did shea moisture hire the same ad team as pepsi or sumthin’?

April 25, 2017

Natural/textured/multi-ethnic hair care line Shea Moisture royally screwed up yesterday after giving their base of hardcore product junkies the finger in their attempt to re-center the brand around whiteness.

After the internet ripped them a new one, Shea Moisture issued apologies admitting, like they did on twitter, “Wow – we really f-ed this one up! Please know that our intent was not, & would never be, to disrespect our community.” Then why wasn’t your community represented in your ad? What was your intent in removing visual representation for your base and adding white women instead? When more brands than ever are expanding to include, or consider, natural and processed black hair in their collections, Shea Moisture tried to move away from it. Now that they have a massive, thriving business, SheaMoister tried to leave us for a white girl.

One debate I’ve seen online since in the past 24-hours is that Shea Moisture is no longer a black-owned business. This is not strictly true. Shea Moisture and sister company Nubian Heritage and Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture are owned by Sundial Brands—founded by CEO Richelieu Dennis, who’s mother co-founded Shea Moisture in 1992. In 2015, Bain Capital (yes, Mitt Romeny’s Bain Capital) purchased a minority, “non-control” stake in the business. According to Fast Company, the transaction occurred with the desire for Shea Moisture, which surpassed Burt’s Bees as the top-selling natural bath and body company, to have “mass appeal”.

This is not a sinister ambition. Black-owned business who reach the level of success that Shea Moisture has are in extreme danger of being swallowed up by investment groups, like Bain, forcing them out of the “black-owned” category. As Dennis has sited, the recurring issue is the fact that there aren’t many large-scale investment firms run people black investors. At some point, the person writing the checks is always going to be white, you just have to go up high enough, essentially. This is a real problem that will continue to stunt the potential of black-owned businesses, so let’s just back to where Shea Moisture missed the mark.

Having launched their #BreakTheWall campaign, an advertisement strategy that uses the fact that black hair care products are almost always segregated from mainstream (read: white-centered) products in big box retailers. #BreakTheWall positioned itself to be about knocking down the marginalizing barriers WOC face in the beauty industry. But instead of normalizing natural and ethnic hair textures and their specific needs, Shea Moisture tried to reach out to white women by making it accessible on their terms: i.e. by erasing blackness and type 4 hair textures from sight. They made the ad white-friendly, subsequently “breaking the wall” for the product’s reach, while symbolically leaving behind the black women the company claimed they were uplifting.

*Erin White is an Atlanta-based writer and AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at erin@afropunk.com.

Banner Images via Shea Moisture