McKinsey Quarterly

Meet the Black beauty execs

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Tracee Ellis Ross, founder and CEO of Pattern Beauty

Tracee Ellis Ross has long been known for proudly donning and celebrating natural Black hair. Over time, what started out as a personal journey to nourish her own curly tresses turned into a business idea. After a decade of laying the groundwork—doing research, meeting chemists, talking to brand marketers, and meeting with potential partners and investors—Ross launched Pattern Beauty in 2019 to offer a product line to nourish all kinds of textured hair, from curly to coily to tight-textured.

Ross also serves as the diversity and inclusion adviser to retailer Ulta Beauty. She’s also executive producing The Hair Tales, a new docuseries about Black women, beauty, and hair, premiering later this year on Hulu and the Oprah Winfrey Network. She recently spoke with McKinsey about the challenges of going to market.

The Black consumer has different concerns about how we utilize beauty products. There hasn’t been a lot of research and data to support what that looks like for retailers and Black-founded brands. There needs to be a lot more listening.

Nyakio Grieco, cofounder of Thirteen Lune and founder of Nyakio and Relevant: Your Skin Seen

Los Angeles–based entrepreneur Nyakio Grieco got her start with beauty products as a young girl visiting her grandparents in Kenya. She used crushed coffee beans from her grandmother’s farm and rubbed them on her skin with sugarcane to remove dryness. Her grandfather, a medicine man, taught her how to use cold-pressed natural oils.

In 2002, Grieco launched Nyakio (pronounced Neh-KAY-Oh), her eponymous brand dedicated to clean beauty and globally sourced ingredients. She sold her company to Unilever in 2016, and in 2020, Target began to carry Nyakio products in stores nationwide. That same year, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained broad momentum, Grieco noticed that while Black beauty brands were gaining recognition, there was no single place where consumers could purchase from them. She cofounded Thirteen Lune, an e-commerce marketplace where 90 percent of the beauty brands sold are from Black or Brown founders and the other 10 percent have a proven commitment to racial diversity and inclusion. In June 2022, she founded the new Black beauty brand Relevant: Your Skin Seen.

Grieco talked to McKinsey about the challenges of getting access to capital as a Black beauty founder.

I truly believe that this industry can be a catalyst to help alleviate systemic racism in this country. Everybody loves beauty—it’s universal, and it makes a lot of money. So it’s time to make it as equitable as humanly possible.

Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter

In the early 1990s, Lisa Price, who was working in television production, began to experiment with mixing up fragrances and creams in her Brooklyn kitchen. Her hobby turned into a side hustle when her mother, Carol, encouraged her to sell her products at a church flea market. Price opened her first boutique in 1999, and over the next several years, she grew Carol’s Daughter into a nationwide multimillion-dollar business, in part by converting celebrity customers into investors. In 2014, Price sold Carol’s Daughter to L’Oréal, giving its products an even greater distribution footprint. Today, a Carol’s Daughter hair care product is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Price still maintains a role as the founder of her brand at L’Oréal and shared with McKinsey her thoughts on what it was like to be one of the first Black founders of a beauty brand and her experience selling it to a larger company.

The biggest challenge about being a Black beauty founder is other people not being able to identify with the challenge of being a Black founder. You have to figure out a way to convince people that you know what you’re talking about.

Desirée Rogers, CEO and co-owner of Black Opal and Fashion Fair Cosmetics

Longtime business exec and former White House aide Desirée Rogers has made it a mission in recent years to revitalize a trusted pair of legacy Black beauty brands. In 2019, she and her business partner and publishing executive friend Cheryl Mayberry McKissack bought Black Opal, a beauty brand that was founded in 1994 by a Cypriot American chemist to provide better cosmetic and skin care choices for his wife. A couple of months later, the duo also bought Fashion Fair Cosmetics from Johnson Publishing Company, where both had previously worked (Rogers served as CEO for several years after she left the White House). Johnson Publishing Company, which published Ebony and Jet magazines, launched Fashion Fair in 1973 as one of the first and only cosmetics brands offering makeup for Black women of different skin tones.

Rogers spoke with McKinsey about how the beauty industry needs to better take the perspectives of Black consumers into account.

If we know that a large percentage of Black consumers say they would prefer to buy from a Black-owned or Black-founded company, how do we bring that to life? That [burden] can’t just be placed on the shoulders of Black-owned companies and their founders.

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