Retailers’ variety pledges are placing extra black-owned manufacturers on the cabinets

Cora and Stefan Miller started a hair care company after having their son Kade and struggled to find hair products for him. Young King Hair Care is now sold by Walmart and Target.

Cora and Stefan Miller

When Cora Miller had her son, she found the baby had a full head of hair – and found few products on the market to style it.

Many gels, mousses and creams smelled of fruit and flowers or came in pink bottles. This search inspired Cora Miller and her husband Stefan to start their own company, Young King Hair Care. They designed the line of herbal, natural hair products for little black boys like their son and launched the product shortly before his third birthday.

“I really wanted my son to see himself in the products he uses,” said Cora Miller, co-founder and CEO of the company. “It was an annoying, nagging feeling that wouldn’t go away.”

Young King is now on the shelves of two of the country’s largest retailers, Walmart and Target. It is among the growing number of black-owned brands national retailers began selling over the past year to better reflect their diverse customers and to advocate racial justice after the murder of George Floyd.

Companies made commitments and planned donations last year. However, the growing assortment of black-owned goods on the shelves and websites of national retailers has become one of the most visible signs of change in the corporate world.

Floyd’s Tuesday murder a year ago not only threw a harsh light on the police treatment of black Americans, said Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School. This led to a reckoning of how black companies were excluded from economic opportunity and reflected in offensive brands like Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben.

In seeking more black suppliers, retailers have combined “social change and economic skill” and taken a step that can increase company reputations and sales, he said.

“It’s an investment,” he said. “It is a long-term game to signal to a community that we have your back.”

More space on the shelves

Four days after Floyd’s murder, Aurora James challenged companies in an Instagram post.

“So many of your businesses are built on black purchasing power,” she wrote. “So many of your stores are set up in black communities. So many of your posts are showing up in black feeds. This is the least you can do for us. We represent 15% of the population and we have to represent 15% of your shelf space.”

A year later, 25 companies – including well-known retailers like Macy’s, Sephora and Gap – signed up. James, a black entrepreneur with a luxury brand called Brother Vellies, leads the 15 percent pledge.

James said she had seen firsthand progress with the companies. A company that goes along with the promise signs a contract with the nonprofit organization that reviews it quarterly. She said the nonprofit is checking their orders and tracking products on shelves. The group also shares resources like a database of black-owned companies and suggests strategies that companies can use to build a diverse base of suppliers.

As the number of products grows, retailers are becoming stronger and more supportive business partners, James said. For example, she added, businesses not only target black entrepreneurs who have been left out in the past, but guide them through common challenges that early-stage businesses face. Examples she cited were helping with the design of packages or logos, or paying deposits to companies when placing orders to provide up-front capital.

James recently met on Zoom with a group of entrepreneurs who are part of Sephora’s accelerator program. All of them were women and people of color creating makeup and skin care products for women who look like them.

“Every day I hear messages from black-owned companies taking advantage of these opportunities,” she said. “It’s a real game changer … if we ultimately empower entrepreneurs, who in many cases live and work in black communities, we will really see a big difference in this country,” she said.

Other retailers have announced similar commitments and new approaches.

Lowe’s had a “Shark Tank” -like competition to identify promising products from entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds and reward them with shelf space, marketing support and small business grants. Ulta Beauty plans to spend more than $ 4 million on marketing to help black-owned brands gain a foothold. The goal is to launch a new eight-week accelerator program for Schwarz-led startups, Forward Founders, to spend more than $ 2 billion on black-owned companies by the end of 2025. And Walmart featured some black-owned companies in front of beauty brands in a recent TikTok streaming event.

James criticized some companies that refused to keep the 15 percent promise, such as: B. Target, saying that its initiatives do not go far enough and do not come with the same level of accountability.

“Whether Target wants to take the promise or one of those other companies wants to take the promise, we will continue to put their feet to the fire and urge them to do more,” she said.

Creamalicious Ice Creams founder Liz Rogers took her southern roots into account when creating her recipes.

Source: Bobby Quillard

Burglary

These efforts have already begun to bring minority-owned brands to the shelves.

Founded by black cook and restaurateur Liz Rogers, Creamalicious Ice Creams hit Walmart stores in February. The pints came in the freezer a few months after Walmart CEO Doug McMillon sent employees a letter promising to promote racial equality in their business last summer.

“It’s very difficult to get into that [ice cream] Category because it’s extremely competitive, there’s no shelf space, … and when you’re new they’re not very open to making room, “Rogers said. You have to be a lot more innovative. You have to have a brain and have a story, and you have to speak differently and stand alone. “

Rogers said that being authentic and true to her southern roots helped her ultimately to succeed. “People told me, ‘Don’t call Walmart because they’re going to say no.’ And I said, “Well, you can say no.” But in the end they said yes. And now I’m trying to work with other retailers. “

Creamalicious ice creams sold online and in some Meijer grocery stores include Slap Yo ‘Momma Banana Pudding, Uncle Charles Brown Suga Bourbon Cake, and Porch Light Peach Cobbler. All of them come with family recipes and draw on African American culture and childhood memories, Rogers said

“Doug McMillon didn’t just write a letter,” she said. “You welcomed me with open arms. … You taught me how to navigate the system and looked after me. You sincerely wanted me to win.”

Rebecca Allen was launched in 2018 as a shoe for women in color who were struggling to find the right version of nude shoes for them.

Source: Rebecca Allen

Rebecca Allen, a shoe brand specifically aimed at black and brown women, was featured on Nordstrom’s website this week. Their models will be available in select Nordstrom stores later this year.

The department store announced last fall its goal of $ 500 million in retail sales by 2025 from brands owned, operated, or designed by Black and / or Latinx individuals. This was part of a series of diversity and inclusion goals that the company set out last August. Regardless of this, it committed itself to adding more black-owned beauty brands to its product mix.

Nordstrom’s purchasing team has since received a spate of Instagram messages and emails from black-owned companies, said Teri Bariquit, chief merchandising officer.

“There was this momentum and this call to action that provided a platform for more change and faster,” she said. “There was a lot of very organic contact with us directly. People see an open door and we always take these calls.”

Allen, a former vice president of Goldman Sachs, started the company because of her own problems buying shoes. The company’s range of heels, flats and sandals is available in a wider range of colors, including those to match the skin tone of women with color.

Allen said that not only can retailers put brands before consumers, but they can also roll back many years of black businesses that don’t get access to the capital they need to grow.

“It is certainly not enough to just say that we will bring these brands to market. But it really is like this: How do we support them to actually be successful and how do we define that success?” She said.

Allen has facilitated conversations between other black-owned brands with Nordstrom to share success and failure stories and learn from each other, she said.

“For any of these companies, it won’t help anyone if they just say, Well, we did it, we hit that 15% quota – or whatever it is,” Allen said.

Getting just a phone call or email from a buyer was often difficult for so many black entrepreneurs, said Young King’s Miller. Company history shows how a national retailer’s attention “changes the trajectory of your business,” she said.

Young King started selling products online in 2019. However, business accelerated after Target picked up its curling cream and conditioner from Walmart in January and March. Sales have roughly tripled compared to the previous year, she said. That has given the company an opportunity to launch new styling products and move into a category outside of hair care, she said.

Target, for example, looked after the company in its Beauty Accelerator. It also offered the company endcap displays in nearly 200 stores at a discounted price, she said.

She said she often walks the aisles of the store with her son Kade, who is now 4 years old. The couple “paid it forward” by hiring other black-owned companies, including the hair care product maker and the order fulfillment company.

“It took a long time to be honest,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy to think that there weren’t a lot of products for blacks or bans. There just weren’t any. That’s why I’m always so excited to learn and see and see other up and coming black-owned brands fill in spaces and see them Gaps. “

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