Recently we began a series on the quest of Black entrepreneurs to take back the beauty supply industry. Roughly 70 percent of retail stores are controlled by Korean Americans. More importantly, they essentially control distribution of hair and haircare products. Even when Black entrepreneurs buy or open stores, they can be (and often are) put out of business simply because Korean distributors refuse to do business with them — either completely or on equitable terms. Despite the opposition, Black entrepreneurs can take back the industry but the key is Black consumers rejecting white supremacy.
– Nedra Williams, Owner of Solo Beauty Supply, on her relationships with distributors
“Their racism is ingrained. Even the ones I do business with, they are not very nice to me. Even though my accounts go back to the 80’s, I still can’t get any terms.”
Solo Beauty Supply is Black owned and has been in business on the South Side of Chicago well over 40 years. Nedra Williams took over the business after her father passed, years ago. The store is somewhat rare in that they’ve managed to stay in business and maintain decent relationships with their Korean distributors; Williams inherited those relationships from her father, who always paid on time and made those distributors a lot of money. The distributors knew and trusted him, thus they did business with him and continue to do business with Nedra. But those relationships aren’t overly friendly and it’s still a challenge to get favorable terms from distributors and equal access to products. Indeed, even products promoted by Black influencers, like the Vivica Fox Hair Collection, are controlled by distributors such that Nedra and other Black retailers haven’t been able to get them. Williams believes that if store owners bought collectively they could get better terms on many products. Still, the ultimate solution is to buy Black.
– A Solo Beauty Supply customer to Nedra Dokes, after making a purchase
“I support you all because you’re Black owned. I support my people. When you’re not open, I just wait, I don’t go nowhere else.”
Black entrepreneurs are manufacturing many haircare products today. Some are even producing hair that resembles the natural texture of Black women. The natural hair movement has opened the door for Black entrepreneurs to once again claim roles as producers in the industry, not simply buyers. Williams would love to place huge orders for many of these products and in doing so, lessen the control of Korean distributors versus Black distributors but there’s just one problem: Black consumers prefer many of the products that are manufactured overseas and of course, the hair that Koreans manufacture and distribute. Williams can’t buy what consumers don’t want to purchase. Williams is forced to operate within the realities of a business climate in which her clientele is virtually all Black and yet, the manufacturers and distributors of the products they prefer to buy, overwhelmingly, are overtly hostile towards Black people. But Williams is forced with the decision to either buy those products or go out of business.
It’s all about products. Black entrepreneurs can buy stores but they cannot control the distribution of products. The distributors are gatekeepers and they have the power to deny store owners accounts. The distributors can give preference to some stores and better terms to them, while not extending the same to Black store owners. Still, Black consumers continue to empower those distributors with their choices. But why? At the root is white supremacy and European standards of beauty. California recently passed a bill that banned discrimination against natural hair styles. In essence, Black women could and have lost jobs, simply for wearing their hair as it was created. White supremacy. Many Black men have been taught to adopt European standards of beauty, further pushing consumer preferences. White supremacy. That root has sprouted a tree — Black consumers are overwhelmingly, even in 2019, buying hair and chemical products neither manufactured or distributed by Black people. In the end, retailers like Nedra are caught in the crosshairs and our dollar is creating wealth in other communities.
Our “preferences and tastes” are largely a front for the conditioning of white supremacy. Black retailers are caught in a pickle, trying to cater to a market that is unconsciously using their purchasing power to further oppress Black people and place Black retailers at a great disadvantage. Immediately, here are 4 things Black consumers must do:
- Challenge white supremacy, internally
- Ask your stylist to switch to Black manufactured products
- Demand products that are manufactured by Black entrepreneurs
- Demand that other hair and product lines ensure that their distributors treat Black retailers fairly