Black hair care is a billion-dollar industry. The 2018 Nielsen report that African American women spent $54 million on beauty and hair products in 2017. Most of the beauty supply comes from Koreans. Korean Americans run 70% of beauty supply stores. It’s estimated that 20% of beauty supply stores are black-owned. More black women are opening beauty supply stores that are staples in the black community and have customers come to a business that is welcoming without discriminatory practices such as heavy surveillance and being followed. Many African American women patronize black-owned beauty supply stores to circulate the black dollar in the community.
One of those women is entrepreneur Kristi Dinkins. In 2021, Dinkins made her dream a reality by opening Product Freak, a beauty supply store located in Flossmoor, IL that is a one-stop-shop for all things beauty, including synthetic and human hair bundles, lace front and full lace wigs, natural hair care products, hair accessories to meet the needs of women of every background and hair texture. Product Freak is adjacent to other black-owned businesses, dubbed the Black Wall Street of Flossmoor.
Chicago Defender: What made you get into the beauty supply industry, and what were the challenges?
Kristi Dinkins: I worked in corporate America in underwriting for over 20 years. What made me want to get into the beauty supply industry is I love all things beauty, and I wanted to open a safe space for customers to come and shop. The main struggle is getting more African Americans in the beauty supply industry.
Chicago Defender: Korean Americans dominate and control the beauty supply industry. Has it been problematic as far as distribution?
KD: The Korean Americans definitely control the industry. I heard it is easier now since the racial injustices that happened at the height of the pandemic that more African Americans are supporting black businesses. There are still major players in the beauty industry that refuse to work with us. If they do decide to work with us and let us open an account, they are always out of stock when we want to purchase popular products. The industry is not happy that African Americans are opening beauty supply stores.
Chicago Defender: Why is it important to support black beauty supply businesses?
KD: The main thing is circulating the black dollar. My counterparts are not spending money in the black community. They are taking their money and shopping in their community. Supporting black businesses strengthens success and creates job opportunities. I live in a black neighborhood. I get my gas and go grocery shopping at black-owned businesses. It’s very important to support black businesses.
Chicago Defender: I’m sure you experienced going to a beauty supply store owned by non-black owners and being watched and followed. How did that make you feel?
KD: It made me feel devalued. They don’t value us as people and customers. I had stopped going to beauty supply stores and started ordering my products online. I have supported black-owned beauty supply stores in the past. I opened a beauty supply store because I didn’t like how black women were treated.
Chicago Defender: What changes would you like to see in the beauty industry?
KD: I would like to see black people in all aspects of the beauty industry. We need more black distributors.
Chicago Defender: What advice would you give to someone that wants to get into the beauty industry?
KD: The best advice is to make sure you do your research in the beauty industry, raise enough capital, and have a great support system.
Product Freak is located at 3321 Vollmer Rd, Flossmoor, IL. For alerts on new beauty products, follow Product Freak on social media @productfreakbeauty.
Tammy Gibson is an author, re-enactor, and black history traveler. Find her on social media @sankofatravelher.