In June 2018, I attended a talk. During the discussion, the former beauty director, and now Contributing Beauty Editor and Columnist at British Vogue, Funmi Fetto, raised the issue of black consumers being underrepresented both in hair and beauty advertising, as well as being snubbed by big brands when it comes to hair and beauty products. She also mentioned that big corporates had mentioned that only once a product for European hair was successful, would they consider a similar afro-hair product centred towards black consumers . When it comes to big beauty, hair and wellness brands and events, black consumers are left feeling, in Fetto’s words, as though they’re ‘not valuable in the industry’ .
As a result, this has led to black consumers creating their own hair and beauty-focused events, such as CurlyTreats, created by Shirvina Best. The event was launched in 2013, to challenge traditional beauty standards in the UK. Shirvina’s contributions have helped to redefine the Eurocentric beauty ideals that are so often shown in the media. CurlyTreats’ ethos is representing the diversity in beauty – recognising the difference in age, race, culture and gender. The first CurlyTreats festival, then named Natural Hair Week, had around 200 visitors in attendance, eager for information on how to take care of their hair, but failing to find the help they needed online and in brand stores. This year’s sold-out event drew in over 10 times as many visitors, seeking advice on everything from exercising with natural hair to going chemical-free.
Attending the event, I was blown away by the range of products, services, and talks – that despite being useful for all indviduals – specifically focused on the diverse needs of black consumers. Despite some hair and beauty corporations taking small steps towards diversifying their ranges, CurlyTreats highlighted the need for much more than keratin shampoos and shea creams. With specialist hair companies such as Your Hair Journey and As I Am offering sulfate-free shampoos, scalp cleansing puddings, and specially-formulated products, and hair wraps and silk bonnets for sale, as well as hair stylists on-hand, CurlyTreats truly encompassed what it means to cater to black consumers.
Despite black hair modules becoming compulsory on hair care courses, many people with natural hair face difficulties when attending salons. Whether it’s the time it takes to find specific service providers, such as lociticians (hair stylists specialising in locs) or dealing with logistical issues such as fair pricing, and easily-accessible locations, finding a natural hair stylist can be both time-consuming and tiring. The likes of Headmasters and Rush fail to provide those with natural hair with the support they need, pushing consumers to build new markets, such as Stella Lucien, one of the co-founders of Afrocks hair.
The online platform connects customers with vetted mobile afro hairdressers in London, explained the need for specialised hair services that provide these services. ‘Lots of women are going natural, but it’s still hard to find natural hair stylists. Afrocks makes the natural hair process much easier. The app vets all stylists who are also reviewed after each job, you don’t need to call salons to find a slot, and you pay only when the task is done.’
Black British women spend an estimated £4.2 billion a year on hair & beauty products and Afro-Caribbean women spend 6 times more on hair than any other ethnicity. So why are big beauty and hair brands continuing to not recognise our value? Is society truly changing or is there still a stigma when it comes to accepting different forms of beauty? Recent blunders such as Lupita Nyong’o’s Grazia cover, in which her kinky bun was digitally altered to fit to a more Eurocentric image have led consumers to believe that there is still a long way to go in the hair and beauty industry.
There’s no disputing it – things are changing. Inclusion in the beauty industry for women of colour is becoming more evident. This month alone, Rihanna and Beyoncé have graced the covers of UK and US Vogue, respectively. Fenty Beauty, launched in September 2017, which boasts a true variety of choices for all complexions, is now sold in over 1600 stores in over 15 countries. However, we need to start seeing more than light-skinned women fronting magazine covers. The hair and beauty industry need to wake up to consumers’ needs (not every natural hair girl has type 3B curls or has a sandy beige tone!). If Boots can offer over 500 products for hair, why are only 30 of them aimed at ‘afro Caribbean & multi textured’ hair types? We need to see all skin colours and all hair types represented in products, recognised in advertising, and out on the market. With CurlyTreats filled to the brim with black-owned businesses catering to black consumers, it’s time we saw ourselves reflected in the wider industry!
With thanks to CurlyTreats for allowing us to attend
Written by Mireille Harper