One day, to humor myself, I inquired with my dad about his skincare routine. The question puzzled him, and as expected, his response consisted of "soap and lotion." But situations like my father's are more commonplace than a rarity, and in 2020, skin care for Black men is still a topic seldom discussed, even though Black men outpace the market by 20% on toiletry items. Even more rare is Black male-led skincare brands, which even in the midst of a renaissance for Black businesses, remain wholly untouched. And while there are few Black men that do occupy these spaces, their hope is that their experiences will encourage others to follow suit.
"I was tired of walking down the aisle and not finding products that worked for me," Tristan Walker, founder of Bevel, a grooming brand geared toward Black men says. "I felt embarrassed because the products that were out there didn’t really solve the problems that I was facing — razor bumps, skin irritation, and more. When you consider the cultural influence of Black women and men and how much money we spend on these categories, the needs and problems we face regarding our skin and hair need to be considered. We deserve better."
Dorion Renaud, founder of Buttah Skin, was also tired of feeling underrepresented in an industry where Black people make up more than 15% of spending power. "I had really bad skin and I suffered from hyperpigmentation," he says. "I found a routine that worked for me and so many people would ask me, 'What do you do for your skin?' At the time I was just using a gentle cleanser, a vitamin C serum, and shea butter right off the streets in Harlem. It was because I would go in stores and I just did not see representation of myself when it came down to the skincare space. To add insult to injury, you go to a drugstore and they have ethnic products stored in the back and locked up. It's embarrassing. It didn't feel like self-care, and beauty should be an uplifting space. We don't belong in a small, segregated section, we belong with everyone else."
However, for Roosevelt Augustin, founder of new skincare brand August Rose, his journey with skin care began a bit earlier. "One of my favorite past times growing up was going in my backyard to cut up fruits and plants to use on my skin, particularly the aloe vera plants we had," he says. "Growing up in a Caribbean household, I experienced firsthand the powerful healing capabilities possessed by natural products and blends. They have always been the largest part of my skincare and body-care regime, so it was only fitting that I created August Rose."
But launching brands wasn't easy to any of the brand owners due to a plethora of reasons. "One of the biggest struggles I've faced is garnering credibility," Augustin says. "Due to the history of Black men not being encouraged or taught about skin care because of the stereotypes surrounding it, we are not seen as go-to experts or ambassadors for skin care and skin health."
Another issue faced — one that isn't just exclusive to Black male-lead businesses — is securing capital and equity. "For me, it comes back to addressing a bigger issue: the chronic lack of investment into Black women and men entrepreneurs and their businesses," Walker says. According to a study conducted by Guidant Financial, small Black businesses are self-funded by roughly 77%. That includes liquid cash, donations from friends and family, and personal credit lines. "When you increase the investment and funding in Black business, the representation of Black women and men across the industry will undoubtedly increase."
Walker recalls his very first pitch where he had the Bevel Shave System next to the Proactive Acne System, something he says didn't garner the reaction he'd hoped. "I’ll never forget the moment that one of the potential investors looked at me and said 'I’m not sure issues related to shaving, irritation, and razor bumps have as big of a societal impact, as issues related to acne.' This is precisely why I will continue to speak out on the need to have more Black people and people of color in positions of power, be it at VC firms, in executive roles, and in board seats." In 2018, Walker's company Walker & Company was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Procter & Gamble, something rare for a Black health and beauty startup.
For Renaud, whose background is in acting and television, he faced a separate set of obstacles. "Making the shift from entertainment was both scary and difficult for me," he says. "It was hard for people to see me as a businessman at first because they only knew me as Dorion the actor."
However, one thing they all agree upon is that one of the biggest deterrents for Black men entering the industry is the long-standing stigma that self-care and skin care are feminine. "Growing up, especially in the South, sports and handy skills were thoroughly emphasized and encouraged as opposed to knowledge about skin care and skin health," Augustin says. Renaud echoes those sentiments. "My hope is that Black men in general learn to embrace skin care and not allow it to make them feel emasculated," he says. "I think it's a lack of education for skin care and how we should take care of our skin in our community. I was blessed enough to have the resources, but it can be a scary space if you don't. I knew nothing about the skincare process before we started whatsoever. I was skin care lover, not an expert."
Augustin, Walker, and Renaud are hopeful that brands like theirs, as well as the influx of support of Black brands, will encourage other Black men to follow in their footsteps. "I hope and know that it’ll be a future of excitement and innovation," Augustus says. "Black men have already been doing the work of uncovering the negative connotations surrounding skin care and their involvement with it, so once we fully get over that hump, our power within it will be infinite." But the responsibility also lies with retailers, Walker says. "They have to continue to expand their overall male grooming offerings to include more brands that intentionally focus on Black men and people of color" he says. "Historically, there’s been a lack of grooming products designed with us in mind, and we deserve better."
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