I lived on campus at a predominately white institution in a semi-rural town for over four years. As a city girl through and through, the experience was surreal. There were no comforts of home and there were certainly no stores that carried products designed with my 4C in mind. I soon learned scavenger hunts would precede tasks even as simple as washing and conditioning my hair.
While access to products that catered to 4C hair was hard to come by, there were shelves stocked with products that catered to Becky’s locs. So when I found products that were not only meant for my hair texture but also accessible and affordable, those companies earned my loyalty. But I’ve since learned that when it comes to Black women as a consumer base, requited loyalty is a rare find. Enter SheaMoisture.
This week, SheaMoisture learned a lesson its company and employees won’t soon forget: don’t bite the hand that feeds you. The company debuted an “all hair matters” ad that featured not one but three white women and one seemingly biracial Black women with loosely coiled hair. I would be willing to bet SheaMoisture couldn’t find a gaggle of white women who could tell them what shea butter is, let alone convince them to buy products with shea butter. How did we get here?
Sundial Brands debuted in 1992. Founded by Richelieu Dennis, a student who emigrated from Liberia, his mother, and college roommate. Dennis has stated time and again that the Sundial Brands and products, especially SheaMoisture, were inspired by his grandmother Sofi Tucker, a Sierra Leonean who sold shea butter in her village. The company’s goal, according to their website, is to “address skin and hair care issues traditionally ignored by mass market companies.” So how does a company that owes its success to the traditionally ignored demographic thank us? With erasure.
SheaMoisture’s success as the go-to natural hair brand for Black women led to outside interest from investors like as Bain Capital. Bain Capital, a company co-founded by Mitt Romney, was brought on as a minority investor in Sundial. As a consumer, I fully expect growth and change from businesses I patronize because that expansion almost always helps them meet their bottom line while helping them remain competitive. Considering Bain Capital’s interests were non-controlling, I assumed it would be business as usual for Sundial and SheaMoisture, especially with word that the founder insisted SheaMoisture’s commitment to its consumer base would remain the same. Clearly, that was untrue because SheaMoisture’s expansion meant it intended to make room for white women while slowly and not so subtly erasing the very black women who put them on.
Their products which had been specifically made for Black women, slowly moved to center other “women of color,” eventually making room for white women. Last month I read a series of tweets from a hair model who heard there was talk that SheaMoisture was not only changing its formula but also the direction of its ad campaigns in hopes of being more inclusive. So while their new tone-deaf ad was anything but surprising, it still felt like the worse kind of betrayal to see white women painted as victims of the “hair hate” Black women have battled for years.
White women have never experienced discrimination because of their hair nor have they experienced the feeling of total and utter disappointment while searching shelves in store after store because they cannot find suitable products for their hair. White women can quite literally grab a bottle of Vo5 from their local Dollar Tree or Dollar General. There is no shortage of convenience stores, grocery stores, or pharmacies that carry hair products catering to white hair. There is no reason for a company that was propped up and supported by black women for decades to erase and dismiss its key demographic to make room for white women. But it’s a tale as old as time. Black women support and build only to be left twisting in the wind.
SheaMoisture’s Facebook rating was a solid 4.8 out of 5. In less than twenty-four hours that rating sits at a dismal 2. SheaMoisture issued an apology admitting the fuck up:
“Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be – to disrespect our community, and as such, we are pulling this piece immediately because it does not represent what we intended to communicate. You guys know that we have always stood for inclusion in beauty and have always fought for our community and given them credit for not just building our business but for shifting the beauty landscape. So, the feedback we are seeing here brings to light a very important point. While this campaign included several different videos showing different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate the breadth and depth of each individual’s hair journey, we must absolutely ensure moving forward that our community is well-represented in each one so that the women who have led this movement never feel that their hair journey is minimized in any way. We are keenly aware of the journey that WOC face – and our work will continue to serve as the inspiration for work like the Perception Institute’s Good Hair Study/Implicit Association Test that suggests that a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their textured or natural hair. So, you’re right. We are different – and we should know better.
Thank you all, as always, for the honest and candid feedback. We hear you. We’re listening. We appreciate you. We count on you. And we’re always here for you. Thank you, #SheaFam, for being there for us, even when we make mistakes. Here’s to growing and building together…”
The company couldn’t manage to release a statement that acknowledged the very Black women it managed to offend with their ad. This umbrella of “WOC” proves SheaMoisture’s intent was total erasure…making it clear the company’s move to center White women and WOC, namely racially ambiguous WOC with ‘’manageable” 3B, was no mistake. After all their marketing and brand departments are headed by White Women.
Once word of SheaMoisture’s new ad spread across social media an undefeated Black Twitter dragged like only it could. It was too little, too late. Its collective edges could not even be soothed or repaired by its own products after the snatching that took place over the course of the last few days. Sundial and other companies that profit from black women are quickly learning that we wield immense power and when we band together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. And as sure as we built SheaMoisture we’ll be responsible for its demise.