Tracee Ellis Ross has starred on hit TV shows, interviewed Michelle Obama and helped found Hollywood’s gender equality movement Time’s Up. For her next big role? She says beauty mogul sounds nice: “From your lips to god’s ears!”
Today, the actress/producer/comedian/activist is announcing Pattern, a hair-care brand for the underserved curly, coily and tight-textured community available Sept. 9 at PatternBeauty.com and two weeks later exclusively in 1,213 Ulta stores nationwide. Ross is the founder and chief executive officer of the brand, which has been a lifetime of dreaming, 10 years in the making, and two years of testing. And she has the 74 in-bathroom product test videos to prove it, which she’ll be rolling out online in the coming weeks.
“I believe everyone should have access to their most beautiful selves in the bathroom,” she said of the brand’s mission, speaking to WWD exclusively.
“You could chronicle my journey of self-acceptance over the years through my journey with my hair, which I don’t think is unique to me,” said Ross. “Beauty can be an aesthetics conversation, but the truth is for people of color…beauty and how we express it and our hair and how it defies gravity can be political as well. The culture of beauty has been so steeped in patriarchy, racism and sexism for so long.…You think of Fenty Beauty and it’s a duh, why has no one been making foundation for all skin tones before now? It’s not that those skin tones and hair types haven’t existed, but there hasn’t been a large space and understanding for it. That’s why it’s taken me so long to make these dreams happen.”
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Even for the daughter of Diana Ross and music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein, growing up in New York City, modeling on the side and attending boarding school in Switzerland, “there were so few faces and hair that looked like mine,” said the mixed-race actress, who next stars in ABC’s “Mixed-ish,” debuting Sept. 24. “I started my journey relaxing my hair, going to the salon every Saturday to get my hair wet and set, sitting under a dryer and getting blown out and trying to extend that Saturday hair through the week. Then having my mom wake up and press my edges, sleeping in sponge rollers and getting a crook in my neck, and wearing my hair so tight I’d get headaches trying to get a slicked-back ponytail,” she said, describing her childhood regimen.
After attending college at Brown, she moved to L.A. to pursue a career in entertainment. “By the time I made it onto ‘Girlfriends,’ I was one of very few women wearing their hair naturally in Hollywood,” she recalled of her time on the TV series from 2000 to 2008, when she started to notice people looking up to her character, Joan, and her style. “I learned to embrace my natural texture and curl pattern and love it and care for it. But it was a journey not supported by commercials, entertainment and rows of products in every store.”
Ross first came up with the idea for a hair-care line in 2008 (“I still have the brand pitch on my computer,” she laughed). “Most of us in this community have had to become our own experts…we have had to make our own things in our own bathrooms. So to be able to offer a selection of products that work together and support each other is important to me,” said the actress, who had several false starts trying to develop the line before landing with El Segundo-based Beach House Group, the same brand-building shop that created Millie Bobby Brown’s makeup and skin-care brand Florence by Mills and “Pretty Little Liars” actress Shay Mitchell’s luggage line Beis.
The initial Pattern launch focuses on everyday formulation and shower tools to achieve a natural curl pattern, including a shampoo, three targeted conditioners, a leave-in conditioner and two hair serums (which come in larger size-to-price ratios, to accommodate the need of the pattern hair community for more product).
“My curls do their best, are their most poppin’, juicy and joyful when they are hydrated and nourished, when slippage occurs, clumping occurs and curls are activated,” said Ross of the thinking behind the offerings, priced $9 to $42, which include a rubber shower brush, hair clip and a microfiber towel to protect curls. Not only did she do her own testing, she also had a panel of women with 3b to 4c hair textures testing the samples as well.
“Tracee tells stories about how as a kid she’d call a phone number to find out the humidity level for the day to tell her what to do with her hair before she left the house,” said Beach House cofounder Shaun Neff. “I was blown away by the credibility she has in this space. It’s her hair and she’s lived it….I think this brand can be massive, it’s a large market that’s been waiting for the right product for a long time,” he added, noting that additional sku’s and categories will be added in the coming months.
“From the moment we met Tracee, the energy and passion she exuded was contagious, and we knew our journey together would be amazing,” said Monica Arnaudo, senior vice president of merchandising for Ulta Beauty. “It has been Tracee’s dream to create stellar products that bring joy to curly, coily and tight-textured hair, and it is our honor to help bring her dream to life.”
Ross wants her brand to be a vehicle for empowering women of color, so a percentage of product sales will go to support nonprofit organizations. For the campaign imagery, she tapped her sister, nephew and brother, “the three curly heads in my family,” to be photographed in a naturalistic, celebratory setting, alongside a diverse group of women, by 23-year-old black photographer Micaiah Carter. Additional content being rolled out online includes a video brand “manifesta,” written by Ross herself (“every curl has a story…if our hair could talk it would tell you of our legacy”…), a glossary of curly hair terms and more.
“Pattern is about products made by and for us. And it’s about creating a space for a community that exists, to celebrate our beauty and magic,” said the multihyphenate, who will be showing her love through dedicated brand social channels, and through her own Instagram account, with its 6.8 million followers who look to her for outfit — and hair — inspiration: “I have been marketing my hair since my social media started. It’s such a huge part of my being-ness, of who I am and how I dress myself. Now I have a name for it.”