At This Chicago-Based Beauty Retailer, Black-Owned Products Take Up All The Shelf Space
With Black Beauty Collective, founder Leslie Roberson keeps Black consumers top of mind. The Chicago-based brick-and-mortar follows a model that’s just as much of a collective as it is a business.
When it comes to all things beauty and fashion, Black women are big spenders—contributing some $7.4 billion to the industry. We are also true pioneers—from the way we pair our clothes and sneakers, to the way we lay baby hairs and style tresses with precision.
Yet, somehow, our needs as consumers aren’t top of mind—far from it in fact. While the presence of Black beauty brands in big box retail stores like Target, Walmart, Ulta, and Sephora has improved, there still remains a void in the broader marketplace for how Black beauty consumers are catered to.
Leslie Roberson, a former model and full-time corporate recruiter, is changing the game. She opened the doors to the brick-and-mortar store Black Beauty Collective (BBC) earlier this month in Chicago’s Hyde Park, with a mission to exclusively feature Black-owned beauty brands (99% of which are owned by Black women).
Upon walking into BBC, I was greeted with the sounds of Miguel’s “Sure Thing” spilling gently over the speakers and by knowledgeable beauty advisors guiding guests through the space. My eyes were immediately drawn to the golden light fixtures that illuminated the store, complementing the shelves adorned with haircare and skincare products by brands like Marla Rene Beauty, Tori Prince Beauty, Florae Beauty and Natural Radiant Life. The island in the center of the store was thoughtfully curated with lipsticks and glosses by Bixa Beauty and Aberrant Beaute, eyeshadow palettes by Thee Rich Girls, and nail polishes by Law Beauty—all available for customers to test before they purchase.
The aesthetic was welcoming and warm. The epitome of Black girl magic.
“It’s been the norm that our community beauty supply store might not be able to answer a lot of questions, so you have to do research before you get there,” Roberson tells Sweet July. “With Black Beauty Collective, it was so important for me to create a space that is inclusive of the Black shopper.”
Improving the shopping experience for Black women is just one part of Robertson’s two-fold goal for BBC. The second: Helping Black women-owned small businesses in the beauty industry get their foot in the door and raise enough capital to propel themselves forward—one of the biggest hurdles to succeeding. In 2022, McKinsey & Company reported that “Black brands account for a mere 2.5 percent of total beauty industry revenues”—even though Black consumers make up almost 11 percent of all beauty consumers.
“To be seen, heard and cared for within an industry that has been slow to embrace inclusivity and diversity is impactful—it honors the strides of those that came before us and sets an example for those that will come after,” says New York-based hair stylist and makeup artist Janera Rose, praising Roberson’s efforts.
Sakita Holley, CEO of House of Success PR, who represents a number of beauty brands, agrees that the biggest hurdle for Black women business owners and creators at every level is access to capital. “Even when opportunities are available to us, the available budgets tend to always be much smaller than those available to our counterparts,” she says. “The reasons for that are definitely systemic and while things have shifted in a more positive direction as of late, there is still so much more room for improvement as it relates to funding for diverse founders and brands.”
Oftentimes, small business founders will participate in pitch competitions, incubators and pop-ups in order to properly fund their operations. And even when they do get the opportunity to have shelf space in a big box retailer, they aren’t assisted with marketing efforts to promote their products. Roberson has designed the BBC to provide all members of the collective with resources that will help them grow and accelerate their goals through targeted advertising, retail brand placement and social media marketing.
Brands that are sold at Black Beauty Collective not only have the opportunity to receive marketing support and increased visibility, they also receive 100 percent of their retail sales (minus transaction fees and sales taxes). Additionally, members of the collective have access to one another and a space where they can learn tips and tricks for packaging, distribution, and so much more.
Roberson is already thinking about what other cities can benefit from BBC locations. “My team and I are constantly thinking about events to attend and activations we can create in order to create brand recognition and put ourselves in places of what we consider excellence,” she says.
Los Angeles-based beauty reporter, author and on-air host Darian Harvin is excited for BBC’s future expansion. She’s interested to see the impact it will have on Black women beyond Chicago who are looking for more convenient ways to try, discover and support new brands.
“Black women should be able to build their own worlds around their interests and passions without so much pushback—spaces where they can be creative, serve their communities, and build a life they desire,” says Harvin. “[BBC] feels like this is a place for anyone who wants spaces that align with their values, and, to me, that impact has a huge ripple effect.”
On the heels of BBC’s opening, Roberson is laser-focused on ensuring members of Black Beauty Collective feel empowered to grow their businesses with intention, and that the community supports them every step of the way. Before the end of the summer, she hopes to have 100 brands on the shelves of this first store (55 brands are currently featured) and to be making progress toward opening a second location.
“Everything in this space was created with love in mind, and I can’t wait for everyone to experience it,” she says.