The hair industry is still failing Black consumers – here’s what you need to know about texture tax

Written by Kelle Salle

A recent report found products for naturally textured hair are more expensive, while almost half of Black women feel the majority of big name brands don’t cater for them. Here’s what you need to know about the ‘texture tax’.

It’s no secret that Black consumers have long struggled to find the right hair products. The hair care industry wasn’t catering for us, and we were an afterthought for so long that we just had to make do with the products that were available to us – whether or not they suited our hair. However, while it seems the beauty aisles are finally starting to reflect the diversity of consumers, the same cannot be said for hair care.

According to a report published by Treasure Tress, products for naturally textured hair are more expensive than those in mainstream categories. As well as that, the report also found that consumers have been left with no choice but to pay extra to import or ship products from other countries in order to meet their needs and to avoid the hidden texture tax. Black women account for 10% of hair care spending, but 36% have stated that they need to go to specialist shops to get health and beauty products, while 47% of Black women who have textured hair feel that the majority of big name brands do not cater to their specific hair type.

So why are these big brands still struggling to cater to Black consumers? According to Treasure Tress founder Jamelia Donaldson, there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the market. “Catering to textured hair is relatively new to many brands, but I don’t believe it’s being given the attention or funding it deserves in its entirety,” she says. 

While hair care products from Black-owned brands have become more accessible in high street stores such as Boots and Superdrug, big name brands still have a responsibility to connect with Black consumers so that they can have the shopping experiences they rightfully deserve. “Lacklustre and insensitive marketing is a huge issue. The display of products, as well as the selection available and the education surrounding the products, should be taken into consideration, but they aren’t,” says Donaldson.

With 64.7% of consumers stating that the pandemic has changed the way they look after their hair, the hidden texture tax will have an impact on Black consumers who are struggling during the cost of living crisis. Products for naturally textured hair are used more frequently and in greater quantities. For example, the report says that those with textured hair use leave-in conditioners every few days, while consumers with straight hair only use them a couple of times a month at most – meaning the former will inevitably end up spending more on hair care.

Black women take pride in their hair, and have gained a considerable amount of knowledge on the best routines that allow them to embrace the beauty and versatility of their hair, and that’s been reflected in the growth of the hair care market. “Black women have been able to get to know their hair and find products that work for them, and once you’ve found what works, it’s hard to give that up,” explains Ronke Adeyemi, founder of Brown Beauty Talk.

And that’s exactly why it’s time for mainstream brands to elevate their offerings, while taking price and accessibility into consideration. Charlotte Mensah, hairstylist and author of Good Hair, concurs, saying: “There have been improvements in terms of product inclusivity, but most products from leading brands don’t always hit the mark, which makes things difficult for those who don’t have access to afro hair shops.”

It’s also worth noting that there are very few products specifically designed for textured hair in the mainstream market, and consumers shouldn’t have to relinquish the routines they have spent so much time cultivating. Collectively, Black consumers’ hair care needs differ from our white counterparts, making it difficult for us to use products that have been created with other ethnicities in mind – and as a result, brands who decide to cater to the unique needs of Black hair need to do a lot more than jump on the bandwagon. It’s something that needs to be taken more seriously by big name brands so that we can all can shop for products with ease without having to potentially compromise hair health.

In order for hair care brands to meet the needs of Black consumers, they must understand their needs and behaviours while addressing the texture tax in the process. “Stores need to employ people who have sufficient knowledge about the product and our hair,” says Adeyemi. “Sure, an extensive offering is great, but how can I tell which products are right for my hair and who can I ask?”

Representation in the media also needs to evolve past the visual. Brands and the media have a responsibility to cater to Black women in a way that makes sense. “Marketing initiatives should be genuine, authentic and appreciative of the way Black consumers engage with their hair and beauty practices,” says Donaldson. 

It’s fair to say that the entire hair care industry is in need of a major shift when it comes to catering to Black consumers. Mensah believes that brands will be able to prioritise integrity over lip service once they review the practices that currently exist. “In my opinion, the only way to create change is to look at the systems, hair care training and product development that have been put in place. In turn, this will trickle down to individuals and revolutionise the whole system,” she says.

While addressing the hidden texture tax should be a top priority, Treasure Tresses’ report also highlights the need for brands to take the next step in improving the shopping experiences of Black consumers even more. As a Black woman who advocates for diversity within the beauty industry, it is great to feel represented when I walk into a high street store, but there is still a long way to go before our hair care experiences and preferences are fully understood. 

Main image: Getty

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