Black Hair Empire

  • Reynard Allison, Director/Producer
  • Barbara Multer-Wellin, Producer

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About the Project

BLACK HAIR EMPIRE tells the stories of former day laborers, sharecroppers, school teachers, and tradesmen who pursued and realized the American Dream by founding ethnic hair care companies. It weaves an epic tale of five generations of African Americans who revolutionized the personal care industry. Their products and advertising popularized an African-American mystique that sold hugely and changed forever the way black people, white Americans and the world perceived what being black looks and feels like.

Today, there exist a very small number of black owned manufacturers of hair care products who operate on a national or global scale such as the one presented in this film. Their decades-long legacy has been lost to mainstream manufacturers. After over a century of building and growing a marketplace from the roots, black-owned hair care manufacturers of the ilk of 20 years ago are a vanishing breed. If you were to look at the packaging of almost any label one by one an undeniable occurrence will result. Most products made for black hair are not manufactured by black owned companies.

The empires created by the original black entrepreneurs have all since dwindled or transferred ownership to multinational groups. The reasons for these losses are numerous; from cultural appropriation, cooptation of the market by major national brands such as L’OREAL and Unilever, changing business strategies in America, institutionalized racism, de-segregation, limited access to financial resources, a scarcity of strategic trading partners essential to navigating international markets, bitter in-fighting amongst family members and lack of cultural consumer loyalty. BLACK HAIR EMPIRE documents as never before the history of the pioneers of black hair care and the cultural, political and deeply personal impact their industry created.