Kings Crowning Founder Darrell Spencer Talks The State of Black Male Beauty

As a kid, Darrell Spencer and his father headed to their local barbershop for a fresh cut every Saturday morning. Raised by  “a pretty boy” in Chicago, Saturday morning cuts and fades became the 27-year-old’s introduction to self-care and beauty as a black man. Today, he helps other black men embrace their own self-care journeys through his haircare brand, Kings Crowing

Spencer was working as a marketing and sales professional at Google when he decided to act on his entrepreneurial spirit. 

I worked at Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and Pinterest basically helping brands handle their paid advertisement across these platforms- building their brand and building their businesses so I had a lot of idle time, and I’m like, ‘why am I just building these other companies up?’ like if ‘I’m helping them out, I can do it myself,’ he said.

During the rising action of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Spencer recognized a significant lack of self-care and beauty products catered towards men and, further, black men. His first product, The Crown, directly reflects his approach to bridging that gap. “The Crown” is a protective satin-lined cap to help men retain moisture, reduce breakage, and preserve overall hair health. The viral hair accessories include all hair types and lengths and offer a male-friendly alternative to bonnets, a protective headwear for women.

Image Source: @kings_crowning

There is a huge market for male grooming products. The industry is expected to be worth $115 billion by 2028. In 2022, Mckinsey & Co. found that black consumers make up only 2.5 percent of revenue in the beauty industry despite being responsible for 11.1 percent of total beauty spending. Further, the consulting firm found that addressing racial inequity in the beauty industry is a $2.6 billion opportunity. 

Spencer, who has been a full-time entrepreneur for a year, has mastered the essence of his business by fusing his passion for feeling and looking good with his marketing skillset and his keen eye for the needs of his community. We talked to this curl leader about everything from spotting beauty trends to implementing new products to the future of black male beauty.  

Since its initial launch, Kings Crowning has expanded into “King-rags” an elevated take on durags; a collection of satin-lined baseball hats, brimless hats, scrub caps, and hoodies; an Ultra Moisture hair care line and smell-good body butters.

When do you think you learned about what self-care and beauty looked like for you?

My dad, um, when he was young, he was a pretty boy. He ended up putting me on the game very early on, right? So, very early on, I had a clean-cut fade. I stayed in the barbershop probably in grade school every Saturday. Every Saturday, I loved it. Every Saturday morning, we went to get our haircuts, which was a mandatory weekly thing.

So that became routine and ritual, and I think that was probably when I first began to understand how important self-care and beauty are, and keeping up with that is important because it has to start with my hair. I think for a lot of black men, it starts with your hair, too. I think skin is another one we’re slowly working our way into for black men, but I think the primary point of beauty stems from our hair, and that was honestly mine, was getting haircuts.

Kings Crowning Founder Darrell Spencer Talks The State of Black Male Beauty

Then eventually, I grew my hair out, and I had curls, and then that kind of what [inspired] Kings Crowing and how it comes about because I’m like, ‘I don’t want to wear a bonnet, so what do I have to refer to as a man?’ and then that is how it all played out.

What has the transition from corporate America to entrepreneurship been like?

The transition has been interesting because now, I have my whole day to myself, and I have to build my schedule, you know? There are different things that I could not do with the brand and the business because I was working a full-time job.

Now, I have so much time to delegate different time slots. I think your note is interesting; this clear pathway exists, right? There is a track that I followed. Corporate America led me to my business, and it equipped me with the skillset and the knowledge to run my brand. 

The life of my brand came and came from paid advertising. That was the bread and butter and the engine of the brand and business. We run traffic through Google. Facebook, Snapchat, email, and SMS. So, all those marketing ploys and strategies I learned from corporate America honestly follow me. They gave me the resources and the knowledge to run this business as a viable CEO.

What role does social media play in your business strategy?

That’s how you differentiate your brand from the others and show your brand voice. So our brand voice- we’re very young, we’re very vibrant, and we use colloquial terms like ‘Wassup Bro?’, ‘Yo wassup king?’ like we talk like that, and that’s kind of the way for us to connect a lot easier with our consumers and customers.

Image Source: @kings_crowning

We want to create that so the distance feels smaller, easier, and closer, so we use that to emphasize our brand voice, but also through marketing. We create various short-form content and long-form content to ensure that we can market the products because it’s one thing to have products, but it’s another thing to be able to showcase how to use the product [and] how to wear the product.

How do you decipher staple products from trendy, quick products?

I try my best to let the consumers talk to me. I feel like you know what your staple is by the demand for it. So you know, if the customers are asking for this and they’re reviewing it and they’re falling off the shelf, that’s the staple product. You really can’t, as a CEO, choose what the staple product is.

You can, in a sense, roll out what it can be, but I think ultimately, your consumers are the people that’ll choose what is best and what they’re rolling with. So I say honestly, I like to let my consumers choose the best products and listen to them, especially comments. Through our paid advertising, you see all the comments.

I see a lot of suggestions from comments that I take and create those products through. I listen to our consumers and allow them to lead our decisions to ensure that I’m pushing out products catered to and geared toward what they want and need right now. It’s also about keeping up and noticing what’s hot now and then capitalizing. There’s room and space for everybody. I wouldn’t say I like the notion and the idea that if somebody already rolled something out, you can’t roll it out as well. We’re all in our niche [and] our own area and can grow in the same areas.

Kings Crowning Founder Darrell Spencer Talks The State of Black Male Beauty

Beauty and self-care can be taboo for black men. How have you kept your target audience engaged?

When I entered the brand, I entered the space. We were essentially the first of its kind. Now you’re seeing more and more men’s brands, which I love, but we were the first to roll out products for men to protect their hair, satin-lined products. You saw it everywhere for women but didn’t see it all for men. I started the conversation, right? I made it more comfortable, and I created a market. I marketed these products so that men felt comfortable in them, right?

I think that we have this stigma around bonnets and things like that for women, but where are the products for men to feel comfortable and wear? Where are the products that are marketed towards men? I think that when we begin to create products geared and marketed towards the issues men have and the features that will be beneficial and fruitful for men, that’s where you get started. So having the products is one, that’s how you start.

Image Source: @kings_crowning

How you market it, we intentionally market it by showing all different kinds of black men. We market it by showing all different kinds of hair. We want all men to feel heard and seen through our products. The second step is how we market it to show our audience that you can see yourself in our products. Thirdly and lastly, I would say conversations. One big thing that I’m about, and I recently did, is actually with another major Chicago brand called the Beauty Genie in Chicago [by] Ebony Kareem and her brand. We collaborated to have just open conversation and dialogue.

Two weeks ago, we were over at Tuskegee University and went there. We brought over this theme called the King’s Council, where we had an open conversation with the black men on campus about beauty, beauty standards, growth as men, how we can be better, insecurities, and vulnerability. We wanted to have a very open and candid conversation to ensure that we’re pushing the conversations, to ensure that we’re pushing us as black men forward. We’re just not afraid to have open conversations and do much with our brand.

This is interesting. Why Tuskegee? Is there a specific reason you chose an HBCU?

One thing about me is that I don’t forget about my people. I create these products for my people, so I always want to reach out to them, which is why HBCUs are important to me and many others. Tuskegee University was already a target for my business partner, Ebony Kareem, so it made sense. It made sense to start there because she already had an existing relationship, so let’s bring it there first.

I think the goal is to make it bigger where we’re traveling across all these different HBCUs and having open and candid conversations for black men to feel comfortable because I think safe spaces are important. I think we have to foster safe spaces. The question is, how do we foster safe spaces? So we want to facilitate those areas and those rooms.

How do you see King’s Crowning expanding in the future? is there something in particular you’re looking forward to accomplishing?

We have some satin-lined baseball hats right now, but as a CEO, I always want to be innovative and edgy, right? So one thing that I want to do [is] I want to give a complete facelift to all our hats. I want to create innovative designs [and] make them edgier and more current. So, I’m starting with our hats on the closer end and to the near future. I want to create a long list of hats we can run out of: trucker hats with satin-lined, everything.

That’s the start of it. But also rolling out hair growth oil for men. It can be great for your waves, your locs, your curls, and your afro, so it’s all-encompassing. So, I want to continue to do that and to innovate in the space. Eventually, I’d love to break into retailers. That’s one of the biggest things that I wanna do. But what we’re also working on, lastly, is rolling out a sister brand of Kings Crowing.

Image Source: @kings_crowning

We’re going to roll out Crown’s Skin, which is essentially body butters. So that’ll be the skin care arm of Kings Crowning, and our very first parts will be the best body butter that you can ever have. It’s all organic, but it’s essentially cologne in a bottle. Cologne through body butter is different, and they smell amazing, so that’s my long-term vision. We’re building, and we’re grinding over here.

What does the future of black male beauty look like, in your opinion?

I think it’s a scale. We’re not a monolith. It ranges. I think we’re now at the cusp of men and black men feeling comfortable and safe to discuss. Let me reel it back. I think that there have been a lot of black men that are comfortable. Still, I think hyper-masculinity, the way we have been trained societally [and] sociologically, it’s been ingrained in black men to be hyper-masculine and to veer away from things that may make you closer to the feminine, right?

But there have been black men who have been trying to fight that battle and that stigma, and there are others who are still a little delayed. When it comes down to that and that notion, I think we’re doing a good job, and we’re at the cusp of breaking into it. We’re getting there.

Crowning one King at a time, Spencer creates space for black men across the beauty.

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