Beauty

This is the new chapter of the black hair industry, and it’s pretty powerful

Black women are becoming an invaluable voice within major beauty brands. Or better put, that invaluable voice is finally being listened to. Stylist looks into how the black hair industry is evolving to make those who know it best heard, valued, and celebrated.

If a system doesn’t work for you or excludes you, do you fix the system? Or build your own? The black hair industry is worth an estimated £88 million, with black women spending six times more on hair care than their white counterparts. It’s hard to fathom why so many huge companies chose to ignore that market for so long.

Six months ago, Stylist ran a piece on black beauty entrepreneurs who began to lovingly develop the products they themselves so desperately needed, tired of afro haircare being under-served or ignored. Propelled by the natural hair movement, such product makers, along with service providers, influencers, hair stylists and consumers, are all interwoven in supporting a grassroots new dawn in black hair care. But this acceleration of business and development has seen black women not only creating their own, but also taking on roles in predominantly white spaces and helping to fix the industry at large.  

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Stylist recently attended an insider event run by HairCrush UK, an online platform bringing knowledge and beauty brands to one cohesive place. The events aim? To link women in the industry together and discuss its growth and future, consisting of renowned hairstylists, entrepreneurs, influencers, and experts from brands like Cantu, Dyson, Afrocenchix and Antidote Street.

Spending that time with women who are so passionately creating and driving the industry forward made me feel overwhelmed with gratitude that’s been simmering for some time now. I don’t just have an ever-growing arsenal of glee-inducing products and tips to thank them for – there’s so much more that’s coming to fruition in today’s beauty climate. 

Like so many women, my relationship with my hair and my very identity has blossomed with the weight of a community that gives it so much value and love. Receiving a clear message that actually our hair is worth care, thought and quality products is so important in continuing to remedy women’s attitudes toward their hair. Once you add on the fact that black women are infiltrating the industry to spread their knowledge and empowering achievements in their fields, it’s nothing short of inspiring. 

Shown up and out-performed by afro hair entrepreneurs, big brands are finally listening and seeking advice. The most publicised example is Pantene, which released their Gold series last year, a range for afro hair with no silicones, parabens or sulphates. The difference to every other mainstream line? It was developed by 11 Ph.d scientists, 40 hair stylists, and a dermatologist – all of whom were black. It’s clearer now than ever before that there’s no shortage of black professionals to choose from and more brands should be utilising them.

The women making their voices heard aren’t always so publicly celebrated or intentionally turned to. Sometimes it’s just about having that voice in the room. Jenavi Adisa, counter manager at Bumble and Bumble, spoke during a panel discussion about having her opinions heard as a black woman, how those she was working with wanted to learn. Her comments on catering for broader curl types, the choice of curl types shown in the advertising, and even better suited gift purchases when targeting that market, did make change. “Being on the inside and giving my opinion, I find that it goes along way,” Adisa explained. “Even though it’s just one little drop of water, it goes a long way.”

Existing myself in largely white spaces, I know the weight on your shoulders feeling like it’s all on you to get the issues heard or correct misinformation. So I’m so proud of the women doing just that. The hardest part is the fear that it will fall on deaf ears. It’s a fear of rejection or dismissal and it’s born from experience, but that may finally be changing. 

Also speaking at the event was lead stylist at Dyson Beauty, Zita Ebunam. She joined as part of the demo stylist team launching the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer back in 2016. Engineering-wise, it was a game changer upon launch – faster, lighter, far healthier for hair – but what was missing was an afro pick attachment. Ebunam pushed for and helped create a clever wide tooth comb attachment that really works, unlike the typical cheap plastic pick attachments which are prone to tangling, falling off the dryer, or teeth snapping into to razor sharp stumps that near scalp you.

Ebunam spoke of falling in love with not only Dyson’s commitment to innovation, but the fact that they listened and truly wanted to create the best tool possible. “When you talk, and they start writing things down, you realise ‘Ok, we have a voice.’ It’s a really amazing place to be at the company right now because they’re actually listening.”  

Celebrity hair stylist Dionne Smith also used her extensive years of knowledge to help Dyson with the innovation behind the afro hair attachment. The first fully black woman to be signed as a stylist to a high end UK agency, Dionne’s impressive list of clients seeking her out through Instagram and choosing her over the recommended industry stylists resulted in that agency calling her in and offering her a space.

In her words, the process had the sentiment of: “we can’t beat her, so let’s join her.” And she took that space. She was out there killing it without them, but she’s also now opening doors and shaping things from the inside, working with brands and professionals to educate, linking them together on her membership community, The Coiffeur Group.

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The bubbling industry and culture that was born from the platform given to black women by the internet and social media means they’ve gone over the heads of the powers at be, to share the knowledge and products they need. Now, the powers at be have come knocking and rather than telling them to jog on, people are sharing and communicating.

Trina, one half of influencer duo @curlture, spoke about how she has personally experienced more and more brands seeking advice, testers and focus groups as well as sponsored content creation. She explained how decisions on when and who to be involved with were heavily influenced by prospects of mutual gain, authenticity and aligned goals.

Supporting black owned business isn’t about closing off from the rest when there may be opportunity for mutual or wider positive change to come from collaboration. “I guess it’s just about being vocal, continuing to be vocal, and making sure that things are happening the way we want them to,” says Trina.

Yes, strides have been made in black-owned hair care, and it re-invests into the community – so maybe it seems foolish to be giving that knowledge and potentially business to the brands that neglected it. But if brands are going about this the right way, experts, consumers and employees are ready to share and support, and they’re offering a wealth of resources, it makes it mutually beneficial. Being properly catered for isn’t just about great hair, it’s about worth and belonging. Ultimately, spreading knowledge and making sure everyone has access to products that work for them is the goal.

Does it make me nervous about independent black owned brands competing? Maybe a little. But if big brands are finally wanting a piece of that £88m pie they’ve been leaving to go cold for decades, they’re only going to achieve it by bringing in black women. And these women are taking these opportunities on their terms.

And hey, it’s a big pie.

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Main image: Getty

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