Mainstream hair care brands are scrambling to cater to a market they were previously satisfied to ignore.
The $US2.7 billion industry for black hair products has seen a 7% increase since 2013, according to a 2015 report by market research firm Mintel, and “more robust growth” is predicted in the next five years.
Understanding how black consumers care for their hair is “more important than ever,” says the report.
But earning the product loyalty of men and women of colour is about more than marketing and R&D. It’s about brand trust, something many big beauty corporations have very little of when it comes to black hair care.
Enter natural hair vlogger Whitney White, better known on YouTube as Naptural85.
As YouTube rakes in billions of views per day and magazine readership continues to dwindle, vloggers are quickly replacing high-powered beauty editors as a direct route from brand to customer.
With over half a million subscribers, 52 million video views, and endorsement deals with major brands like Carol’s Daughter (owned by beauty juggernaut L’Oréal), 29-year-old White is a driving force behind a drastic shift in black hair.
You might say she’s the Michelle Phan of the “natural hair movement.” And yes, it is a movement.
Like the ’70s icons before them (think: Diana Ross, Pam Grier, Nina Simone) today’s women are embracing their natural hair and taking a step back from relaxers.
Since 2013, sales of relaxers used to chemically straighten hair have dropped by $US130 million. Meanwhile, natural styling product sales have surged by $US200 million.
How her passion for vlogging pays the bills.
This shift has helped turn White’s passion into a lucrative career. “The very first time I made a dollar I was shocked,” she told Business Insider.
White now makes more than double the amount she made as an entry level graphic designer, and her income is growing every year.
The thick-haired, effortlessly chic New England native always loved sharing hair care tips with her close friends and family members — but she never imagined her hobby would one day pay the bills.
When she started in 2008, YouTube was unpaid, ad-free, and full of people who simply loved making videos.
“The thing about YouTube is that it wasn’t a career back then. It was just a bunch of weirdos,” White jokes. “If I told anyone I made videos on YouTube, they’d look at me like I was crazy.”
Her insanity paid off big time: White now earns more than double the amount she made as an entry level graphic designer, and her income is growing every year. (The average salary for an entry-level graphic designer is approximately $US43,000 in the Boston area, according to Indeed.com)
White hadn’t always embraced her natural hair, but when going to the salon became too time consuming for her heavy college workload, she decided it was time for a change.
She found a small community of women on blogs and YouTube who were tossing out their perms and growing out their natural curls and afros. She combed blog posts, photos, and videos from some of the go-to hair gurus of the time — but she couldn’t find anyone who represented her cork-screwed hair pattern.
So she decided to chop off her own damaged hair and vlog the process of growing it back on YouTube. From there, her brand was born.
Her biggest deal to date and a typical day’s work.
White’s income originally came solely from YouTube’s advertising revenue system, Google AdSense. It wasn’t until the birth of her daughter (when thoughts of college tuition sprang to mind) that she started working with brands and creating sponsored content.
Her ambassadorship for Carol’s Daughter is one of her biggest deals to date.
Carol’s Daughter multimedia manager September Davis told Business Insider that it’s the genuine demeanour of YouTubers that makes them great brand promoters. “Girls on YouTube are our friends,” says Davis. “[Carol’s Daughter would] rather have girls that are super relatable, rather than a typical celebrity that will do whatever you ask them to as long as you have the right check.”
“I try not to promote anything I wouldn’t personally purchase,” says White. “I’ve turned down a lot of money … I’ve turned down deals from huge companies … because I didn’t like the ingredients in the product.”
“I try not to promote anything I wouldn’t personally purchase,” says White. “I’ve turned down a lot of money.”
According to White, big brands like L’Oréal are rushing to create natural hair products — and they’re counting on beauty vloggers to help promote them.
“A lot of times [brands] want to get into the [natural hair] market but don’t know how,” says White. “They don’t understand what our exact needs are.”
As for her typical workflow, filming only takes up 1% of White’s very busy day.
Between day-long meetings, personal appearances, travel, secret projects, emails, editing, and spending valuable time with her husband and daughter, White’s schedule is hectic.
To help manage her growing business, she recently did something she’d initially wanted to avoid — she hired a small staff.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I like to try to do everything myself,” she admits. “I’ve actually started to hire people onto my team. I just realised that it’s necessary.”
To ensure that her private emails don’t end up in the wrong hands, White hires only friends and family members. “I’m happy that I can support my friends and family and they can help me and intern.”
At the end of her busy day, White can’t imagine doing anything else. “Even if YouTube stopped, if there was no such thing as monetisation, if we weren’t getting paid, I would continue making videos because it’s what I love to do.”
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