Feedback from your own community can sometimes be a challenge, to say the least. I’ll never forget in 2003 after authoring, “Hair Rules: The Ultimate Hair Care Guide for Women with Kinky, Curly or Wavy Hair,” I got some surprising feedback from a misinformed reviewer. “A. Dickey is a Caucasian hair stylist who prides himself on being able to do all hair types,” the woman wrote. “I agreed with many of his concepts. However, there are some things that don’t make good sense for our hair and its care and only someone who has experienced our problems firsthand can relate.” I’ve been the pale red head in a family of brown people all my life, so mistaking me for a white man wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but the reviewer kept me thinking about: who identifies with who? What does it mean to be black-owned, and why does it matter?
The theory that we can best serve our own community (especially, when it comes to beauty) can be a solid one and has definite merit, but, Lord knows it would be great to see our money back in the community. Black folks in America only spend 2 cents on every dollar at black-owned businesses. So, the obvious theory has always lived in this idea that if black people put more of their money into black-owned businesses, we would in turn strengthen our communities. Trust me when I say I’m down. All my partners & nearly all our employees are black friends & family. As challenging as it can be at times, we try and use all things black! Vendors, suppliers, etc.
Just as my own community has always been important to me, so too has the idea of diversity and inclusion. Hair Rules brand is not only a reflection of that value, but my solution to a historically segregated industry and retail landscape. We have been marginalized for so long that all too often I think black owners marginalize themselves by not thinking more broadly about the entire market. And as my grandfather always told me, “All money is green.” The big white corporate brands certainly have no problem seeing that point. Take Dove for example, they were slow to include us but once they realized there was money to be made, they jumped on the bandwagon. Like they cared about natural hair since the days your mama used to hot comb in the kitchen.
Oh, but by-the-way, if you’re black-owned thinking holistically about the market, better be a part of the business strategy from jump cause baby! We all know we are hardest on our own. Shea Moisture was recently dragged on the social media zone for “whitening” their ad campaign to appeal to everyone. “When I get home all of my shea moisture products are going in the trash,” wrote one angry customer. “Y’all are gonna learn the value of the black woman’s dollar today.”
Running a successful black owned business is not just about creating a holistic vision, it’s about the investment behind the business. I’ve always thought of my business as black-owned because I created Hair Rules. It was a fresh idea free from the archaic ethnic-specific approach to beauty. It was “hair care and styling solutions for a multi-textural world” and “one brand for all textures,” and baby it was mine! Uh sort of…but the truth was my investor was white and so at the end of the day controlling interest belongs to the man with the deepest pockets.
Luckily for me my investors also happened to be my friends and when they wanted out, they graciously allowed me the opportunity to buy back their shares. As I searched for new investors I became acutely aware of the lack of black venture capitalists available to invest in relevant black businesses. As a recent article in Madame Noire noted, “We need black-owned venture capitalist firms whose jobs are to provide financial and other support to black-owned companies. Without that sort of dedicated investment, black-owned businesses will continue to be swallowed up by the system.”
There’s no one formula to making black-owned work. The black women who founded Carol’s Daughter and Oyin Handmade had their own business plan for success. And Shea Moisturizer, owned by a black man and his family have been able to put massive amounts of products everywhere for people of color. As wrong as the reviewer was about who I was, she was right in the sense that supporting our own is never a bad thing. In the case of beauty products, it has liberated us from that one dusty shelf in a random drug store.