A Black Hairstylist Questions: Do Black Lives Really Matter in the Beauty Industry?

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BY MIKI WRIGHT

I remember when I was a young girl seeing Glamour with Black model Beverly Johnson on the cover—it made my heart sing. To see someone who looked like me, who was beautiful and poised, had a positive impact. In the early 1970s, the decision by magazine editors to feature Black women on their covers helped to redefine the definition of beauty for everyone. I, for one, am grateful.

Fast forward to 2020, almost 50 years later, to a time when there are so many brands and social media platforms dedicated to beauty. Prior to the recent and tragic murder of George Floyd, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people of color featured.

It brings to mind the question: Do Black lives really matter in the beauty industry?

Black people sure spend enough on consumer and professional products. If you look at demographics, the U.S. Black population is only about 12 percent—however, the number of people with curly and overly curly hair is increasing, whether it’s from interracial relationships or from people of color coming to the U.S. When I look around the beauty industry—which I love and have been a part of for more than 30 years—what I see is a place that is less than welcoming to diversity and inclusion. If you doubt my observations, let’s take a look.

Hair Salons and Barbershops

Hair salons and barbershops remain one of the most segregated businesses in the country. It’s been said that the most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. Sunday morning, when church services start. The next most segregated hour is when people get their hair done. Many salons have very little diversity in terms of staff or clientele. I would say there’s a fine line between specializing and discriminating.

If Black lives really matter, I would encourage every salon or barbershop owner to take a look at their team and ask: Do my team and services reflect my brand? Is my brand still relevant and working? As our country becomes more diverse, is my salon meeting the needs of my community? Have a conversation with your team about how you all may be able to be more inclusive.

Pay attention the next time someone of a different race or nationality walks into your salon. How are they greeted? Are you able to service them? If not, what does that conversation sound like, not only from your salon perspective, but also, from the perspective of the potential patron? If you’re not able to service them, does that person leave feeling grateful that they stopped in or shame or embarrassment?

Cosmetology and Barber Schools

In my opinion, much of the segregation in the industry starts with the cosmetology and barber schools. Most have very little curriculum written around textured hair. 

If Black lives really matter, there needs to be a more inclusive focus, so that anyone who graduates cosmetology or barber school has a working knowledge of all textures of hair: straight, wavy, curly and extra curly.

Just as a doctor has a working knowledge of all parts of the body, we should leave school with an understanding of all textures. And just as a doctor may decide to specialize in only one area after exposure to different options, beauty professionals are able to do the same. If a doctor is treating a patient who has an issue outside of their specialty, they know which type of doctor to refer that patient to. The beauty industry should be a resource for helping all people look and feel great. If I’m not proficient in an area, at least I can make that person feel good and give them a great referral.

Hair Show Education

We leave our salons and schools to pursue continuing education by attending hair shows. When we arrive or flip through the show guide, we see that most, if not all Black educators, are often separated into the Black section, commonly referred to as the “Global Textures” section. Oftentimes, no matter which subject they teach, if their skin is Black, they’re listed in that section.

As hairstylists and artists, we are regarded as “Black stylists” who do “Black hair.” Usually we are not referred to as colorists, master hair cutters, hair designers, or updo or bridal specialists. Just because my skin is Black does not mean that I specialize in textured hair.

Hair Show Stages

On many of the Main Stages at hair shows, if a Black artist being featured, there’s usually not a second. As multiple NAHA Award winner Faatemah Ampey said, “No matter how many awards we win, there’s still not an open door, still not a place at the table, solely because of the color of our skin."

If Black lives matter, we need to be selected on the content, presentation and production ability to meet the needs of the attendees. NAHA is a great place to start. There have been some amazing Black artists who have won, and I’m sure some exceptionally talented ones who have been finalists and entrants. The fact that they entered shows their dedication, passion and willingness to invest in themselves. There are so many talented, professional Black artists who are hiding in plain sight.

Social Media Platforms

Like it or not, social media is the way that beauty is being defined in 2020. We believe what we see, especially if we see it over and over again. Print magazines are fading, and everyone has a phone glued to their hand The images that are featured on social media are defining beauty for everyone. As a young Black girl, seeing Black women on magazine covers was important for me—it helped to shape my opinion of my beauty, my value and myself, and it allowed others to see my beauty and value. Beauty shapes how we see and respond to each other.

If Black lives matter, make it a point to seek Black artists whose work fits with your brand. Consider hiring Black artists as consultants to support you while navigating this new territory. Keep in mind, having one Black person or voice is not enough. Black people have diverse opinions, different points of reference, and no one person can speak for us all. Consider working with a few people to find a fit that is right for your editorial viewpoint and truly creates an inclusive culture and platform.

Haircare and Haircolor Manufacturers

Do Black lives matter to the manufacturers? From much of what (and who) is featured in ads, it would seem that we don’t. Traditionally, Black stylists have used products by Black manufacturers for their clients' care and styling. But most general market haircare lines have a loyal fan base of Black artists who love and use their products too. Are they included in focus groups, product testing or marketing campaigns that could potentially grow that portion of their business?

I’d specifically like to address haircolor companies. Twenty years ago, there was a small percentage of Black hairstylists who were proficient with color and had the client demand for it. Within the past five years, all of that has changed. Many Black hairstylists are true colorists, able to take dark, highly textured hair and transform it into any color in the rainbow, while keeping it healthy. And the client demand is seemingly insatiable.

If Black lives really matter, haircolor companies would begin to recognize and respect the dollars that are being spent by Black stylists. They would hire Black talent to help design the campaigns, as well as execute the hair, makeup, nails and photography, to create the marketing. They would include Black talent in the testing and product development phases and hire Black artists to represent the brands in the classrooms and on main stages.

Boardrooms, Editors, Marketing and PR 

In short, the Beauty industry must do better. Black artists are not invisible—we are spending billions of dollars on professional beauty products, especially haircolor. We deserve respect and acknowledgment for our skills and talent. I truly believe that having a more inclusive and diverse industry will elevate us all to new heights in terms of creativity, collaborations and even sales and profit.

If Black lives matter, we need access, we need to be appreciated for our talents, we need to be paid equally, we need to have the ability to contribute as editors, to be a part of the marketing and PR teams to help shape the narrative that defines beauty for the next generation. Until we have that, it really feels like, in the eyes of the industry that we love and cherish, that we, as Black artists, don’t really matter.

ABOUT MIKI WRIGHT

Miki Wright, founder of BeautySuperStars.com, is respected as a leader in the Beauty Industry; from her work as an award-winning Hair Designer, highly praised Platform Artist, Competitor, Educator and a Business Coach who gets results. Wright has been a long time Educator for Hair Shows such as the International Beauty Shows, Bronner Bros. and the ISSE Hair Show.

Wright was the Owner of Fabulous Finishes Salon and Day Spa, one of the first African-American owned spa facilities in the country! In addition, her salon was selected by Salon Today Magazine as one of the “200 Fastest Growing Salons” in the country, for three consecutive years! In addition, her salon was featured in the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine and Essence Magazine, which brought Black women from across the US into her salon and spa for pampering!

She continues to share her knowledge to help Beauty Pros create the clientele, income and lifestyle they desire. Miki recently created Beauty SuperStars Talk to showcase the stories and celebrate the excellence of Black Artists in the Beauty Industry.

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