Shea Moisture: Cash-cropping on capitalism or Simply Selling Out?

April 25th will probably go down in Twitter history as the day black girls realised: we just can’t win.

I found myself sitting around that afternoon, probing the grainy recesses of my mind as I tried to recall my two and a half year natural hair journey in some acceptable measure of detail. As I typed and backspaced, and cringed painfully at a picture of me – seven months into my hair journey – wearing shimmery purple lipstick and looking oily and raggedy, I received a message from my Bestie for the Restie…

“Jesse Williams is that same motherplucker (sic) who preached ‘just because we are magic, doesn’t mean we are not real’, then goes and cheats on his natural haired wife with a Becky with the good hair.” *insert several upside down smiley faces because my friend is insane…just like me*

In true, mega-extra texting form, I responded with a rather fitting meme and promptly captioned it with an even more fitting “WHAT!!”, my fingers dancing, swiping and tapping at breakneck speed as I mosied my way on to catch the latest scoop on this new development. The moment I got on to my timeline, my two day old twist-out went flying back, along with my edges, as I read through tweet after tweet about the Jesse Williams saga and his alleged affair with Minka Kelly.

But that’s not the real reason I’m lounging about on my computer now, is it?

No. The real reason I’m here is to address the other proverbial elephant in the room. You know, the one forever blocking black girls from winning at life? Allow me to explain.

Shea Moisture. The natural girl’s staple brand. The be all and end all of natural hair products. The manufacturer of that popping wash n go on your neighbour and her dog. The brand that’s been giving your 3c natural haired cousin’s boyfriend’s little sister LIFE – decided to launch a new commercial campaign that featured the unexpected. Two white women and what looked like the “token black girl”.

And the roasting and toasting crowd of savagery that is Black Twitter went WILD. I’m talking Armageddon. The Coming of Beelzebub, rather than Jesus. Anarchy. World War Weird! How dare Shea Moisture – which was originally founded in Sierra Leone, Africa – feature someone who’s the complete opposite of what the brand represents and stands for! You were supposed to be the saviour of black, kinky haired girls! We were willing to spend our last, hard-earned, black girl dollar (or Rand) on your Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie! We were rooting for you! WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!!

At first, I sat there and nodded my head vigorously. Exclaiming “YAAASSS” as I read a number of tweets that cried foul and accused Shea Moisture of creating a new kind of “beauty apartheid”.  However, the more pragmatic, getting-my-marketing-degree-soon-so let’s-break-this-down-from-a-business-perspective side of me had to pause, take a deep breath, and think about it. And now, I’m ready to share my views with my fellow bloggers, blog readers, South African naturalistas, everyone and their dogs.

The answer is quite simple, really. Shea Moisture needs to make money.

That’s why we – as people – enter the job market and work ridiculous shifts in a job we probably don’t enjoy. To get that paper. Acquire that coin. To make money. Now, is it right that they chose to increase their profit-making prospects by literally whitewashing the life and soul out of their brand and how it’s been projected all these years? Heck no! But, that doesn’t mean they have no right to jump on the wagon of corporate capitalism. In order to support their business and the sheer demand rolling in from their target market, they need to identify and penetrate a new one. And that just happens to be Minka Kelly, Kendall Jenner and all the other women (and men) who fall within the caucasian demographic.

Again, this doesn’t justify how they literally started fronting by seemingly erasing the very same group of customers who made them who they are today, but, as far as I can remember – Shea Moisture never really did market themselves as “for blacks only”. Instead, it was perpetuated as such, thanks (or no thanks) to natural hair gurus YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Social media is the true catalyst of business success, but I believe both Shea Moisture and its customers failed to realise that social media, and all its useful content, can sometimes distort the image portrayed whenever a wash n go tutorial featuring Shea Moisture goes up on YouTube.

Yes, Shea Moisture is black-owned, makes use of natural and organic ingredients that cater to thirsty kinks, coils and curls, and mostly used by women of colour with natural hair. However, people who don’t fall within the bracket of black or natural-haired, can also use their products. In fact, after extensive research (and a pretty excessive amount of stalking them on Insta), shows that Shea Moisture not only manufacturers and retails natural hair friendly products, they also aim some of their goods to kids and men, skin and body hygiene with ingredients ranging from shea butter to African black soap to sea kelp and pearl protein.

Conclusion? Shea Moisture is just following what most of us learn or understand in business management. Identify an opportunity in the market, create a product, ensure supply meets demand, make a profit, expand. Grow. Dominate the market share. Where they missed the mark was not establishing, from the start, that anyone who’s anyone can make use of their products, and then turning around and slapping black social media influencers and black customers/users in the face with an ill-timed, ill-conceived and rather poorly executed ad campaign. It makes it seem as though they rode to their success on the backs of hard working, black women who were willing to buy and postively promote the brand from it’s shea buttery and Zanzibar Marine Complex Sea Salty jump-off.

Hopefully, everyone will learn from this experience, and understand the concept of perception. Otherwise, I’d suggest taking that R550 and heading off to Clicks to treat your hair to Cantu or Design Essentials… at least they’re available on South African shelves!!

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