By Peter Born
with contributions from Faye Brookman
 on September 2, 2015

Sundial Brands will soon have more steam to broaden what it sees as the antiquated notion of ethnic beauty.

The company — owner of natural skin and hair care brands SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage — has signed a strategic partnership with Bain Capital Private Equity, which has made a minority investment in the company.

Sundial founder and chief executive officer Richelieu Dennis will continue to lead the company, which will remain majority family-owned and operated. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Dennis founded Sundial in 1992 with his college roommate Nyema Tubman, and his mother Mary Dennis, shortly after graduating from college. The Liberian-born entrepreneur sourced product formulas from four generations of family recipes from Africa. He launched the brand on the streets on New York City, and has since built its retail distribution across Target, Walgreens, Duane Reade, CVS, Whole Foods, the Vitamin Shoppe, Wegmans and others.

Sundial stated on Wednesday that it will use the investment from Bain “to accelerate the company’s growth.” Dennis stated, “We are moving forward to build Sundial into a global family-owned-and-operated consumer brand.” He added, “Bain Capital is a valuable partner who shares our commitment to our communities globally and understands how our brand of social entrepreneurism can be enhanced to achieve our vision for growth and impact.”

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Deval Patrick, a managing director at Bain Capital and the former governor of Massachusetts, will join Sundial’s board.

Since the company’s inception, Sundial has worked to convince retailers that its reach and appeal goes beyond the ethnic skin-care aisle.

At the WWD Beauty Summit in May, where Dennis was a speaker, he said, “I learned very early on that with natural products, your customer is very broad. It’s not necessarily who you think it is.” He continued,  “We have a broad range of consumers, yet we were put in the ethnic aisle, which at the time was code for black. This was not acceptable to us, and it took us 16 years to keep going back and saying, ‘There’s a broader market here that you’re missing. There’s a bigger opportunity here.’ The only place in America where segregation is still legal is in the beauty aisle. And our job was to change that. Every customer deserves equal access to the best options for their needs. And if you think about it that way, the market gets a lot broader.”

Dennis has gone so far as to coin a new phrase called “the new general market,” which he defines as the amalgamation of cultures, ethnicities and demographics. “The most important thing, for us, is the commonalities,” he said at the Summit. “If we can focus on what those common needs are, then we can solve [problems] for much bigger populations. It’s time to think about how we can serve [all ethnicities] together, not individually.”

Walgreens credits Sundial’s new general market view for changes in the way it merchandises hair care. The retailer has done away with ethnic beauty signage and now organizes hair-care products by texture.

Sundial was advised by the San Francisco-based investment bank Demeter Group.

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