Haircare is a billion-dollar industry thanks largely in part to black women. A 2018 Nielsen report shows that African Americans spent $54 million on ethnic hair and beauty products in 2017 alone. Along with spending on products created specifically to appeal to them, African Americans also spent a whopping $473 million on haircare within the general beauty marketplace last year. Yet, despite their massive contributions, the beauty supply stores where black women shop for hair extensions and products are largely owned by Korean-Americans. In fact, Korean-Americans run 70% of all beauty supply stores in the county due to their ties to Korea, where most hair has been imported and exported since the 1970s.
“Most of the hair manufacturing was done out of Korea back in the day,” Sam Hwang, vice president of the National Federation of Beauty Suppliers, told WOSU Radio. “It was real human hair so it was really expensive, but many of the Korean women actually cut off their hair to sell for the hair industry to grow.” As a result, many first-generation Korean immigrants either worked for or opened beauty businesses in the U.S.
That marketplace, however, is slowly shifting. One reason for the shift is because many Korean American beauty supply store owners aren’t passing their businesses down to their children. Instead, their children are choosing—and even being encouraged—to work in other professions, reports WOSU.
Another contributing factor is the growing popularity and acceptance of natural black hairstyles. Meanwhile, as more Korean Americans are leaving the industry, the stores that long catered to black customers are increasingly moving into black ownership. According to The Black Owned Beauty Supply Association, 150 black-owned beauty supply stores opened around the country in 2017, bringing the total to 3,000. Temika Morris, for instance, says the lack of black-owned beauty supply stores motivated her to open her own. “As I did research, I realized 99% of the revenue that comes into these stores are by black women,” said Morris, the owner of Ms. Melanin in Canal Winchester, Ohio, reports WOSU. “But then I realized the few number of stores that are owned by black women.”
Lia Dias owns The Girl Cave, a beauty supply and clothing store in Los Angeles. She also opened two more beauty supply shops in South LA, making her one of the few, perhaps the only black woman to operate multiple beauty supply shops. In an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, she said, “My long-term goal for the business within the next two years is to start a distribution company. I want to distribute to my own stores obviously, but I want to distribute to every beauty supply in the Los Angeles area. I know when I’m able to do, I’ll be able to help other black women get into this business, well back into this business, because black people used to own beauty supplies.”
This shift also comes in midst of growing momentum for black women to patronize black-owned beauty services and products. The recent viral video of a melee between Asian nail salon workers and black women customers in Brooklyn, New York, is just one example of why more black women are advocating for this shift.