I will not give my business to beauty supply stores owned by non-blacks. I use Loreal sulfate free shampoo and Aussie moist conditioner and I have been bothered by the fact that Aussie moist doesn’t advertise in black publications because I’m sure they are aware that they are popular in the natural community. I also use IC hair polisher styling gel. I hadn’t given much thought to who owns the companies.

    First of all

    I’m really going to have to educate myself about this and make some decisions on the hair products I use and where to purchase them. I just feel better buying from a place that sells hair products for every race and not a straight haired person making money from my hair type.

    Cre8tive
    Ummm….no offense, but the owners of WalMart are worse than the owners of the beauty supply stores. WalMart systematically makes business choices that increase their profits while restricting the benefits & salaries of their employees. You may not like that the BSS is owned by a non-black person, but in many cases they are operating in strip malls and plazas that provide local access to the products that stylists and local consumers need. Not all are reputable of course, but neither is WalMart. If you won’t give your money to a BSS owned by non-blacks why give it to a… Read more »
    annmarie
    Not to mention that Wal-Mart, like McDonalds (two of the biggest employers in America I might add), regularly depend on tax-payer supported SNAP benefits (food stamps) and other social safety net living assistance programs to factor in how much they should pay their employees. It’s absurd and maddening, especially considering the billions of dollars of profit and the millions of dollars of tax subsidies companies like Wal-Mart get PER YEAR. That being said, if Wal-Mart is the only option (as it is in a lot of America) do what you need to do. But if you have an option to… Read more »
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