I clearly remember the hair products I used when I first went natural eight years ago. There was Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie, which I used to hydrate and define my curls. Carol’s Daughter’s Black Vanilla line was my go-to for shampoo and conditioner. And, finally, I became so attached to EcoStyler Gel that I slipped a large olive-colored ball into a ziplock bag and carried it to Spain, where I studied abroad for four months.
This product obsession is not specific to me. Hair care products are and always have been essential to the natural hair community. When the movement first started, the obsession was fueled by a lack of options. Black women made hair solutions in their kitchens. When early entry black-owned brands like Kinky-Curly and Miss Jessie’s arrived, natural products suddenly had effective products designed specifically to pop washes and backslides, twists and braids.
So it was inevitable that I noticed when natural hair products started to look very gold. About five years after going natural, I started seeing bronze and metallic palettes and crown / queen designs everywhere, especially with traditional brands that had broadened their offering to meet natural hair. I felt awkward about the look, but didn’t think much about it at first. I later realized that gold, crowns, and queens were someone else’s concept of black femininity. Or as Erin Williams, director of marketing and products at TPH by Taraji, said, when mass brands started making natural hair products, they tried to reflect who they thought were the consumer. “They wanted to celebrate the textured hair community. But they used familiar and often stereotypical images that felt festive and luxurious. “
This gold rush was sparked by a rapid expansion in the natural hair market. Sales of relaxants fell 38% between 2012 and 2017, and have continued to decline since. Meanwhile, products like Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk and Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie have grown in popularity – in 2018, market research firm Mintel valued the black hair care industry at $ 2.5 billion. Mass brands owned by conglomerates like Pantene and Head & Shoulders wanted to get in. And with them came the golden palettes and the vibrations of royalty. While well-intentioned, in practice it felt like a gimmick and only pushed me (and the community at large) deeper into the arms of the brands that had always seen and served us.
Right now, black-owned brands are at the forefront of innovation and solving age-old hair problems like tangling, light bulk, and tough wash days. Bread Beauty, for example, founded by former brand manager Maeva Heim, launched in 2020 a “lazy girl” wash kit that used a three-step system to allow for an easy and painless routine. Pattern’s styling cream has become a favorite for twist outs and wash and go, and Sienna Naturals, which relaunched with Issa Rae in 2020, is focusing on sustainable ingredients. All that and no gold wrapping in sight.
It’s been almost 30 years since Shea Moisture founder Richelieu Dennis sold shea butter in Harlem and 20 years since Target opened its doors to natural hair brands. There have been thousands of commodities in between: the good, the gold, and the holy grail. To make sense of it all, we’ve drawn up a timeline – a (very) abridged history of natural hair products and packaging.
1991: Richelieu Dennis sells shea butter shampoo on a table on 125th Street in Harlem. He is inspired to add the ingredient because it is widely used in his native Liberia.
1993: A few miles away in Brooklyn, Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price makes the first formulations in her kitchen, selling them at flea markets at her mother’s request. On the first day, she sells almost everything.
1999: Ouidad, the first curly hair salon, presents the Climate Control collection. While not marketed exclusively to black women, it marks a shift in the visibility of curly hair.
2002: Lisa Price and Carol’s Daughter appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “The Oprah Effect” increases sales overnight, and traffic to Carol’s Daughter’s site has gone from 17 people to over 10,000 in four minutes. “It was like we had arrived,” Price said. Her Black Vanilla line and Lisa’s Hair Elixir became staples in natural hair routines and the line went on to be endorsed by black celebrities like Solange and Jada Pinkett Smith.
2002–2003: DevaCurl and Kinky-Curly launch a few months apart. The brand’s most popular products, the no-poo cleanser and custard curling, address two top priorities in the natural hair community: cleanse without stripping and define curls and creases.
The packaging of Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding when it launched in 2004.
2004: Launch of Miss Jessie’s with Curly Pudding. The brilliant lavender formula and vintage-looking packaging with lots of text is unlike anything else on the market. Sisters and founders Titi and Miko Branch said the packaging was inspired by their grandmother and her love of baking, as well as old-fashioned vintage beauty products.
2010: Design Essentials, a long-standing black-owned hair care brand, is launching Design Essentials Naturals, its first sulfate-free and mineral-oil-free line.
2010: Target is the first mass retailer to sell natural hair brands like Miss Jessie’s, Curls, Jane Carter Solution, and Shea Moisture.
2010: Popular hair straightener brand Mizani is launching True Textures, a five-part hair care line formulated specifically for natural hair. Maria Cerminara, the vice president of marketing at the time, recounts WWD that they developed the line in response to a growing trend for women to wear their hair natural. The line includes sulfate-free shampoo, hair mask, conditioning cleanser, cream gel and curl defining cream. It is only available in the salon.
2011: Carol’s Daughter announces Cassie, Solange and Selita Ebanks as brand spokesperson on the cover of WWD style.
2012: Cantu, founded in 2004 by AB Brands, markets the leave-in conditioning repair cream for women with natural, relaxed hair. The formula is thick and deeply nourishing, which appeals to tighter, smoother textures. It takes off thanks to its affordability (most products were under $ 10) and affordability, and is frequently reviewed on natural hair forums, sites and YouTube channels.
2013: Naptural85, along with other beauty gurus of the day, documented its use of apple cider vinegar as a natural hair cleanser, popularizing its use. Soon after, several natural apple cider vinegar hair care products appeared on the market, such as the Shea Moisture Apple Cider Vinegar line, Cantu’s Txtr, and Creme of Nature Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse.
Pantene Truly Natural Shampoo and Conditioner.
2013: Pantene launches Truly Natural. Shampoo, co-wash, conditioner and curling cream are packaged in bronze bottles. Unlike the major brands owned and operated by blacks of the day (eg, Carol’s Daughter and Curls), the products contain sulfates and silicones.
2014: Curls launches “clean” sulfate, paraben and mineral oil free shampoo, conditioner and curl jelly.
2014: The Jamaica Black Castor Oil line from Shea Moisture includes all the popular ingredients of the time: peppermint oil, apple cider vinegar, castor oil, shea butter and coconut oil.
2015: Hair straightener brands like Dark and Lovely and ORS present their collections for natural hair. Their packaging is reminiscent of their permanent packaging, but with colorful and silhouetted Afros, and the emphasis is on the ingredients.
2018: Pantene is phasing out Truly Natural and launching the Gold Series, intended for all dark hair, including chemically treated and transitional hair. Head & Shoulders launches the Royal Oils collection, its first collection specially designed for natural hair. The two lines are critical online for their gold packaging, which is presented as “dated”.
2019: Tracee Ellis Ross launches Pattern Beauty and launches a year of natural hair care brands founded by black celebrities. It is hailed as fresh and innovative. The packaging is graphic and upscale, and it’s available at an affordable price, with products starting at $ 20.
2020: TPH by Taraji debuts a few months later in January 2020. Flawless by Gabrielle Union (founded in 2017) is relaunched in August 2020. Issa Rae becomes co-owner of Sienna Naturals and the brand relaunches in fall 2020. TPH a bright colors, personalized packaging with targeted nozzles to introduce the products directly into the scalp. Sienna Naturals uses shades of green and features topographic-looking lines inspired by curl shapes.
2020: Bread Beauty Supply introduces the Wash Day Kit at Sephora and is only the third black-owned hair care brand sold by the retailer. Bread’s “Lazy, Effortless Girl” ethic has reduced traditionally laborious wash days to three simple steps. “In the textured hair space, having a face visual on products is actually pretty common and old-fashioned. I wanted a face visual not only to signal this customer that this product was for her, but also to be a nod to an extremely nostalgic, yet modernized, design style for today’s consumer. », Explains founder Maeva Heim.
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