Hyde Park store owner puts Black beauty vendors in space to thrive

The Black Beauty Collective opened in Hyde Park in April and stocks more than 50 Black-owned vendors. A limited access to capital for Black entrepreneurs is why Black ownership in the beauty industry is abysmally low, owner Leslie Roberson says.

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Black Beauty Collective, which opened in April in the Hyde Park neighborhood at 5305 S. Hyde Park Blvd., showcases more than 50 Black-owned beauty vendors.

Black Beauty Collective, which opened in April in the Hyde Park neighborhood at 5305 S. Hyde Park Blvd., showcases more than 50 Black-owned beauty vendors.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In October 2022, business owner Leslie Roberson stumbled across a startling fact: Out of all beauty brands, only 2.5% were Black-owned, despite Black shoppers making up 11% of total consumers.

Roberson, a model and owner of a rental linen company, posted a simple callout on her Instagram that would six months later lead to a bustling beauty haven in prime Hyde Park real estate.

Last fall, Roberson asked for Black beauty vendors to contact her. Soon, she had a packed calendar filled with meetings with beauty companies. Now, 56 of them are stocked at the Black Beauty Collective at 5305 S. Hyde Park Blvd.

Roberson, 39, realized her experience working in the corporate world and ability to elevate the companies she worked with could help these Black-owned businesses compete at the level of a large beauty company.

Twelve of the 56 businesses, which rent space from Roberson in exchange for her social media and PR help, are based in Chicago. The businesses can rent as little as a shelf for $200 a month and receive 100% of their profits. A more expensive package gets businesses a larger space and marketing help from Roberson.

Leslie Roberson, owner of Black Beauty Collective, came up with the idea for the store in October 2022.

Leslie Roberson, owner of Black Beauty Collective, came up with the idea for the store in October 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Black Beauty Collective opened in April and showcases hair care, make-up and skin care that are often the brainchildren of doctors and estheticians. Candles, teas and fragrances are also stocked.

Roberson can tell everything about the creators behind the companies. She enthusiastically speaks about one vendor, Charmica Bernette, who created a skin care line from what she used during her childhood in the Bahamas to combat her son’s skin issues.

“Her son had severe eczema and asthma, to a point where she had to leave her full-time job and become a stay at home mom, because he was on the most severe version of steroids,” Roberson says.

“So what she began to do was to try to reduce some of the inflammation his body was experiencing, which was triggered because of diet and because of products that she was using from the store.”

The collective business model aims to help these small businesses earn more money and get more exposure than they would being in larger chain stores.

Solo Noir, a men’s grooming line, is already in 238 Walmart stores. But the owner, Andrea Polk, still fights to make a profit after wholesaling her products to Walmart at a discounted rate.

“They put brand products on the shelf, but you’re still responsible for all your marketing,” Roberson said. “So if you don’t have a budget to do the marketing and have a robust marketing team, then no one’s going to know you are in Walmart; you won’t make the sales that you need to make.”

The brands don’t have the capital to stay in the stores and continuously make a profit, she said. That’s where the Black Beauty Collective looks to fulfill an integral part of elevating Black businesses.

“It’s statistically proven that Black people have limited access to capital,” Roberson said. “But we’re measured the same way and expectations are the same. A lot of these big brands do incubators for Black entrepreneurs: ‘Oh, you come to our incubator program, we’ll give you an opportunity, or we’ll give you $1,500 and mentorship.’ The reality is, we don’t need that. We need capital, because if I don’t know how to do it, I can hire a team that can get it done and help support the business.”

In the future, Roberson hopes to start similar collectives in other cities, like Houston.

After coming up with her initial idea, Roberson says she headed to a local beauty store that showcased women-owned businesses to do research. An interaction with the manager left her more certain than ever that she needed to create the Black Beauty Collective.

“She holds up this small box,” Roberson remembered. “She says, ‘In this box are all Black-women-owned businesses.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s great, do you guys have others on the shelves or around the store?’ And she’s like, ‘Well, no, they’re in this box.’”

“When I left the store I remember joking to my partner, ‘How dare they box us in,’” Roberson said. “So I’m gonna make this hair and beauty store only for Black vendors.”

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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