Friday, November 11, 2011

HairTroversy: Koreans in the Black Beauty Supply Business

I ran across this article about Korean beauty supply stores in the Cascade Patch (Atlanta) via

Frank Mohadou closed the door to the beauty supply business he was struggling to keep, in the slice of space he obtained from his sister. The still night held no comfort for the African native as he slid behind the wheel of the $250-a-month car he could barely afford.

Read more here.

Written in May by Kimathi Lewis, the "Ugly Side of the Beauty Supply Market" was an excellent piece. As a former journalist who has written an article or two about the beauty supply industry, it's the first "expose" that I've read about the inner workings of the beauty supply industry.

Is it Really That Bad for Black Beauty Supply Stores?

For years, I've heard that the industry was strictly controlled and strongarmed by Koreans, almost like the Korean mafia. It shut black beauty supply owners out, limiting or banning products they purchase. This was the first written account that I've read that painfully details the Koreans' stronghold on the Black beauty supply industry.

Why is this all on the low? For a long time, folks were afraid to talk. Last year, I heard a radio interview by a member of a Black beauty supply association in Atlanta about how tough it was for Black entrepreneurs to succeed in the industry.

I believed every word he said.

Why We Must Control More Products For Our Hair

Now, I'm all for capitalism. Not to get too political, but I know of very few industries that serve an ethnic group where said ethnic group doesn't control at least a majority of it. It would be like me controlling the market for Passover and Hanukkah merchandise; I'm Black, it's a Jewish product. Or, it would be like me making tortillas for Latinos -- I could do it, but that doesn't mean that it would be successful.

It simply would not happen.

It's something inherently "wrong" about an ethnic product in which the people who the product is intended for have such a small stake in its success. It's also wrong that a product that African Americans consume cannot be purchased in large quantities for the purpose of resale by the very people who it is supposedly made for. I have no legal background whatsoever, but doesn't this smack of an unfair trade advantage?

New Madame C.J. Walkers?

Isn't it bad enough that the once proud Black hair care industry is no longer run by us? Hair used to be one of the few industries that was controlled by us, dating back to the early 20th centuries with Madame C.J. Walker.

White folks didn't care about our hair -- we did -- and always have. Pioneers like Walker and others invented things like the pressing comb for our hair care maintenance. Today, Dudley's is one of the few large Black owned hair care manufacturers. Others sold off to majority interests in the 70s, 80s and 90s to large conglomerates like L'Oreal. Many of the products you see on store shelves, despite names like "African Pride," etc., are just products owned by majority companies; they aren't Black-owned.

It's only been recently, with the explosion of natural hair care products by folks like Lisa Price of Carol's Daughter, Miko and Titi Branch, founder of Miss Jessie's products, Jane Carter and a bunch of others, that we've seen a small portion of the black hair care industry back in our hands.
But that's not enough.

It's Not Enough To Just Wear the Weave/Wig

And when it comes to weave, you can just forget about it. The weave industry wouldn't be where it is today without African Americans. Sure, white girls are weaved up too, but we have very, very little stake in a product that we slap on our heads on the regular.

There's something wrong with that.

You have a few wig makers, Beverly Johnson, Patti LaBelle and Vivica Fox, with wig lines. But other than that, our control is very, very little.  It's time that we regain control of an industry that we use. It's time to fight with our dollars, purses and wallets.

Black Beauty Supply Stores Need Our Support

When you see a Black beauty supply store owner, support them. Yes, their prices will probably be higher. And there shelves may be a bit emptier. But you'll have the added benefit of knowing that your dollar is probably going to travel further in your community than to just simply walk out of it with no added benefit.

And, if you have a large hair purchase to make, please make it with people who look like us. I'm all for customer service. But you know that, in many cases, we don't get that when we go into Asian-owned stores. We get just the opposite -- followed around as if we are going to steal their products, little to no product advice, and no refunds or even exchanges many times.

Black beauty supply owners and businesses are struggling.

I'm all for capitalism, but unfair advantages -- shakedowns, product limitations and the like -- isn't fair business. It's not an equal playing field. The only way this will change is if we acknowledge it and move to change it.

Let's give Black beauty supply owners and Black hair care manufacturers a bit of the loyalty that we've given to others over the years -- many of whom don't deserve it.

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