Abstract: “Look for the Proud Lady”: The Business of Keeping Consumers Informed in the Black Beauty Industry

Carina Spaulding


The 1970s and 1980s marked the beginning of intense corporate penetration of the black beauty industry. Despite black consumers having consistently voiced a desire to purchase hair care products from companies owned and run by black men and women, with popular mainstream hair care lines featuring names like Dark & Lovely and African Pride, customers were often left confused as to the true faces behind their favorite brands. In response, leading African American hair care company owners banded together to create a trade association that would help them better compete with the more well-funded (white) beauty corporations by urging consumers to "spend [their] money where it counts." The creation of the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute (AHBAI) in 1981 signaled a shift from employing collective buying power in consumer boycotts to instead promoting certain companies over others through consumer education efforts. Using AHBAI and its partnerships with black hair magazines as a case study, this paper interrogates to what extent trade associations were better able to inform consumers and aid communities than single companies could; the techniques used to create a knowledgeable customer base; and the limitations of marketing community growth through consumerism.