If you haven’t noticed by now, the #BuyBlack movement is hot and growing. “Buying Black” means buying products and services from Black-owned businesses. Buying Black creates a cycle for the Black community whereby dollars are distributed to Black companies and then those dollars are used to reinvest in the Black community through employment, investing in other Black businesses through supply chains, uplifting members of the Black community through charitable donations and programs, and building generational wealth for Black founders and their families.
When it comes to Black-owned brands, one brand that has been on the receiving end of the Black community’s skepticism in recent years is Shea Moisture.
Shea Moisture is a personal care brand which focuses on shampoo, conditioner, and other body products. For the past two decades, the brand has been a staple in the Black community. Shea Moisture’s products are specifically tailored to the haircare and skincare needs of Black people. However, as they’ve grown and the structure of their business has changed, their status as a Black-owned brand has come into question.
In 2021, is Shea Moisture still a Black-owned brand? Keep reading to find out the answer and how you should approach the concept of “Black-owned.”
The history of Shea Moisture
Shea Moisture was founded in Harlem, New York in 1991 by Nyema Tubman and Richelieu Dennis under the Sundial Brands corporate entity. The birth of Shea Moisture was inspired by Richeliue Dennis’ grandmother, who sold shea butter, African black soap, and homemade beauty preparations in Sierra Leone in 1912. According to the brand’s website, they continue to formulate with raw shea butter handcrafted by women in Africa.
Shea Moisture sells a variety of hair and skincare products for Black people, including shampoos and conditioners, lotions, soaps, masks, and tons of other products. Their product line expansion has turned Shea Moisture into a one-stop-shop for all the body care needs of the Black community.
Their focus on natural, sulfate-free, and paraben-free ingredients has made their products appealing to a growing population of Black people who are paying closer attention to what they put in and on their bodies. If you walk into any Black household today, there’s a good chance you may find a Shea Moisture product. But that may be changing as the Black community pulls back the curtain of the personal care brand.
What Shea Moisture is today
In 2017, Unilever acquired Sundial Brands, which owns Shea Moisture, Nubian Heritage, nyakio™, and Madam C.J. Walker. Although the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Unilever’s press release at the time stated that “Sundial Brands will operate as a standalone unit within Unilever. Sundial’s founder, Richelieu Dennis, will continue to lead the business as CEO and Executive Chairman.”
Acquiring a company and maintaining its brand is a common strategy in today’s M&A environment, and given Shea Moisture’s omnipresence in the Black community, that decision was a no-brainer. Although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, we can assume that Sundial Brands is now a subsidiary of Unilever (which is not a Black-owned company).
This means that Richelieu Dennis is no longer the owner of Sundial Brands because of the acquisition. We also don’t know if Sundial Brands was acquired in a cash or stock deal. There’s a possibility that Dennis may own some Unilever shares, but that’s irrelevant to the issue of Shea Moisture and Sundial Brands being Black-owned.
Today, Shea Moisture is still Shea Moisture. From what we can see, the product hasn’t drastically changed (some may disagree) and the branding has remained the same. It still may be that omnipresent brand that Black folks know and love. The acquisition by Unilever most likely has helped the brand release new product lines to serve the Black community.
As far as Richelieu Dennis, the last we heard of him was in 2020 due to allegations at the magazine brand Essence (which he bought in 2018). He’s also no longer the CEO of Sundial Brands. Cara Sabin has taken over as the new CEO as of 2020.
Is Shea Moisture Black-owned and does it matter?
So let’s answer the question once and for all. Is Shea Moisture a Black-owned brand? The answer is no.
Shea Moisture is Black-founded and was indeed a Black-owned brand at some point in time. However, due their sale to Unilever, Shea Moisture is no longer Black-owned.
The next question you should be asking yourself is, does it matter? Does it matter if a Black-founded brand is currently Black-owned, or are you willing to support the brands that have been built and sold by Black founders, who may still have a significant number of shares in the acquiring company? It’s a tough question to answer. Your heart may be in one place and your mind may be in another.
One popular brand that’s similar to Shea Moisture is Bevel.
Bevel is a men’s haircare and skincare brand started by Tristan Walker and his company Walker & Company. Bevel grew on the back of a good product and good marketing (remember Nas’ “Signature fade with the Bevel blade” line?). In 2018, Proctor & Gamble, the multinational consumer goods corporation, acquired Walker & Company and Tristan Walker remained CEO. Like Shea Moisture/Sundial Brands, Bevel/Walker & Company is now a subsidiary of Proctor & Gamble and is no longer Black-owned. So do you continue to support Bevel or not?
Here’s our take at OXC. Companies are complex entities. Like people, they grow and evolve (but unlike people, they can be bought and sold). At OXC, we’re in the business of uplifting BIPOC businesses, including those that were started and are no longer owned by their founders. That’s why we continue to list brands like Shea Moisture, Nubian Heritage, and Bevel in our collection.
Our goal is to show the world what BIPOC entrepreneurs are capable of, even if that means highlighting a Black-founded brand that’s owned by a company whose founders and executives have no ties to the Black community. We think it’s worth it to give those brave founders their brownie points and to appreciate their legacy.
If you want your dollars to stay within the Black community, then your decision should be to look beyond brands like Shea Moisture and Bevel. But if you just want to advocate for good products for the Black community and support the legacy of all Black founders, then there’s no reason to throw away your last bottle of Shea Moisture.