Actor and comedian Chris Rock released a film in 2009 centered around Black women and the beauty industry. Taking a closer look at the relationship between Black women and their hair, the film “Good Hair” uncovered truths about the significant role Black women play in the multibillion-dollar industry. It also helped to highlight the versatility of Black hair and why Black women dominate the hair and beauty business.
In 2019, Essence magazine reported that African Americans spend $1.2 trillion each year on hair and that number is expected to rise to $1.5 billion in 2021. In the ethnic beauty market, Black consumers spent a collective $54 million of the total $63 million spent in 2017. With such a heavy financial impact, why aren’t more African Americans dominating in ownership.
Asian stakeholders serve as the key demographic in beauty supply ownership and the business of Black hair. Hoping to help shatter the low number of Black owners in the beauty game, in December 2020 Gloria Smith and Tara Smith opened one of the city’s few Black woman-owned beauty supply stores, Total Glamour Beauty Supply, located in Southfield.
“The fact that the industry itself, Black people contribute $2.3 billion in hair care products alone. With that being said, we only own about 4,000 stores across the nation,” says Tara.
Though unrelated, Tara and Gloria formed a sisterhood. With almost 40 years of engineering experience, the duo met at General Motors during their tenure with the company. The now co-owners embarked on the entrepreneurial journey for two different reasons: ownership and a genuine love of hair.
“I’ve loved hair since I was about five years old when I moved to Michigan. I went to cosmetology school. I did work as a stylist in a shop. I had to find other ways to support this passion,” says Gloria.
For Tara, a claim to the neighborhood and a true interest in becoming an entrepreneur helped to shape the decision to open a beauty supply store for Black women.
“When you own a store in your community, you’re vested in the community,” Tara says.
On the heels of pioneer Madame C.J. Walker, who created hair care products and became history’s first Black female self-made millionaire, Black women have continued to make strides in the hair care industry. Though low in representation, Black women are slowing beginning to stake their claim. With more women embracing their natural hair and shopping for products especially made for Black hair, women are shifting the narrative on hair and its biggest players.
A licensed cosmetologist and natural hair stylist at Studio Lush in Southfield, Julisa Anderson has over 14 years invested in the hair care and beauty industry. Although she does not own the shop, she believes the road to ownership is oftentimes laced with obstacles meant to serve as stumbling blocks for Black entrepreneurs.
“A lot of Black women don’t have the knowledge to [start a business] because entrepreneurship is a huge systematic problem,” Anderson says.
Access to starter funds, products and financial support all work together to keep Black ownership to a minimum. In business, branding a self-funded business means complete ownership, but also financial hardships. In addition to providing a service, the emergence of new businesses also means new jobs for the neighborhood.
“We are one of those businesses who are self-funded and we wanted to provide something for ourselves and our community,” Tara says.
Black women, trendsetters in their own right, have helped to create, redefine and recreate iconic hair styles, fashion moments and other looks synonymous with Black culture. Deemed “ghetto,” high fashion institutions have frowned upon Black trends and corporate America has implemented rules and regulations to keep Black hair in check, only to be duplicated, renamed by the masses and praised.
“We created it. It’s in us. We see things. We envision things. We create the style,” says Gloria. “Our creativity, we have to think outside the box because how we present ourselves was looked down upon because we weren’t wearing it [Black hair] straight. Now, we embrace it more and major product lines are creating products that work with our hair.”
As more big brands and corporations get on board with the multibillion-dollar business, gaining the acceptance of the community is the next hurdle. A huge stigma in Black communities is the lack of support for Black-owned businesses. While support from outsiders can be limited, support from others within the community is also a hurdle in claiming a rightful piece of the pie.
“It’s important for us to stick together. Black people don’t have the same opportunities as other races,” Anderson says. “Black people always have to go the extra mile to see the fruits of our labor. We’ve always had to work hard for ours.”
The business of Black hair and beauty, currently, leaves little space for ownership. However, as more Black beauty enthusiasts emerge, the gap will have the opportunity to close allowing for more space for the true pioneers of hair.