By Nanette D. Massey
In the early 1900s, Madame C.J. Walker made a name for herself by going door to door selling her new hair care products to Black women. She built a virtual army of independent Black business women by training thousands of others to sell her products and to use them in salons.
Today that demographic has flipped, and the Black hair care industry in the U.S. is nearly completely dominated by people of Korean descent, according to the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association. Dr. Tiffany Gill, author of Beauty Shop Politics, notes that most of the industry’s wholesale catalogues are even printed in the Korean language.
Three enterprising Black sisters on Buffalo’s East side – Lauren Jackson, Danielle Jackson and Brianna Lannie – are looking to take a chunk of that business back for themselves. The Hair Hive opened Saturday, March 7th, at 1413 Fillmore across the street from Mattie’s Restaurant.
Lauren finished her bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Canisius College, then settled into a comfortable, steady job as a supervisor for the post office.
“I became content with just how life is, just doing my 9-to-5, you know, the good government job with benefits. I realized I didn’t want this to be the rest of my life.”
Inspired by a story of two sisters in New York City, she sent a group text to her sisters suggesting they open their own beauty supply store.
Danielle was on board without hesitation.
“I was frustrated with the current climate of hair stores in the city” she said. “You walk in, they don’t speak to you, they haven’t worn the products in their own head, they just cash you out!”
The third sister, Brianna was instantly in agreement. A licensed cosmetologist, Brianna always knew she wanted to do hair for a living. Bowing to pressures about stability, she detoured into completing a bachelor’s degree in marketing, also from Canisius. When it was time to decide what to do next, her first love won out anyway. Now she can put that marketing education to work to benefit her own business.
The sisters stress that first and foremost they want patrons to feel welcome in their store. They want people to see it as more than just a place to buy things, but to be able to take advantage of their expertise and passion about the beauty industry as a resource. All three have specific experience with the products sold in the store, and can advise customers from first hand knowledge. They say that too often they’ve seen people buy products that are all wrong for them due to lack of a store clerk’s knowledge.
Their current inventory will grow as the business grows. The sisters don’t want to keep product on the shelves that is likely to expire or go bad. Right now they’re concentrating on stock that sells quickly because they know they’re the products consumers want most. Brianna adds “I’m not going to mislead you just to sell you something, you can expect honesty and knowledge.”
The young entrepreneurs were aided with a start-up loan from the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, an effort by the Westminster Presbyterian Church to empower economically disadvantaged Buffalonians with start-up capital. Given all the talk of economic development in our town, Danielle said she was surprised at the lack of available help through sources like banks and even the federal U.S. Small Business Association.
“The SBA seemed more geared towards people who have already been in business for a year or so, but WEDI was so easy to deal with” she noted. “We’re really thankful to them, I wish more sources had more faith in start-ups.”
There are big plans in the works for the store. The near future will see wholesale and bulk discounts for licensed beauticians, a loyalty program, and an entrepreneur spotlight where other independents will be given the opportunity to sell their products out of the Fillmore store.
“Everybody knows somebody who’s selling something,” Lauren says. “We want to support each other. We grew up five minutes from here, our main focus is to give back to our community.”
The store is brightly lit, warm, friendly, and well stocked . They’re open until 9pm except Sundays, and can be found online at www.THHBuffalo.com