Wow. Just Wow. I’m struggling with this Shea Moisture situation. On one hand, I do see the tone deafness of the Shea Moisture ad and understand why black women, including me, are upset given our fervent support of the brand from the beginning. No company can thrive by alienating their most supportive customer base. On the other hand, as a black business owner, I see another angle that hasn’t really been discussed. For black owned, black focused brands to thrive they need capital. Unfortunately, right now that is largely not coming from our communities. Even though we purchase the products, those dollars don’t provide the capital necessary to scale and compete with the multinational brands that have now discovered the fertile ground of multicultural personal care products. The multinationals have the scale to do it faster, cheaper and with greater reach. As much as folks say they are down with black owned brands, they are buying these other products. Trust me, the big brands wouldn’t invest if we weren’t buying.
Shea Moisture is in rare air within the investment community given their groundbreaking partnership with Bain which has allowed them to scale, drive product innovation, invest in smaller black brands, and increase reach. If we bring them down for this ad, does it negatively impact the next black owned brand trying to get funded? I spent 10+ years working for and with private equity firms. It is a very small circle and everyone talks. Will other funds shy away from investments in black owned businesses for fear of firestorms like this? The question must be asked.
The core Shea Moisture founding team has a tough line to walk, building a sustainable, scalable brand while remaining loyal to the core audience. This was a serious misstep but I think they can re-calibrate and course correct. As a consumer, I’m willing to give them that opportunity because I like to product and I respect the work that Shea Moisture has done to empower the women in Africa who provide their ingredients and the dollars they invest in other black businesses and communities state side. Rich Dennis and I discussed the details of this commitment to uplifting others during a fireside chat that I moderated at SXSW back in March.
Without question Shea Moisture must be accountable for their actions but the implications of destroying this brand go far beyond the hair care aisle straight to Wall Street. Teaching them a lesson is one thing but when it comes at the expense of future funding opportunities for black brands, is it really worth it?