In response to the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen an upswing in initiatives that aim to give Black women the financial support needed to maintain their businesses and bridge the funding and investment gap. But even before the added financial weight of the pandemic, almost half of all African American women business owners said they struggled to secure business financing, despite the fact that Black women are starting businesses at such a high rate (six times the national average).
In an article on Black-owned beauty businesses and access to capital, Allure references “Readiness is the New Green,” a recent economic data study on business and multicultural beauty from Ready to Beauty. The data found that there may be a significant disconnect between what Black business owners say they need from the beauty industry for a successful business, and what the general market assumes they need.
What Black founders really need
Out of a panel of 70 Black founders and professionals in the beauty industry and 70 professionals in the general beauty market, 93 percent of the general market panelists believed that the top priority of reform for the beauty industry should be to help Black entrepreneurs with mentoring and business management skills, while 92 percent of the Black entrepreneurs place investments and capital as the top economic reform needed for Black business in the beauty industry. These outcomes suggest that while expertise in the field of entrepreneurship and branding may be helpful to small Black-owned businesses, those brands will ultimately need an opportunity to form relationships with investors and receive intentional financial support in order to see a real change in the industry.
In addition to challenges with access to business funding, individual stylists also face systematic barriers in advancing their professional careers. The cost of cosmetology school can be an obstacle, and in an industry that is so insular and exclusionary of people of color, it can be extremely difficult for Black women to enter into elite spaces in the profession of curly hair care without the proper connections.
Ahead, we’ve highlighted a few program initiatives that are working to level the playing field through hands-on mentoring experience and financial investments that business owners and stylists will want to keep on their radar.
3 Initiatives That Are Empowering—and Funding—The Next Generation of Black Stylists And Beauty Entrepreneurs
1. TRESemmé Future Stylist Fund
Black female stylists deserve access to the same educational and experiential opportunities as non-Black women--especially in an industry that gains inspiration from Black hair practices. TRESemmé’s Future Stylists Fund is addressing that issue with its annual program that reinforces the company’s commitment to equitable treatment and diversity among hair professionals. A selection committee of expert and celebrity stylists chooses 10 applicants to receive $10,000 each, industry exposure, and career advancing opportunities annually.
“It’s still an elitist space,” explains celebrity stylist, entrepreneur, and TRESemmé selection committee member Nai’vasha Johnson. “If you’re not brought into the space from someone in this space, it’s difficult to get started. I’ve had an extremely difficult time getting here, and discrimination within the industry is something that I deal with to this day.”
This lack of representation shows itself in other ways, as well. Black hair is a huge percentage of the hair care market, yet there aren’t many celebrity stylists who know how to care for highly textured hair. “People pay a lot of money for hair education, but our hair is being treated as extracurricular, when, in fact, it should be taught as a basic curriculum,” Nai’vasha says. “My hope is that this program will create a welcoming way for Black women to enter the beauty space.”
Furthermore, the presence of young, Black stylists in elite spaces could change the beauty industry, possibly bringing new techniques and innovations. “I am so inspired by the younger generation of stylists, I love how savvy this generation is,” says celebrity stylist, Unilever global stylist, and selection committee member Lacy Reday. “The way they use social media to their advantage, and the way they discover new techniques and different ways of learning is amazing.”
And, while $10,000 is an incredible gift that will help aspiring stylists with tuition costs, the biggest benefit of the program lies with the experience, “It’s a blessing to have financial help, but having access to stylists is important. It’s not easy to get on my assistant roster, but with this, you kind of get a boost. You get visibility, and mentorship boosts your confidence.”
Follow @tresemme on Instagram to stay up to date on the next round of applications in 2022.
2. Walker’s Legacy Foundation
In the philanthropic spirit of Madame C.J. Walker, the Walker’s Legacy Foundation is committed to female economic empowerment, funded through her entrepreneurialism. This initiative focuses on improving the livelihood and economic condition of low-income women through programs in financial literacy, entrepreneurship training, and business development.
The foundation frequently offers grant programs in addition to its “Women Who Enterprise” accelerated business training programs, which are targeted toward addressing the specific challenges of women of color in entrepreneurship. This curriculum is designed to increase the participant’s access to funding, networks, and confidence in their ability to operate their own business.
Walker’s Legacy along with American Express, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, National Business League, and U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., have formed a “Coalition to Back Black Business” which will distribute $5,000 grants to more than 250 applicants every fall, from 2020-2023 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, for a grand total of $10 million.
Take a look at the full list of requirements and apply now.
3. Fearless Fund
If the world of venture capital seems out of reach for you as a woman of color and beauty entrepreneur, look no further than the Fearless Fund initiative. It’s led by women of color seeking to finance businesses in early stages of funding which are run by women of color, as a response to women (and particularly non-White women) being historically underfunded in business.
In addition, the Fearless fund offers VC Week, a virtual and in-person educational experience and introduction to venture capital (and the tickets are free!), a 12-month venture capital training program, and a $10,000 grant program for COVID relief.