Retail companies since last May have shown interest in Black-owned businesses amid the ongoing calls for racial and social-economic equality from the Black Lives Matter protests.
Companies hearing these demands have rushed to publicize a slew of programs and initiatives to address discrimination. In many instances, these came in the shape of pledges to support Black-owned businesses by stepping up their supplier diversity programs.
Companies such as Walmart and Ulta Beauty promise to expand their company with Black and minority entrepreneurs by reinforcing inclusivity on their shelves and in their programs. With Ulta Beauty promising to double Black-owned brands in its assortment by the end of 2021.
Unfortunately, Black-owned business owners feel these pledges often did not deliver the intended results. About 50% of Black business owners report that their profits plummeted by at least half since the pandemic started, compared to 37% of white owners, a recent H&R Block study found.
Theresa Francine, the owner of TF Beauty and celebrity makeup artist from Long Island, speaks about how the problem with diversity and inclusion lies within the system the industry pushes.
“I think as far as inclusion goes in my industry, there’s something called tokenism,” said Francine. “The industry only lets a couple of people of color in the industry. Now that social media is such a powerful tool for a lot of people, especially a lot of artists’ businesses, it has allowed for some diversity in the industry. However, there could be a little bit more inclusion as far as the freelance realm goes.”
Like Francine, Dr. Corrinne Graham, owner of Designs by Dr. G, a fashion and beauty company, which sells everything from clothes and makeup to soaps and lotions, notes that while diversity and inclusion are problems within her community, the public push to endorse celebrity products has harmed small business owners.
“They signed Kylie Jenner,” said Graham. “Who’s already a billionaire, to now do what I’m doing. “So now that is competition for small, old folks like me trying to do whatever else it is. And then, communities don’t really support, they’re going to run and support these other big brands regardless of the price. And so, it is really tough navigating that sort of industry.”
Francine and Graham Long Island beauty and fashion experts have voiced their concerns regarding the support and inclusion big corporations have promised. For them, promises are not enough to close the wage gap that exists in their communities.
“It’s still very minimal,” said Graham. “I think it was last year, brands like Target and Michael’s had ads you saw on Facebook prior to even Black Lives Matter that they were carrying. “I think trying to be a little bit more inclusive, framing in terms of ads, you see that, but I think it’s still not where it needs to be.”
With 3,881 businesses on Long Island and an estimated 612 being black-owned, community support from corporations can help local businesses become visible on a global market.
For Francine, the race to support Black-owned beauty and fashion brands was the start of change. Although there is more to be done, she is optimistic. Her advice to Long Island Black business owners is to continue their journey and find what works best for them.
“The best advice I could give to someone who has dreams of breaking into this industry is don’t stop,” said Francine. “You feel discouraged, but don’t stop, make sure you keep your skills up to date and don’t focus on others. Create your own way, and once you find something that works for you, you’ll blast it.”