Relaxers and coloring products dominate the ethnic hair care market and several marketers are targeting consumers with new products that relax and color hair. Convenience is important, but African American hair care consumers demand conditioning and protection against dryness and breakage above all else.
By Carolyn A. Dunn
T he number of African-Americans continues to grow significantly. In 1996, there were 33.7 million African-Americans in the United States, comprising 12.7 % of the population. According to the Bureau of the Census, by 2050, the African-American population will almost double to 61 million. These consumers wear a wide variety of hair styles and want products that not only style, but condition and protect their hair from dryness and breakage.
Relax & Color
Relaxing and coloring hair are the most popular hair treatments among African American consumers, and recently, several marketers have launched products that combine these treatments in one product. Last fall, Alberto-Culver expanded its TCB Naturals brand with the addition of TCB Relax & Color, with conditioning relaxer and color treatment in one kit. According to Alberto-Culver, Relax & Color contains no ammonia or peroxide, so women can safely relax and color their hair in one sitting. The kits are available in TCB's four most popular colors: jet black, natural black, dark brown and natural brown. Each kit contains no-lye relaxer cream, activator, neutralizing shampoo, color-rich conditioner, conditioning color treatment, instruction sheet, mixing stick, mixing container, gloves and plastic cap, and will retail for $9.95.
According to Johnson Products, Chicago, IL, relaxers and colorants represent 40% of the ethnic hair care category. Combined, the relaxer and color category represent 40% of that market. To tap into both segments, Johnson Products has expanded its Iman brand beyond cosmetics and into hair care with the Iman Hair Relaxer and Color System. The product includes moisture enriched creme relaxer, advanced formula, ammonia and peroxide-free semi-permanent (six weeks) hair color and pre-relaxer hairline and scalp protector. The protector helps guard against scalp irritation during the relaxer application and prevents staining of the hairline and ears during the color application, according to the company. The dual purpose moisturizing shampoo neutralizes all traces of the relaxer. Hair color shades include ebonywood and cherrywood, shades that represent more than 50% of sales for the leading ethnic color brands, according to the company. The product has been in the stores since January and sales are strong, said Alana Pease, brand manager. "We're offering two significant items in one-relaxer and color. It's a semi-permanent color so consumers can change the color more often." It's also very convenient, she added. The no-lye conditioning formula is designed for all hair types and requires no mixing or measuring. "Before, you had to wait two weeks or more to color your hair after relaxing it. Now consumers can relax and color in one step and get on with their lives."
Soft Sheen, Chicago, IL introduced a new relaxer this month. "Both the color and relaxer categories are growing significantly," said Terri Gardner, CEO. "We're raising the bar on product sophistication." She noted that the Ultimum Care products contain an advanced conditioner. She added, "Seventy-percent of black women relax their hair, and conditioning is their number one concern." She emphasized that when African-American consumers color their hair, they are also very concerned about conditioning. "Our products are extra conditioning with moisturizing agents. We believe good feeling hair is as important as good looking hair."
The number one problem with African-American hair is dryness and slow growth due to breakage, said Gia Clingscales, marketing director of A-P Products, New Rochelle, NY. "A lot of that comes from wear and tear and chemicals. We focus on very good moisturizing ingredients, in everything from our relaxers to skin care," she said. The company, which had sales of $25 million in 1995, markets three brands that contain natural African oils and herbs. The Ginseng Miracle line, which was launched in 1991, is popular among many college students, and its marketing targets the 18-24 segment. A-P's latest product offering in the line is Ginseng Miracle 8 body and hair mist, an all-over conditioning treatment.
The African Pride brand has a sexier positioning, and appeals to 16- to 30-year olds, she said. Last fall, the company launched African Pride Miracle Relaxer color treatment, and Miracle Relaxer treatment in single application packets. The All Ways brand, with a gentle and all-natural positioning, is preferred by mothers, said Ms. Clingscales, since they are the primary purchasers for the households. Last year the company repackaged All Ways and the brand has since had triple-digit growth.
Hair relaxers are not just for adults, though. Kids like relaxed hairstyles too. However, a major concern when relaxing young hair is overprocessing, said Ms. Clingscales. In 1996, the company introduced African-Pride Dream Kids relaxer system, which uses a shampoo color-change system. The shampoo lathers white when the relaxer is completely washed from the hair.
Last fall A-P launched a web site (www.african-pride.com), which features the company's products, community outreach programs and corporate information. According to Ms. Clingscales, the site has had more hits and consumer queries than anticipated.
Shiny hair is also important to African-American consumers, according to Advanced Research Labs, Costa Mesa, CA. "Smooth N Shine is the first brand to offer polishing in a full line of styling and conditioning products," said Cy Balsara, vice president of marketing. "African-Americans and Hispanics use a lot of products such as relaxers and hot irons, to straighten their hair, and this distresses hair and makes it brittle and dull." These products infuse hair with healthy shine and manageability, he added. "We expect Gellation super hold to be one of the top sellers this year. Consumers want healthy hair and smooth, sleek hair." Current best sellers include hair polisher and spray-on polisher, which eliminate frizz, repair damaged hair and prevent breakage. Due to the popularity of the 4-oz. hair polisher, and the rising trend in laminating products, the company has introduced a 1.25-oz. sample-size hair polisher to attract new consumers to the brand. The company also markets Citre Shine and Thicker, Fuller Hair brands.
The most important need of African American hair is moisture and strengthening, according to Bio Synthesis, Irvine, CA. To moisturize and strengthen hair, its cuticle must be sealed and protected, insists the marketer. Bio Synthesis, founded by Alexandria Williamson, markets three products specifically developed for consumers of African descent. According to the company, the products were developed with hair follicle growth patterns in mind. An oval pattern with wavy hair growth is typical for Caucasians; people of African descent tend to have a flat follicle pattern with spiral hair growth; and Asians usually have a round follicle pattern with straight hair growth. African American hair can be a mixture of very fine wavy hair, very coarse straight hair, coarse wavy hair and very fine spiral hair, maintains Ms. Williamson, but there have been no products on the market formulated for such varied hair types. Bio Synthesis' Bio Clenze is a citrus-based clarifying shampoo that also contains cleansing agents to remove chlorine and mineral deposits of hard water. Bio Phix contains 14 vitamins and rice, corn and whole wheat protein "for a reconstructor with muscle." According to the company, the protein molecules are small enough to penetrate down to the cortex of the hair strand. The final product, Bio Phinish is a cuticle sealer with proteins, vitamins and honey. The three-product system costs $29.95.
Professional stylist Barry Fletcher offers a line of moisturizing hair care products for the ethnic market. Products include Liquid Moisture, Memory Mist, Silk N Shine, Moisture Silk wrap set lotion, Social Security Mentholating dandruff shampoo and Major Moisture deep penetrating shampoo. Last year the company introduced Glo-N-Grow light pomade hair dress, and added Thick N Slick conditioning gel earlier this year. One current trend in hair styling is pleating, according to Carol Harper, vice president joint operations, Barry Fletcher Products, Capitol Heights, MD. Pleating, an alternative to finger waves, is a way of sculpting and molding the hair while sealing in moisture. The company is promoting the use of its Moisture Silk product for pleating styles.
Hair care product sales vary as hair styling trends change. This is especially true in the ethnic hair care category. "Hair styles can change very quickly, especially with the advent of so much new [African-American] TV programming," acknowledged Ms. Gardner of Soft Sheen. "Right now we're seeing the most eclectic group of looks in many years-relaxed, braids, naturals, waves-all those styles are acceptable. Everybody is doing something different." But one of the pervasive trends is relaxing and coloring, she said. This year the company has introduced four new hair colors: copper brown, auburn red, black cherry and ash blonde, which Ms. Gardner expects will be very popular among African American women. She emphasized that since Soft Sheen does a significant amount of business in professional salon lines, the company can get valuable feedback about styling trends and translate that information into new retail products for consumers. "Right now, we're seeing a transition from high hair and sculpted looks to natural movement in hair. We are also seeing more colors in sections of hair, what's known as "chunking."
Natural Looks are Popular
Ms. Clingscales of A-P Products observed that natural looks are also popular, including twists, braids and dreadlocks. "Individuality is really coming through. There was a time when we just didn't see a lot of braids and twists, but styles are becoming more flexible," said Ms. Clingscales. "Color is also very hot, and not just black and brown. A lot of African- American women are going to lighter and brighter shades," she said. Relaxed hair and straight styles are becoming more popular too, as are cropped, pixie-styles like that of actress Halle Berry.
While countless men fret about hair loss and spend millions on hair growth and replacement products, there is a hot hairless trend, popularized by celebrities such as Michael Jordan and Ralph Lauren model Tyson Beckford. Recognizing this, Supreme Beauty Products , Chicago, IL, recently introduced Bald & Bold, a product line for consumers with no or very little hair. A splash soothes, refreshes and promotes healing of the scalp from shaving. The cleanser is oil- and soap- free and removes impurities. The oil-free scalp moisturizer replenisher helps the scalp appear smoother, more radiant but not greasy and protects with a sunscreen. The scalp buff replenishes natural oils lost through shampooing and exposure to natural elements. All products have tea tree oil which works as a germicide and helps heal skin disorders.
The Bald & Bold line was created "for men with attitude." These men vary from age 14 to 40, according to the company. This group's style transcends all financial groups from kids in high school to the blue collar worker to the white collar worker in corporate America, and the entertainment and athletic fields, said Cheryl Patterson, brand manager. "There are about 35 million bald male consumers," said Ms. Patterson, "and, there is a trend toward much shorter looks." She emphasizes, however, that although the company's products are primarily marketed to African-American consumers, Bald & Bold is not just for the ethnic market. "Instead of telling men to just grow some hair, we're saying it's o.k. to be bald. And many women find these men very sexy."
Strong Sales For Some
Although overall hair care sales have been mixed, several ethnic hair care marketers have reported strong sales. Carson Products, Savannah, GA, another leader in the ethnic hair care category, reported sales growth of nearly 20% for the nine months ended Dec. 31. The company markets Dark & Lovely, Excelle, Beautiful Beginnings, Dark & Natural and Magic.
According to Mr. Balsara of Advanced Research Labs, the Smooth N Shine brand was revamped and relaunched in 1995 to emphasize its polishing benefits. As a result, 1996 sales were up 28%.
Soft Sheen has recently undergone some changes. Last year, Terri Gardner, the daughter of founders Edward and Bettiann Gardner, was named president and chief executive officer. Although 1996 sales fell slightly to $94 million, its earnings rose in 1996. Last year, the company did not roll out any new products. Instead, Ms. Gardner stepped up category management discipline, and eliminated unprofitable SKUs. "We do the cherry-picking for the retailers," explained Ms. Gardner. Soft Sheen's brands, which the company claims account for 14% of ethnic hair care sales, include Mizani, Wave Nouveau, Optimum Care, Tender Care, Care Free Curl, Sportin' Waves, Baby Love and Hair Werks (a professional salon line).
According to Ms. Gardner, most of the company's retail sales come from beauty supply stores. She noted that a very small percentage of African-American consumers buy their hair care products at salons. "They want the selection of a beauty supply store. With a variety of hair textures and skin tones, they want a depth of products and the latest products available."
For a list of new ingredients available from suppliers for use in ethnic hair care products, see the print version of HAPPI.