When the natural hair community took off on YouTube in the 2010s, the name of the game was DIY. Brands largely weren’t making products that allowed Black hair to thrive, so “naturalistas” took their needs into their own hands, concocting mixtures in their kitchens and sharing what worked for them online. But as more Black-owned hair brands get adequate funding and become available at national retailers, natural hair care will no longer need to be a science experiment.
“There was a time when [natural hair care for Black folks] was all about mixing things,” says Winnie Awa, founder and CEO of online textured-hair coaching platform Carra, which launched in January 2021. “There are obviously people who have a real interest in ingredients...But for people who don’t, it's great that there are more products [for textured hair] that exist in the market.” For example, Bread Beauty Supply, a member of the Sephora Accelerate class of 2019, released a mud mask in October 2021 that is a pre-made version of a DIY bentonite clay mask that has been a go-to for many with textured hair.
This at-home tinkering is not only time-consuming, Awa says, but when people don’t have the necessary knowledge of ingredients, DIY hair care can also be damaging for your tresses. Bread founder and CEO Maeva Heim (who is also a Well+Good Wellness Trends Advisor) agrees that the proliferation of homemade solutions on social media and other online forums has led to the spread of harmful misinformation, and she’s hoping that brands dedicated to natural hair care will be able to remove this guesswork and create products that are better for hair health. “For Bread, our plan is to really try to be a brand in the space that can simplify and clarify a lot of that confusion so that our customer can really start to make decisions based on true knowledge,” Heim says.
“There hasn't been a huge amount of scientific literature and studies that are centered on textured hair. And a lot of that is because when companies create new ingredients, the focus has always been on Caucasian hair.” Maeva Heim, founder and CEO of Bread Beauty Supply
Products that better serve textured hair begin with more research. “There hasn't been a huge amount of scientific literature and studies that are centered on textured hair,” says Heim. “And a lot of that is because when companies create new ingredients, the focus has always been on Caucasian hair.” Cosmetic chemist Erica Douglas, MS (aka Sister Science) recalls, “I remember speaking with some industry experts who provided the tresses [for hair product testing] and they were like, ‘Oh, no. This isn't natural Afro or textured hair’…Basically what they would do is take Caucasian or Asian hair and put it through different processes to make it curly."
Now, Douglas says that she’s seen an increased interest within the cosmetic industry to research “materials that are safe and effective around the various pain points of textured hair…[including] detangling, moisture retention, and being able to straighten your hair in a healthier, safe manner [without] disturbing or destroying your curl patterns.”
Heim is optimistic we’ll see continued progress on the research front in the coming year thanks to the increased funding Black-owned beauty brands have received since 2020. “I think what we'll now see as a result of [the influx of dollars for Black-owned brands] is the opportunity for these brands to invest in studies and literature so that we have the information available [to] make better products and give people the opportunity to make better decisions about their hair,” she says.
In the first half of 2021, venture funding for Black-founded businesses in the U.S. across all industries quadrupled (but, it should be noted, this remains a meager slice of the total investment pie). And in 2022, we’ll start to really see the impact that investment will have on hair-care brands, particularly when it comes to shelf space in national beauty retailers, where options for Black hair have historically been relegated to sparse “ethnic” aisles.
Indie hair-care brand SKIMDO received $50,000 in grant money from Glossier in September and, later this month, is set to release its second product ever—after 10 years of consistently selling out of its highly sought-after seven-day curl cream. Sunday II Sunday, a brand that creates hair-care products for Black women who exercise often, received $4.2 million in Series A funding in March 2021 to support an expanded brand footprint. After focusing mainly on direct-to-consumer sales since its 2020 launch, Sunday II Sunday is now available to purchase in-store at Ulta Beauty (products hit shelves in early November) and the brand plans to expand into more physical retailers in 2022. Ulta now carries 21 textured hair-care brands, up from 15 last December, with plans to continue expanding this category in 2022.
Thirteen Lune, an e-commerce beauty platform that has grown from carrying 13 brands to over 100 since its launch a year ago (90 percent being Black-and-brown-founded) and received $3 million in seed funding in November, is also expanding its reach to major brick-and-mortar retailers. In October, Thirteen Lune launched as the flagship beauty retailer in 10 physical JCPenney locations, with plans to be in 300 JCP stores by the end of 2022. This in-person collaboration currently features eight textured-hair-care brands, including Vernon François, AfroPick, and Canviiy. Beyond JCP, Canviiy—which just expanded its line to add a shampoo, conditioner, and scalp balm that acts like modern hair grease—is also available online at Target and in some CVS Pharmacy stores. It’s expanding its CVS footprint in 2022 and also joining the shelves at Sally Beauty Supply. On deck for AfroPick next year are new designs, new products, and a new blog that the brand will use to bring forward more stories from its community.
“Now, across all price points, women with textured hair are able to go and see themselves reflected on shelves in a way that they never had before,” says Nyakio Grieco, co-founder of Thirteen Lune. And for founders (and future founders) of textured-hair-care brands, “they're going to have the opportunity to reach so many more people. And, we, as consumers, are here and waiting for it."
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