Beauty has always been an important part of the Black experience, and even more so for women. A 2017 study found that 82% of Black women agree it is important to be well-groomed.
“With Black beauty, we uplift those who look like us,” Kyla Goodman, an Elementary Education major at Delaware State University who launched her own acrylics business, told Blavity. “It is important for the Black community to learn to embrace, love and feel confident with their African features. Globally, on TV shows, magazines and even toys, we don’t see many people who look like us being glorified. To this day, the Black community still faces colorism, discrimination and stereotypes because of how we look at all ages. This causes many people to develop insecurities in their own beauty. As a Black community, we must come together and love everything about our beauty and culture. Our Black is beautiful, versatile and sets trends.”
Beauty has been at the helm of entrepreneurship efforts in the Black community since the early days of industrialization in the United States. Often, this was to fill a gap in the market for Black consumers. It is what led Madam C.J. Walker to become the first woman self-made millionaire through her cosmetics and hair care company in the early 1900s. It is also what inspired businesswomen like Annie Malone to develop cosmetics for Black women or Rose Morgan to open the largest Black beauty parlor in the world in the 1940s.
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Today, Black-owned beauty businesses have multiplied and companies are increasingly including women of color in their target audience. Rihanna’s 2017 launch of Fenty Beauty sparked a revolution in the beauty world, with companies now offering a wider range of foundation shades and haircare catering to the Black community. Yet, disparities remain. Only 13% of Black consumers say it’s easy to find beauty products that meet their needs at mass-market retailers and grocery stores, according to a 2022 study conducted by McKinsey. It also found that many Black neighborhoods are located in “consumer deserts,” meaning there are significantly less options when it comes to available stores. On average, Black consumers have to travel 21% further than their white counterparts to find a specialty beauty store.
This discrepancy is especially noticeable on college campuses, which students rely on for access to everyday essentials. Some Black students are trying to change that.
When Jaida Day started her studies as a Mathematics and Computer Science major at the University of California, San Diego, she realized there was a lack of beauty supply products catering to Black students.
“I took matters into my own hands,” the 22-year-old told Blavity.
Day launched Black Beauty Near You when she was a sophomore in Oct. 2019. It is an online beauty supply store making products accessible for Black students at Predominantly white Institutions. She would restock products back home in Los Angeles and then resell them to students on campus. Today, she ships products to students all over the country.
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Day highlights that Black Beauty Near You is more than an online beauty supply store; it also empowers Black students attending PWIs.
“Before going to a midterm or a final — if I look good, I feel good, and if I feel good, I’m going to do even better on this test. But unfortunately, I didn’t always have that experience because I didn’t have the resources on campus that made me feel as such,” she said. “No matter where we are, we deserve to always have the resources we need to feel our best selves so we can be our best selves accessible at all times. That way, we have one less worry as a student and become one step closer to simply just being a student.”
It also prompted Day to want to expand the social aspect of her business. Her goal is to create networking groups for students to connect with their peers and create opportunities for mentorship.
“It will also always be a safe space for Black college students who need that extra bit of support and encouragement,” Day said.
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Students at HBCUs have also started their own beauty businesses to remedy the high demand for nails and hairstyling. Many don’t own a car and cannot seek services off-campus, others have moved away from home and no longer have access to their go-to salon.
“Being located on campus was really convenient for them and boosted my clientele,” Goodman said. “I made many new friendships, and this was a great way to network.”
The 18-year-old launched TheKaveBeauty, a nail salon specialized in acrylics in January 2021. Starting college in a new state (she moved from Pennsylvania before freshman year), as well as the pandemic made it difficult to form new friendships. Her business allowed her to merge her passion while becoming more social.
“My favorite part of being a nail technician is the ability to show my creativity, put a smile on other’s faces, and build new relationships with my clientele,” Goodman said.
For some students, starting their own businesses is more than a side occupation. It is a way for them to explore their passion for beauty while learning valuable skills they wouldn’t have been taught in class. This includes learning how to be patient and how to manage a schedule that can sometimes include customer service, classes and other side jobs.
“I learned people skills. I learned how to talk to my clients appropriately,” Aniyah Marie, a student in Information Systems at Morgan State University, tells Blavity. “I learned how to be mature. Yes, I am young, but I do not want my clients to know that just based off a bad interaction!”
Marie specializes in protective hairstyling, more specifically, soft locs and male retwists. The 19-year-old started developing her craft in high school with the help of YouTube and by progressively learning tips from fellow hairstylists.
Students starting their own beauty services in college isn’t anything, but today, Gen Z business owners use social media to help launch new ventures and learn a new craft. What would have been a service to a closed-off community can turn into a business that goes beyond the walls of their college campus.
“My mom started sharing pictures of my work on her social media, and people started asking for appointments,” Goodman said. “I never had any interest in doing others’ nails; this was just for fun. A month and a half later, I had my first client, a friend of my mother’s, and my business has flourished ever since.”
Gen Z business owners are in the best place to make use of social media to help launch and further their businesses. Not only does 62% of Gen Z plan to start their own business in the future, but 62% of those Gen Zers would do so online, according to a 2020 study by The Center for Generational Kinetics.
“Never compare your journey to someone else’s,” Goodman said. “Being a beginner and comparing your work to someone on the internet with 3+ years of experience and practice is crazy. We all start somewhere, and with practice and patience, you will begin to see progress and reach all your goals.”
Access to quality salon services empowers Black students, but Marie believes it goes beyond the surface.
“Black beauty is how you carry yourself from the inside to the outside,” she said. “It is not about who has the best clothes or who has the most money; it is about how you are as a person, your willingness to be selfless and your genuine spirit — which we all have. All Black women possess this beauty about themselves that no one can take away. I wish more people knew that beauty comes from within.”