Josephine Otuagomah, CEO of The Black Hair Book, explains why it’s important for the hair industry to diversify, and how black women continue to push back against mainstream media invisibility.
By Josephine Otuagomah, CEO at The Black Hair Book
Women of colour (WOC) have long suffered unfair public scrutiny and discrimination, many will have experienced this notion directly or be aware of somebody who has. So when the world caught wind of President Trump’s most recent verbal assault on black women, with reporters – April Ryan, Abby Phillip and Yamiche Alcindor – targeted simply for doing their jobs, it felt to many to be a disappointing trip down memory lane we are all too familiar with. But now is a good time as any for black women and one of the biggest industries serving them to rise up and be counted!
The relationship between a black woman and her hair is a special one that runs deeper than many unfamiliar cultures could possibly understand. The way we treat, style and protect our kinks, curls and coils connects us to our community and can even affect our mood; the healthier our hair, the happier we feel. In the UK alone £5.25 billion is said to be spent on hair care, for which black women account for 80% of the total hair product sales. However, there is still a sense of disparity between the amount that black women invest into the hair industry and the amount the industry invests in them.
Mainstream retailer Superdrug released figures showing over two thirds of Black and Asian women felt the high-street didn’t cater for their beauty needs. This statistic is even more concerning when you bear in mind black women are estimated to spend some £4.8 billion on products and treatments a year, with Afro-Caribbean women spending six times more than their white counterparts on their hair.
There is also a serious lack of diversity within the hair service sector in the UK, with the number of British salons and stylists that are properly trained to treat Afro, kinky and textured hair types being painfully low. Of the 35,000 registered hair salons in the UK, only 302 cater to Afro-Caribbean hair. This means that only 1% of all salons are serving the 10% of the population with kinky-curly and multitextured hair. Considering there are almost two million black people living in the UK and the value black women in particular place on hair care, it is baffling that our market is so blatantly overlooked.
According to research by Mintel, larger retailers do not perceive the ethic market as presenting a large enough return on investment, when in truth the possibilities with properly catering to black women and minority markets is endless and open. Suppliers, salons, brands and retailers of within the hair sector who are tentative to shine a light on the forgotten coils of WOC, need not worry about lack of opportunity in profitable expansion, as a report by the Policy Exchange foresees huge prospective growth in the proportion of UK citizens from ethnic minority communities in the next decades. Figures are expected to double to be between 20 and 30 percent by 2050, meaning the face of Britain will be completely different, and the face of British beauty therefore must evolve with it.
There has been an upward trajectory in the number of suppliers, and manufacturers in haircare making moves to better cater for black women in recently, with a number of ambitious black owned businesses such as natural hair care brands Afrochenchix and Root2Tip, actively stepping up to the plate to fill the void. But for this movement in diversity to continue picking up pace, the mainstream British media must be forced to change the narrative of women of colour all together.
Everyday people becoming micro-celebrities from purely speaking their minds, is fast becoming a trend. As the number of outspoken bloggers, content creators, public figures, and media personalities in the public eye increases, as does their influence over consumer behaviour.
According to a study, influencer marketing delivers 11x higher ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing, with 94% of marketers who have used influencer marketing believe the tactic to be effective. When you look at black British female influencers such as Patricia Bright, Shirley Eniang and Jayde Pierce who have a combined subscriber value of almost 4m and video views of their YouTube videos spanning collectively over 300m, the power in the opinions of black women is made blindingly clear. And whether brands like it or not, progressions in hair, beauty and cosmetics, are now having to follow their lead.
Although different in context, April Ryan, Abby Phillip and Yamiche Alcindor, all act as influencers in a similar way to the content creators we see flooding our social platforms. Each reporter publicly voiced their opinions and feelings in the media, fighting against injustices they believed to be wrong. In addressing discrimination with power and poise on the world stage, they effectively displayed themselves as insignias of the public resilience of women of colour, with the public’s support of them acting as a testament to retailers, and advertisers of their value.
As black women continue to inspire others with their voice, push back against public inequality, and speak their truths, they make unavoidable statements to the media, and to the corporate world about the true worth of a black woman. In turn, as brands begin to appreciate and value the power of this demographic, WOC will be solidified as market drivers and muses, helping to diversify sectors such as the hair industry more effectively.