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Cara Sabin on Change Through Community Commerce

"What are we doing to institutionally drive change?" the Sundial Brands ceo posited at WWD's Virtual Beauty Inc Summit.

For Cara Sabin, chief executive officer of Sundial Brands, the path to change starts with community commerce.

In a conversation with WWD’s Tara Donaldson, Sabin outlined some of the ways in which SheaMoisture invoked a sense of community to implement change in the midst of this year’s pandemic and social justice unrest. The company was swift to put dollars behind its words of solidarity in keeping with its “Community Commerce” philosophy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses throughout the U.S. to close their doors, SheaMoisture announced a $1 million relief fund, geared toward women of color entrepreneurs and minority small business owners. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, it formed a social justice coalition, and in October, it unveiled a campaign, conceived of and executed by Black and multicultural women, and a simultaneous pledge to commit all of its proceeds as reinvestments into Black female entrepreneurs.

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“Consumers are wanting to see more of that from businesses and from brands — taking a position and being very clear in what is important to them, and having greater transparency around their purpose,” Sabin said. “At SheaMoisture, we believe the path to true equality is through economic equity. That’s why we are so focused on centering entrepreneurs, and in particular, women of color and Black female entrepreneurs. Everyone knows less than 1 percent of funding goes to these founders, yet they are the fastest-growing segment within the industry.”

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In addition to funding, Sabin named education — especially “how to manage cash flow” — as an area of focus for fledgling entrepreneurs.

“We believe that it can’t just be funding because there are other wrap-around elements that are critical,” she said. “When you’re a new business starting out, one question we get is, ‘What’s the critical team that I need to assemble? Do I need a lawyer first? Or do I need a supply chain manager first?’ Funding, mentorship and education — those are the three areas that we’re focused on.”

Sabin noted that while she is “optimistic that change is happening,” she sees the need for a “reckoning” within big corporations.

“The good thing is there’s no shortage of brands and businesses that are being started,” she said. “What needs to happen, though, is how can we make sure that those businesses thrive and survive in a sustainable way? Trade retailers need to help cultivate these brands in terms of lending and funding. And then within corporations, there needs to be a reckoning.”

Beyond sponsorship and mentorship, “active advocacy” is needed, Sabin said.

“What are we doing inside of our businesses to actively advocate for a more inclusive industry, and trying to have a culture where everyone can bring their full, authentic selves to work, and not feel like they have to code-switch or hold back a part of themselves to assimilate,” she said.

“What are we doing to institutionally drive change?” she continued. “I don’t think it’s going to happen organically. So how do we actively play a role in driving that change?”

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