It seems that every time I walk into a Black beauty supply store in Toronto (like earlier today), the same question ALWAYS comes to mind: "Where are all the Black people?
Now, when I ask that question, there's the obvious answer, and the not-so-obvious answer. Of course, there are tons of Black folk (mainly women) milling about the aisles, looking at anything from weaves and wigs to shea butter and satin bonnets. However, the employees, from the ones stocking shelves to cashing customers out, are usually anything but. Why is that?
The way I see it, there are layers to this issue. On a financial level, it's clear that Black folks haven't jumped at the opportunity to take ownership of this niche market. I often hear the stateside quotes regarding how much money Black women pump into the beauty industry, but try as I might, I couldn't find any comparisons for Canadian Black women. We're no less interested in keeping ourselves looking fly, so I can only assume that the amount we generate would be a LOT. In Toronto (and elsewhere, as I've researched), Black hair care stores have become Asian family businesses, and very rarely do I see a Black face assisting customers or behind the counter, raking in the dough. How often do we hear that Blacks need to empower themselves with business savvy and an entrepreneurial spirit? So why is it that we're not going where this easy money obviously is? Perhaps Torontonians can explore new ways to exercise their entrepreneurial muscle...I mean, how many promoters/models/singers/rappers/socialites do we really need?
On another, more immediate level - how can you assist me (or any other customer) with product questions if you know nothing of the product? Just today, I had a pleasant Asian lady approach me and ask "Can I help you with anything?" I had two choices:
a) "Yes, please! Which provides better hold for a twist-out: Kinky Curly Curling Custard or Fantasia IC Gel?"
b) "Uh, no thanks, I'm just looking." *smile*
Which do you think I went with?
It's no wonder that I often get approached by other customers for product advice or other questions. And I swear that's why you almost always see Black women shopping in 2s and 3s...who else is going to tell you (truthfully) if that 1B Yaki matches your hair? I have noticed that Asian-owned shops have begun to employ Black customer service staff...but something still doesn't sit right with me when I figure they're likely getting paid minimum wage + product discounts when so much more money is available.
An interesting thing to note is that in my hometown (a diverse city but considerably smaller than Toronto), the Black beauty supply shops - all 2 or 3 of them! - are owned and operated by Black women. My theory is that in a smaller city, these shops have been opened by Black women out of sheer necessity - and because there is nowhere near the big-city volume of buyers in those areas, this is not an attractive business move for anyone else to take on. However, you could open a Black beauty supply store on almost any corner in Toronto, and someone would be up in there on the regular. Black women in this city are looking for somewhere to throw their hard-earned dollars, so I guess I can't blame folks for collecting it, hand over fist.
Granted, not everyone is built for business ownership. It wouldn't be a quick or correct fix to have Black women open shops solely because they're Black women. However, I can't help but notice the disparity in ownership and patronage of the stores in this city. What can we do about it? Encourage our business-minded ladies to look into becoming a owners and operators? Seek out Black-owned beauty supply stores in the city and make an effort to spend our money there? Or at the very least, try to help out that minimum-wage-making customer service sista and hope that maybe she makes commission on sales? Or, could you care less as long as they've got what you want at the price you can afford?
The choice, like the money spent, is ours.