“Tragedy had to happen for people to pay attention to us,” said Dr. Kristian Edwards, of the public’s recent efforts to support Black-owned businesses, a campaign sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement and largely spread on social media. “It’s frustrating.”
She’s the founder of BLK + GRN, an online retailer offering all-natural, Black-owned products ranging from beauty to household goods.
“It’s not a trend to me,” she continued. “We don’t want this to be something that you do one time. Make it a part of your habit….The individual person has to make a personal choice. They have to have that self-talk, ‘Hey, is this something I think is important, and I’m going to commit to keep doing it? Or am I going to do it one time, just to say I did?’”
While she’s seen growth in sales that she attributes to the cause, she’s also facing the domino effect of the pandemic. Along with having to meet higher demand, Black-owned brands — as with all beauty companies in the new climate — are confronted with disruption in the supply chain. Manufacturers are operating below capacity in order to meet new health protocols, which is slowing down production rate and creating shortages. In turn, brands are out of stock, especially those seeing sudden demand.
“They can’t fulfill our orders,” Edwards said. “A product that used to be able to be made in a week is now [taking] three, four weeks. It’s been very difficult.”
Some brands are unable to source their raw ingredients, she added. Looking ahead, she plans to possibly become a supplier herself. “We have to get adjusted to the new normal and figure out what that new normal is,” she said.
Based in Maryland, she began the business in 2017 after learning that “products targeted to Black women are more toxic than those marketed to anyone else.” According to a study published that year by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, women of color are disproportionately exposed to harmful chemicals compared to white women. Personal-care products, like skin-lightening creams and hair straightening treatments, may be propelling the disparities, it noted.
Since then, Edwards — who’s a professor of public health — has turned her attention to all-natural products, while focusing on Black creators both in the U.S. and abroad. Her team of six, which includes an aesthetician, tests the products themselves after inspecting the ingredients.
“What Kristian is doing with BLK + GRN is pretty incredible,” said Trinity Mouzon Wofford, whose brand Golde can be found on the site.
“I think it’s so important to not just share the scary stuff [with the statistics] but to offer alternatives, especially when those alternatives mean buying into and elevating the Black economy,” continued Wofford, who cofounded Golde with her business partner and fiancé, Issey Kobori. “It’s a really powerful thing.”
She, too, began her business in 2017. Started in Brooklyn, Golde is an all-natural, superfood company creating goods like powder blends of turmeric lattes (with cacao or matcha) and face masks made with chlorella, spirulina and mango juice or lucuma, papaya and sea buckthorn berry.
The brand was born after Wofford watched as her mother, who has a “debilitating” autoimmune disease, improved immensely following a visit with a “more holistic-minded” physician. Incorporating turmeric in her diet, for example, greatly helped her mother with inflammation. But when her mother could no longer afford the doctor, Wofford began her mission to make wellness more accessible. Golde’s turmeric blends offer 30 servings at $29, while face masks cost $34. Now a team of six, the brand is found at about 120 retailers, including Urban Outfitters, Goop and Sephora. Wofford was 25 years old when the latter took the brand on, making her one of the youngest Black women to launch at the global beauty chain.
“We pivoted toward an increased focus on direct-to-consumer as we saw so many retail partners, both enterprise and indie, having to slow or shut down operations,” said Wofford, who studied marketing at New York University. “What was interesting is, because we’re sort of in this at-home, self-care space, we saw a market uptake in interest and demand for our products. Folks couldn’t go to their local café to get their iced matcha lattes, so they wanted to be able to make it at home.”
The growth in sales has been significant, particularly following the Black Lives Matter movement. In the month of June alone, Golde exceeded its entire revenue of 2019, she said. And the brand went from 20,000 Instagram followers to more than 80,000 in a few weeks.
“When this moment hit with the situation with George Floyd, we quickly made a decision to donate 100 percent of our profits for a weekend to the NAACP,” Wofford continued. “From that immediate initiative, we were able to donate over $10,000 from weekend sales. But what we were really surprised to find was that following that, with this movement to support Black-owned businesses, our visibility and our sales kept going up….At this point, we’re still operating at three to five times of what we were doing before this moment. And that’s with more than half of our sku’s sold out and on back order.”
COVID-19 hadn’t been too much of a factor, she noted. “Most of our products and raw materials are being manufactured in the United States….It’s more so that we’re now just starting a production run that we thought we wouldn’t have to do until September. We put most of our products on preorder and folks are still placing orders. And for the most part, they’re very understanding of the fact that it’s going to take a few weeks for their product to come in.”
From customers to retailers, “everybody has been extremely patient,” said Amanda Johnson of her experience at Mented Cosmetics. “Because it’s a global pandemic, everybody understands the dynamics.”
She and KJ Miller, two Harvard Business School graduates, launched the brand in 2017 as well. They started with the aim to create the “perfect nude” lipstick and now offer various cosmetic items. All are nontoxic, vegan, paraben-free and cruelty-free. Headquartered in New York City, the makeup is U.S.-made and found in retailers that include Macy’s, QVC and HSN, where “business soared this year” partially due to the network’s understanding of the “holistic aspect of shopping,” the duo said.
“COVID-19 has certainly impacted our supply chain,” Johnson continued. “But because demand is so high, we’re still able to order in quantities that help us keep the overall cost down.”
Even in a pandemic, consumers are relying on beauty goods for their day-to-day routines, she said. And since Black Lives Matter, “there’s been an outpouring of support” on their social channels, added Miller. “We have seen that come through in terms of revenue as well. People are really putting their money where their mouths are, and we certainly appreciate that.”
Dr. Mia Chae of Dehiya Beauty experienced similar circumstances: “In the beginning I was like, ‘OK, you’re getting a lot of people following on social media, but is that going to translate into actual dollars?’ And it absolutely did.” In her case, the brand went from having 3,000 Instagram followers to 10,000 in a month.
She started Dehiya Beauty — named after a North African, Amazigh warrior — in March 2019 with Jacalyn Harvard after a trip to Morocco. The brand offers all-natural skin care, ranging from $28 for a 2-oz. argan face oil (hand extracted outside of Marrakech) to $58 for a 2-oz. antioxidant mask, and tools that include a traditional exfoliator from the region known as mihakka for $16. It’s currently in 27 retailers, including Urban Outfitters, and plans to open a three-month pop-up at Nordstrom in August.
“We beat last year’s goal,” said Chae, who holds a doctorate in American studies. After receiving some press, 2020 started out strong for the brand, which has roots in California and Wisconsin. “Then when everything happened with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, that added to it as well. Sales were going crazy. But then, you don’t know. Is it going to be the new normal? How much are you supposed to scale?”
Wofford asked herself that question, too: “We had to suddenly flex up to a completely new scale of business that we did not have prior to this movement….We feel that, ultimately, where the brand is today is where it really always should have been had we had access to capital and resources that a white-owned business typically has from Day One.”
“What you’re seeing now is a lot of non-Black people getting excited about Black-owned brands,” Miller said. “But the Black community has been super excited about Black-owned brands for a long time and has been the backbone of our company for a long time….Blacks, Indians and Hispanics are the core demographic for us. Now, a lot more white people in the community come to the site and purchase from our brand. And I think it’s because this moment looks different in a lot of ways. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Because of that, people have more time to look up and outside of themselves and recognize that if we don’t act collectively, we don’t stand a chance.”
The brand founders all shared that this time is an opportunity to attract new consumers.
“Whether this is a trend or the new normal — it will die down for sure and even out — if people are trying the brand and they love the products, they will return,” Chae said.
“Even if a consumer buys my product once because they need to assuage themselves of the guilt around the long and terrible history of Black people in this country, I, as a Black entrepreneur, still now have that revenue that I can use to further my business, my agenda,” shared Wofford. “And so, even if an act in its initiation is somewhat superficial, it can lead to meaningful change.”