How SheaMoisture is breaking down barriers in the beauty industry

At WGSN we’ve written at length about fashion’s diversity problem and the innovative measures that designers are taking to try to reverse the high level of racial inequality on the runway.

But what about beauty? Is that doing any better with diversity?

Well recently, one beauty campaign by SheaMoisture, the hair care line loved by women with curly hair and the natural hair community released a stunning video to address the double standards in the beauty industry.


The video called Break the Walls, highlights the fact that beauty products for black women are often relegated to one shelf in a store, or one area of a beauty store, rather than mixed in with all the other beauty products. The video shows black women breaking down the walls of the divisive aisles, to be included. The spell binding video has already hailed by Ad Forum, as one of the five best videos of the week for its impact.

So we caught up with SheaMoisture’s CEO and founder, Richelieu Dennis, to ask him about the video, his brand story from selling on street corners in Harlem, New York to being stocked in major retailers Target (in the US) and Boots (in the UK), plus what he learnt about customer service and consumer needs along the way.

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Hi Richelieu, so how did this stellar video come about?

R: To be honest we just wanted to counter the divisive approach to beauty that exists today. SheaMoisture has been around for 25 years, witnessing the constant unattainabale beauty aspirations that have been created and sold to women, with imagery and campaigns that encourage all women to measure themselves against homogenous beauty views, thoughts and looks.

‘Yet, we’ve always said: A woman’s beauty is her individual beauty’

The unrealistic beauty standard is something that we’ve campaigned against for 25 years, and now we’re finally in a position where we can influence and hopefully change that dialogue.

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SheaMoisture has been around for 25 years, and is well known in the US, but you only recently came to the UK, stocked in Boots. For those who haven’t heard of you, can you tell us your brand story?

R: Sure, my family and I started off selling soaps and lotions on the street corners of New York. Back then nobody knew what the natural ingredient Shea butter was, so we had to educate people and explain to them, one customer at a time. People thought it was actual butter, they were confused and there wasn’t an excitement for natural products back then, the way that there is today.

What did that experience teach you about customer service?

R: It helped us have a deep connection to our consumers. We took time with each customer and we had to be upfront about what the product was, including all the ingredient information. We saw what resonated with them, we took their feedback, and we learnt the importance of a sale, because if you’ve spent hours with a potential customer, you want to convert it to a sale. So, from the very beginning we understood our customer’s needs, and we were transparent, very few beauty brands will spend time to explain every ingredient in their products to you.

Did you always plan to be an entrepreneur and launch this beauty business?

R: No, it just evolved. This wasn’t a business plan, I had left Sierra Leone to study in the US, and I was planning to go back but  because of civil conflict, after the last uprising, I couldn’t go home. So I stayed in the US, my family came over and we started selling SheaMoisture products, which evolved into the company. I would say that my background definitely influenced and drives the culture of our business. From the start, we were standing out there, trying to sell products to go buy food, so we were and still are consumer focused and highly focused on delivering a good result.

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Now that you have huge global stockists, do you still focus on customer service and how has social media helped?

R: Oh social media was the back bone of how we grew, when you are competing against big conglomerates in the beginning, you don’t have the marketing dollars that they have. We relied heavily on social. The beauty of social media is, that’s where consumers are today, where they live and engage. Social fits our brand, we were selling on street corners and in flea markets, plus in local mom and pop stores at first. We didn’t have to shift who we were to figure out our social strategy. Now I can talk to 300 people at the push of a button, it levelled the playing field between us and the big guys.

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