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Beauty industry to empower Black women of the future

Image: Astrid Stawiarz

The top five beauty companies in the world are run by men. Revlon appointed its first female CEO ever in 2018, Debra Perelman. The top seven companies in beauty own 182 brands between them. Black women are the biggest consumers of beauty, certainly in the US and Africa, spending six to nine times more on hair and beauty than their white counterparts. However, Black women do not feature in any of the above-mentioned ownership. This is the current picture of the beauty business today. But it can and should change.

Being stuck at home on and off for 18 months and counting has seen many of us change our daily grooming routines to much simpler, possibly more time-indulgent ones. At-home facials and seven-step hair wash days are suddenly not so daunting. Some of us may have even started mastering our own nails, while others have their trusted go-to nail technician on call for at-home services.

When it comes to professional beauty services in South Africa, hair and nails are ahead of skin, makeup, and body treatments. Our hair industry is still largely informal and unregulated, while more hair establishments are also offering nail services. We have some of the best spas in the world and our natural setting alone inspires wellness. Beauty therapy is still a popular profession among many school leavers and more young entrepreneurs are delving into the business of beauty.

Despite our beauty landscape being home to traditional beauty jobs, such as therapists, hairdressers and makeup artists, and budding indie beauty jobs, there are still barriers of entry that make it harder for Black women to thrive. First is the issue of capital. Black tax is real, but generational wealth is still possible.

Government funding can sound daunting but is worth considering. Thankfully, there are great incentives and financial aid for Black female entrepreneurs available. Second, is a lack of information. It’s important to educate yourself around the industry’s inner workings and talk to people already in the business to lessen intimidation and impostor syndrome.

Image: Astrid Stawiarz

Local hair brands

Our hair is a labour of love, which is why most Black women are very selective about who gets to touch it. Ironically, many of us are still washing and styling our hair using imported products, made by one of the handful of white-male-led global companies that own all the brands in our bathrooms.

South African founders of hair brands for women of colour, such Taryn Gill of The Perfect Hair, spotted the gap years ago and went on to locally manufacture products specifically for the South African consumer, taking into consideration our hair textures and climate. Many more have followed on varying scales and it is wonderful to see. With more Black women enjoying a new relationship with their natural hair, there is plenty of room for professional-grade products owned by Black women to start populating our hair salons and bathroom shelves.

Specialised beauty stores

Beauty is still very much a touch-and-feel experience, even though we are all rapidly moving towards online shopping. Consumer expectations and behaviours have changed, but largely the South African beauty shopping experience has not, leading to a growing number of brick-and-mortar store closures and empty counters.

The opening of the latest “luxury beauty destination”, Arc, in Sandton City promises to be different. “ARC is truly a first of its kind in South Africa so prepare to immerse yourself in our modern, energy-fuelled and beautifully designed store. From launching new and exclusive brands into the country to offering unique interactive experiences, it truly is a beauty wonderland,says Arc marketing executive Kelly Fung.

What would be thrilling to see are some well-curated, Black-female-owned standalone stores stocking products dedicated to the needs of Black women. It would be especially nice to see them stand away from malls and capture a different kind of shopper.

Mobile beauty/wellness services

Mobile services are possibly one of the greatest opportunities for growth to come out of Covid-19 — but not many took full advantage. They are personalised and convenient, yet we still don’t have enough of them to rely on. Already popular with bridal parties and other group occasions, they have the potential to grow and incorporate wellness practices like reiki, massages, breathwork, and mindfulness.

Holistic wellness spas and retreats

Africans have always turned to nature for wellness and healing and, as African spirituality gains more awareness, so we will see growth in demand for African wellness rituals. With some of the most beautiful, high-quality spas in the world, there’s no reason why we can’t upgrade them to become more holistic and uniquely African in their approach. Move over Rasul spa treatment and welcome imbola mud baths!

Digital beauty event planners and content studios

Community building is huge with beauty brands, big and small. Digital events have shown brands that they can expand their live audience a far as they wish, as long as they offer the right content. There is a definite need for agencies and studios that specialise in creating brand content with substance: the same content that was reserved for those glamorous beauty product launches, now made more accessible through digital.

Beauty/wellness academies

We need schools that are inclusive in their offering — if we can have a class on a Brazilian blowout, we can have one on how to cornrow without damaging the edges. Black entrepreneurs should see this as a huge opportunity. It goes without saying that wellness should be incorporated in all courses.