The multi-hyphenated Tracee Ellis Ross, the star of “Black-ish” who hosted the Democratic National Convention this summer, says the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened her vision as an artist and entrepreneur.
She launched Pattern Beauty, a haircare line that caters to the community of “curly, coily and tight-textured people,” last year and introduced even more products this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Her initial products included shampoo, conditioners, mists, serums, and brushes, and “phase 2” products include items like a hair pick and edge tool.
“Particularly during this pandemic, it was a little scary. And I think so much of what's happened in this very unprecedented time has really reinvigorated my mission for the company, my intention and my promise of the brand,” Ross told Yahoo Finance in an interview this week.
Since launching, Ross has seen just how under-penetrated the Black beauty market remains. Black Americans spend “considerably more money in the general beauty marketplace” than they do on the ethnic hair and beauty market, according to a 2018 Nielsen report. The Black haircare industry made an estimated $2.5 billion in 2018, signaling ample opportunity for Black-owned businesses like Pattern to enter the mainstream market.
“I feel really good. I've learned a lot, and I also feel really grateful to the community that I am serving and in dialogue with through this company. It's been really special,” Ross said. “But to be in this new relationship with this community that is a different kind of dialogue has been really exciting for me, both in terms of the feedback and hearing how people are verbally telling me how the products are working for them and how our sales are doing.”
‘Always looking to create a more equitable space’
This year of tumult and unrest has ignited a movement for racial representation and empowering BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color-owned) companies. Initiatives like the 15 percent pledge are trying to rally retail juggernauts to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. To date, brands like Macy’s (M) and its subsidiaries Bluemercury and Bloomingdale’s have made the commitment, along with Sephora and West Elm (WSM).
Ross, who first came up with the idea for Pattern 10 years ago, says she’s proud to call beauty chain Ulta her retail partner, and believes she can use her platform to amplify other Black voices and creators. Her relationship with Ulta first started with CEO Mary Dillon.
“I walked into my relationship with Ulta as a person who always was looking to create a more equitable space for women, for Black people, for people of color across the board. It's something that is my guiding force and mission in my acting career and my producing. That is how I move through the world, so it was no different in the beauty industry. And it's one of the reasons I decided to go with Ulta. Mary Dillon has been focused on and fighting for inclusion and diversity at Ulta from when I started my relationship with them, and none of that has changed through all of this,” she said.
While there’s been encouraging progress, there’s still a lot of work to be done to dismantle and unlearn the dusty ways of the beauty space, says Ross.
“I do think it's incredibly important to use the power that I have, and I use it. I really do. I speak up. I push. Ulta has not taken a lot of push, but they are very open to hearing my thoughts, to bringing in the right people who have way more knowledge than I do in these areas of diversity and inclusion. And we have these conversations on a regular basis within the table of my small team at Pattern and how to change the paradigm around the beauty space and the beauty industry,” said Ross.
“And that's not just for my company but across all industries...the pipeline is part of the issue, the gatekeepers and the fact that there are gatekeepers and the status quo of how those gatekeepers keep their gates. Those are conversations that I'm constantly having.”
Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.