Why I Stopped Shopping at Asian Beauty Supply Stores

When I got really into natural hair blogging and product reviews back in 2009, I often spent my Saturdays conducting what I liked to call “Beauty Supply Tours.” Manned only with Yelp on my mobile phone, I would drive up and down Crenshaw Boulevard and all around Los Angeles looking for beauty supply stores where I could find new hair products. This was especially fun to me when some of the more classic brands aimed at Black women began making products catering to natural hair. This is how I found Blue Eco Styler, a bottle of the original Crème of Nature, and other random products to play with. Oh, and all of the wigs I occasionally wore when I had an inch of hair. While driving down the street, I could spot the large images of Black women advertising wigs and weaves, and knew that my target was in sight (this often resulted in me making U-turns). When I walked into the store that blasted old school R&B or the latest hip hop song, I would wave at the Asian woman at the counter and smile. I would kindly say thank you when they would ask, “Is that your hair? Natural?  No chemical? So pretty.” Usually I would give that question a side eye, but I let them go because there was a clear language and culture barrier.

Once I was visiting Maryland and walked into an Ethiopian-owned store, and was incredibly disappointed. The shelves were bare, several of the products had dust on them, and well, it just looked plain sad. I scoffed in my head and couldn’t wait to get back to my Asian beauty supply stores, where products (and weave hair) seemed to rain down from the sky. Even my mother tells me that she “has” to get her products from the Asian beauty supply because they are the only ones who carry what she wants.

However, once I saw an online documentary on Koreans in the hair industry, I quickly changed my tune, and felt naïve and deceived by an industry I once thought was interesting and fun. The four-part series by Aron Ranen provides in-depth insight into the ways Koreans blatantly block others, mainly Black businesses, from getting in on their monopoly of the Black hair industry. At first I thought they were simply more business savvy, but no, it goes way beyond that, from refusing to buy items from Black-owned businesses to developing catalogs for items completely in Korean. Why in the heck would a catalog of products for Black women be written in Korean? Not to mention the numerous emails I receive from wig sites addressing me as “girl” or “sister” in order to appear more “authentic.” Watching the documentary was incredibly eye opening to me, and I encourage you all to at least take a look. Unfortunately, the Black-Owned Beauty Supply Association’s page is no longer available (note Jan. 2022).

And if you believe it’s simply a matter of business and supply & demand, imagine if the tables were turned. Imagine if you set up a shop in a predominantly Asian neighborhood (that you didn’t live in) that sold products mainly catering to Asians, played music frequently listened to by Asians, and hired Asian salespeople to work in the front while you sat in the back office (checking on the store every now and then). Do you honestly think that Asians would come into your shop and give you their money? Don’t get me wrong, I still shop at Asian grocery stores and other businesses. However, the entire hair industry seems pretty messed up to me, and so I ceased my Beauty Supply Tours and resorted to ordering products online or buying from more mainstream stores when I can’t find a Black-owned beauty supply, which unfortunately can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Recently, I ended up buying a couple of jars of blue Eco (they don’t sell that one in Sally and it’s a staple of mine) and a few cheap BSS brand lipsticks from their stores (full transparency here), and I just felt so guilty. Even though the total sum was nowhere near what I buy from BoBs, it just didn’t feel right, even if the women in the store were nice to me. But hey, I’m only human, and I certainly don’t look down on others if they still shop at BSS, although I encourage people to try to find Black-owned places to shop.

So what are your thoughts? Do you shop at Asian Beauty Supply Stores? Do you make a point to support Black-owned Businesses? Do you think it’s wrong to avoid Asian-owned BSS?

12 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Shopping at Asian Beauty Supply Stores

  1. Karen says:

    Thank you for this article. I also saw the documentary and was floored to learn the tactics of the Asian BSS owners to keep others out of the industry namely blacks. I live in the DMV area and there was a BOBS store in Silver Spring and my daughter and I would drive 40 minutes to support them sadly they didn’t last long. (they carried everything) I was so proud to shop and support them. I don’t know of any in our area now.
    I don’t shop at BSS I really don’t have a need and would have to be hard pressed to spend my money there. Great read Elle keep it coming!

  2. darmarie7 says:

    I heard about the Asians business practices over 7 years ago and I don’t shop at there stores. I buy online or at drugstores, Target, Ulta and Sephora. I resently got into Korean skin care and I buy from a blogger named Charlotte Cho with Soko Glam. But after reading ur blog I’m torn about if I should continue supporting her. For over 7 years I have been paying close attention to where my products are made and try and choose non Asian hair products.

    • Elle says:

      I know I buy sheet masks from the Korean store – that doesn’t bother me as long as they aren’t shady to me in the store. It’s just how they took over the black beauty industry that bothers me…I mean, you won’t even really find white women in the bss. They have a whole aisle for relaxers even, and huge sections of weave and wigs.

      • Elle says:

        Wow, no I never see them where I live. But then again I also rarely go now but when I did i didn’t really see them either.

      • barose says:

        Like I said before, I live in an extremely white city, LOL. I guess the BSS owners realizes that and tries their best to market to them as well.

        As an aside, I am envious you found blue Eco Styler anywhere! I haven’t seen that one in years. To me it was the closest to Kiss My Face Upper Management I could get.

      • Elle says:

        Girl I’m still intrigued, when I lived in a city with a higher white pop, they didn’t even have BSS, only salons.

  3. barose says:

    I have been feeling torn about this since I started my HHJ back in 2002. In recent years I moved to a city that does not have many Black owned businesses (just a *few* salons) and the only places to buy hair care products on the ground are drugstores, Target, ULTA, Sally and the Asian beauty supply stores.

    Though the Asian BSS in my area hires Black staff and no one follows me, I am still sour about their overall business practices.

    In terms of supporting Black owned hair care companies, its something I constantly work at. Its a budget issue for me and nothing more. I can’t pay $$ for shipping nor can I buy enough to qualify for free shipping at one time. In recent years (really, months) Oyin, Camille Rose started showing up in my area so I buy their brands on the ground from the large stores that carry them.

    With that said, there are certain products that my hair loves that are budget friendly – mostly the Aussie, Garner and Cantu type brands. They are not black owned but at least I don’t need to buy them from Asian BSS stores.

    I think as I start buying from Black owned cosmetics (makeup) companies, my dollar will go farther. My favorite foundation, NARS, though $$ last a year, so I know a quality BOB makeup product will do the same) vs. conditioner that may last me a month – maybe.

  4. Phyllis Edmondson says:

    I am THANKFUL you have decided to discuss this issue again. YES I HAVE A BIG PROBLEM WITH THEM IN MY COMMUNITY. Let me start with they only African females who follow me from aisle to aisle constantly asking May I help you? It’s annoying.. I have stopped going in his store. The African around the corner merchandise is dusty often expired, expensive and he doesn’t sell ANY black own products. I am now a mail order JUNKY. Thank You for the websites and recommendations Elle❤️

    • Elle says:

      I’m actually saying that I could have been wrong for giving a side eye to the black-owned beauty supply stores as the Asian-owned networks can deny them the resources they need to be successful.

      • Tajbia says:

        I watched Arons’ documentary a few years ago. A lot of people don’t realise how the Asians treat the beauty supply industry like a mafia type business. If you’re not Asian, it’s hard to get a foothold. My brother has an Asian guy he’s pretty cool with and his parents own a couple beauty supply stores. He confirms a lot of what people are saying.
        The thing is, how did we miss this? It’s not something that just happened overnight. The internet has allowed us to somewhat by-pass this. Another post stated, the shipping costs can sometimes be so high. A few of us combine our orders. It’s a pain dividing up the products once they arrive, but it’s worth it.
        Thanks for another great observation, Elle!

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