Do Black lives really matter in the Beauty Industry?
Updated: Jul 20
I’ve always loved fashion and I remember as a young girl, in first or second grade, going to the school library and seeing a Glamour magazine with the model, Black model, Beverly Johnson on the front cover. It literally made my heart sing. I would read every page and loved all of the images of the photo shoots of her inside. As a young Black girl, it really did have a positive impact on me to see someone who looked like me and was obviously beautiful and poised, wearing all sorts of wonderful clothing, whether it was a Sears catalog or Vogue magazine.
The decisions that were made in the early 1970’s by the Editors of Seventeen, Glamour and later Vogue magazines to feature a Black woman on their cover, as well as inside, helped to redefine the definition of Beauty, for everyone. I for one am grateful.
Fast forward to 2020, almost 50 years later, where we have numerous hair care manufacturers and Social Media platforms that are dedicated to featuring Beauty – hair, make-up, skin and nails, and prior to the recent and tragic murder of George Floyd, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone ‘of color’ featured.
It brings to mind the question; “Do Black lives really matter in the Beauty Industry?” We sure spend enough in general consumer products, as well as professional products, that we really should matter. Literally the number is in the billions, with a ‘B’. If you look at the demographics, the Black population in the U.S. is only about 12%, however, daily the number of men and women with curly and overly curly hair is increasing, whether it’s from interracial relationships or from people of color migrating to the ‘land of the free’. If I look around the Beauty Industry, which I, as a Black woman, absolutely love and have been a part of for more than 30 years, what I see is an industry that is less than welcoming to diversity and inclusion. If you doubt my observations, let’s take a look around the industry.
Hair Salons and Barber Shops
It’s a fact that Hair Salons and Barber Shops remain one of the most segregated industries in the country. In fact, it’s been said that the most segregated hour of the week is 11am Sunday morning – when church services start. The next most segregated hour is when people get their hair done. Many salons have very little diversity in terms of staff or clientele. I would say there’s a fine line between specializing and discriminating.
If Black lives really matter, I would encourage every Salon or Barber Shop owner to take a look at their team and assess, does your team and the services you offer reflect your Brand? Is your Brand still relevant and working? As our country becomes more diverse, is your salon meeting the needs of your community? Have a conversation with your team on how you all may be able to be more inclusive.
Pay attention the next time someone of a different race or nationality walks into your salon. How are they greeted? Are you able to service them? If not, what does that conversation sound like, not only from your salon perspective, but, from the perspective of the potential patron? If you’re not able to service them, does that person leave feeling grateful they stopped in or feeling shame or embarrassment?
Cosmetology and Barber Schools
So what is the starting point of much of the segregation in our industry? In my opinion, much of it starts with the Cosmetology and Barber Schools. Most have very little curriculum written around ‘textured’ hair’. I must commend Milady, the major Cosmetology book publisher, for being much more inclusive in recent years. One of the books featured a Black woman on the cover and they have a very excellent publication devoted to Natural Hair Styling. Black Beauty Professionals wrote much of it with years of experience in that specialty. However, that book is targeted to a specific population, of mostly Black students who want to specialize in the care of Natural and highly textured hair.
If Black lives really matter, in addition to what’s already being done, there needs to be a more inclusive focus, so that anyone who graduates Cosmetology or Barber School has a working knowledge of all textures of hair: straight, wavy, curly and extra curly, or kinky, as some people term it. Just as a physician has a working knowledge of all parts of the body through their training, we should leave school with an understanding of all textures. And just as they may decide to specialize in only one area, based on exposure to different options, we are able to do the same.
If a doctor is treating a patient who has another issue, they can speak to it and know what type of doctor to refer that patient to. The Beauty Industry should be a resource for helping all people look and feel great. If I’m not proficient in an area, I at least can make that person feel good and give them a great referral.
Hair Show Education
We leave our salons and schools to pursue more education by attending Hair Shows. When we arrive or scroll through the show guide, we can clearly see that most, if not all Black Educators are usually separated, or you could say, segregated, into the Black section, commonly referred to as the ‘Global Textures’ section. Which is usually located in a more hard to find location, I might add. No matter what subject they teach, if their skin is Black, they’re in that section.
If Black lives really matter… Gerard Scarpaci recently interviewed me on Hairbrained, and we discussed the way that most Hair Shows are currently arranged. He asked what could be different? I asked, what would happen if Black Educators who teach Color were included in the Color section of the show? And, what if those that teach Hair Cutting, were included in the Cutting section? And we allow the attendees, no matter their race or ethnicity, to choose the Artist that they want to learn from?
I also have to mention, that as Hairstylists and Artists, we are regarded as “Black Stylists’ who do ‘Black’ hair, whatever that is? We are not referred to as Colorists, Master Hair Cutters, Hair Designers, Up do or Bridal specialists. Just because my skin is Black does not mean that I specialize in textured hair. The fact that many of us are ‘bi-lingual’ if you will - able to cut, color and style hair of any texture is most often overlooked, instead of celebrated.
Hair Show Stages,
On many of the Main Stages at Hair Shows, if there is already a ‘Black Artist’ who’s being featured, there’s not room for a second, usually an unspoken rule of thumb. That means no matter how hard we work, as multiple NAHA Award winner, Faatemah Ampey, so eloquently said, while sitting in front of her awards, ‘no matter how many awards we win’, there’s still not an open door, still not a place at the table, solely because of the color of our skin." I might add, that often times, the Main Stages may not feature any Black Artists.
If Black lives matter, we need to be selected on the content, presentation and production ability to meet the needs of the attendees of that show – which may be broader than currently conceived. That also may mean that the Show Directors may need stretch outside of their current go-to contact list and expand the possible candidates as well as the types of presentations. NAHA is a great place to start. There have been some amazing Black Artists who have won, and I’m sure some exceptionally talented ones who have been finalists, and even entrants. The mere fact that they entered assures you that they are dedicated and passionate about their craft and that they are willing to invest in themselves. The NAHA suggestion is only a suggested starting place. There are so many talented, professional Black Artists who are hiding in plain site.
Social Media Platforms
Like it or not, this is the way that beauty is being defined in 2020. We believe what we see, especially if we see it over and over again. Print magazines are, if not gone, fading fast. And everyone has a phone glued to the end of his or her hand. The images that are featured are defining beauty for everyone. As a young Black girl, it was important for me to see someone who was featured, who was beautiful and who looked like me. It helped to shape my opinion of myself, my beauty, and my value. But, as importantly, if not more important, it allowed others, White people, if you will to see that you don’t have to be White and have blonde hair to be beautiful. Beauty shapes how we see each other, and how we respond to each other. Every business has the right to make editorial and Brand decisions on who and what they want to feature, but if you’re not featuring any level of diversity, at a time where the world has become more global and more integrated and where the entire population is turning more ‘brown’, then you are contributing to the problem of racism. And from the outside looking in, it appears that Black lives either don’t matter, or aren’t even on your radar. Both are a problem.
If Black lives matter, make it a point to seek Black Artists whose work fits with your Brand. Consider hiring some Black Artists as Consultants to support you with navigating this new territory. Keep in mind, having one Black person or voice, does not mean that you have ‘cracked the code’. Black people have diverse opinions, different points of reference, and no one person can speak for us all. Just as no one White person can speak for an entire race and what they want. Consider working with a few people to find a fit that is right for your editorial viewpoint and truly creates an inclusive culture and platform.
Hair Care and Hair Color Manufacturers
Then there are the manufacturers. Do Black lives matter to them? It’s hard to tell. From much of what (and who) is featured on their ads and promotional materials, it would seem that we don’t. Traditionally Black Stylists have used more products that were produced by Black Manufacturers for their client’s care and styling. But most general market Hair Care Lines do have a loyal fan base of Black Artists who love and use their products. Are they included in focus groups, product testing or marketing campaigns that could potentially grow that portion of their business?
In this article, I’d like to specifically speak to Hair Color Companies because of the huge, exponential increase in the amount of hair color that Black Artists are currently using. Twenty years ago, there were a small percentage of Black Hairstylists who were proficient with color and had the client demand for it. Within the last 5 years, all of that has changed! Many Black Hairstylists are true Colorists, able to take dark, highly textured hair and transform it into, literally any color in the rainbow, while keeping it healthy. And the client demand is seemingly insatiable. We, as Black Hairstylists are using a ton of hair color and spending millions, if not billions in professional hair color.
If Black lives really matter, Hair Color Companies would begin to recognize and respect the dollars that are being spent by Black Stylists. They would create marketing (by hiring Black Talent to help design the campaigns, as well as execute the hair, make-up, nails and photography needed). They would include Black Talent in the testing and product development phases. And hire Black Artists (at the same rates as their White counterparts), to represent the Brands in the classrooms and the Hair Show stages, and, of course, Online, until we can resume in person education. The buying habits of Black Beauty Professionals would need to be studied and possibly packages created to meet the needs of how we buy. We may spend as much over time, but not always in a one large purchase.
Boardrooms, Editors, Marketing and PR – and Equal Pay
In short, the Beauty Industry must do better. It must at least catch up to the Fashion Industry’s strides that were made almost 50 years ago. The Fashion Industry is not perfect with equality by any means, but the Beauty Industry still lags far behind them.
As Black Artists, we are not invisible, we are a part of this country and this industry and we are spending billions of dollars on professional beauty products, especially hair color. We deserve respect, acknowledgment for our skills and talent and I truly believe that by having a more inclusive and diverse industry, it will elevate us all to new heights in terms of creativity, collaborations and even, increased sales and profit.
In summary, if Black lives matter, we need access, to be appreciated for our talents, to be paid equal to our White counterparts, to have the ability to contribute as Editors, being part of the Marketing and PR teams to help shape the narrative that defines beauty for the next generation. Until we have that, it really feels like, in the eyes of the industry that we love and cherish, that we, as Black Artists, don’t really matter.
The amazing thing is, in 2020 that we, as Black Artists, have the resources, platforms and exposure to create our own narrative, whether any of these changes occur or not. And we are. Even in the status quo, Black Beauty Pros are excelling in owning profitable salons, providing educational content, creating their own events, film and television and editorial work. We are winning competitions, coaching others, profiting from our own product lines, are top Influencers and so much more. That's why I've started doing interviews with Black Artists who have excelled, despite the challenges.
Beauty SuperStars Talk celebrates the excellence of Black Beauty Pros and provides a safe space for them to tell their own stories. The highest paid Hairstylist in the US, Ted Gibson: Barber, School Owner and Educator, Rodrick Samuels, Jessica Kidd, the Founder of Black Colorists Matter; Master Colorist, Jamez Smith and Balayage Queen, Joie Wallace have already shared their stories. Click here to view them all.
Some upcoming guests are:
Colorist and Activator, Keya Artistically;
Patric Bradley who's built an Education and Product Empire;
Film & Television Hair Designer, Ralph Ochoa;
L'Oreal Executive, Mezei Jefferson;
Multiple NAHA Winner, Michelle O'Connor, to name a few!
Our stories have the power to inspire, to educate and to heal. I hope you'll join us in celebrating these dynamic individuals, as we seek to create more inclusion and diversity in the Beauty Industry. Click here to join us for the next episode of Beauty SuperStars Talk!
P.S. Please leave your comments below, I'd love to know what you think!
Miki Wright, founder of www.BeautySuperStars.com, is respected as a Leader in the Beauty Industry; from her work as an Award Winning Hair Designer, highly praised Platform Artist, Competitor, Educator and a Business Coach who gets results. Wright has been a long time Educator for Hair Shows such as the International Beauty Shows, Bronner Bros. and the ISSE Hair Show.
Wright was the Owner of Fabulous Finishes Salon and Day Spa, one of the first African-American owned spa facilities in the country! In addition, her salon was selected by Salon Today Magazine as one of the “200 Fastest Growing Salons” in the country, for three consecutive years! In addition, her salon was featured in the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine and Essence Magazine, which brought Black women from across the US into her salon and spa for pampering!
She continues to share her knowledge to help Beauty Pros create the clientele, income and lifestyle they desire. Miki recently created Beauty SuperStars Talk to showcase the stories and celebrate the excellence of Black Beauty Industry Professionals.
Be sure to visit www.BeautySuperstars.com for a free gift.