As companies rethink their approach to an increasingly socially conscious Black consumer, Black-owned retailers say their focus is on achieving community.
Brittney Ogike, founder and chief executive officer of BeautyBeez, joined Kimberly Smith, cofounder of the Brown Beauty Co-Op, and WWD digital and prestige beauty editor Alexa Tietjen to discuss how the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and consumers’ shift to e-commerce affected their businesses. For starters, the number of consumers voting with their dollars has only increased.
“Our customers are conscious buyers and want to know that the products they’re looking at are for them,” Smith said. “They are my girlfriend, they are my little sister, they are my mom, they are my grandmother. We have women of all ethnicities and all ages come into the store. The one thing they have in common is being conscious of where their dollar is spent.”
“My approach to retail is really about my community,” said Ogike, whose philosophy on retail stems from the unmet needs of Black women and women of color when buying beauty products. “Historically, [Black women] have to go a few different places just to take care of our hair and beauty needs: a big-box retailer for body care, a beauty retailer for makeup, a beauty supply for hair care. We wanted to bring the essentials of a beauty supply and of a retailer with the experience of an Ulta or Sephora. Historically, we didn’t have that in the market.”
Fostering a sense of community goes deeper than shade offerings, Smith and Ogike said. Smith has instituted curbside buying parties and virtual happy hours with customers, and Ogike’s brick-and-mortar store in Los Angeles doubles as an event space. They are both pivoting to beauty services as brick-and-mortar locations reopen.
For industry leaders, the two underscored transparency about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace as paramount to a retailer’s appeal. “To me, it’s not about a number, it’s about true diversity,” said Smith, who wrote a letter voicing concerns about diversity to Sephora following the retailer’s signing of the 15 Percent Pledge. “Beauty companies have an opportunity, but it’s an opportunity to be genuine and not pander to the moment.”
Ogike also saw a spike in interest in her business in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. “Consumer choice is an expression of our values, and these people choosing to buy Black, they’re communicating to other brands that diversity matters, and that we’re contributing to economic equality,” she said.
For both retailers, the wave of interest in buying Black-owned brands buoyed their businesses after the retail fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Smith, for example, saw an initial dip in sales, which led her to rethink and revamp her approach online. Ogike also saw customers cross channels to the digital sphere when the pandemic led to store closures.
Another phenomenon was Ogike’s broadening customer base, which, she said, has grown to include more white customers. “There’s a lack of understanding, specifically with our industry, that [our store is] really a store for women of all colors. You can find products for everyone,” she said. “[Buying Black] is a movement, not a moment.”
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