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?