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Yahoo Finance Presents: Pattern Founder & CEO Tracee Ellis Ross

On this episode of Yahoo Finance Presents, Pattern Founder and CEO Tracee Ellis Ross sat down with Yahoo Finance's Melody Hahm to discuss her new beauty business venture, as well as to discuss her role on ABC's show Blackish, and her political activism.

Video Transcript


MELODY HAHM: Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Tracee Ellis Ross, the founder and CEO of hair care line Pattern, as well as a Golden Globe-winning actress and producer. Tracee, thanks so much for joining us today.

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: I'm so happy to be with you.

MELODY HAHM: So I want to start with talking about your entrepreneurial venture. You launched Pattern last fall. As you kind of reflect on the year that it's been, of course, there were so many uncertainties thrown in the mix as a new business owner, tell me about how you feel having launched this really successful business for textured hair.

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: 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. It's a community that I am a part of, a very vast community of curly, coily, and tight-textured people.

And-- 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 also how our sales are doing, particularly during this pandemic. You know, it was a little scary. We launched phase two, the styling products, during the pandemic. 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 brands.

So my mission being to create effective products for the curly, coily, and tight-textured community that are actually meant for us to support our hair, that it'd be a company that is centered around the celebration of Black beauty, and also that we continue to be an active space where we are sharing and seeing our beauty, our authentic beauty.

MELODY HAHM: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and when you think about even initiatives, like Aurora James' fight for 15, right, to make sure that there average is 15% of store shelves or online space dedicated to Black-owned businesses. Tell me about your conversations that you're having with retailers. I know you're in Ulta now. Do you feel as though, given the fact that you do have celebrity status, you have a little bit more kind of weight, negotiating power, energy that you can bring to the table to kind of champion for the cause at large?

I'm curious how you think about your own obligation or responsibility, if at all, when you have these--

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: Well, I've always felt incredibly responsible for my voice and aware of the power of a voice, not necessarily my-- only my voice, but just people speaking up in response to their experience and what they see and utilizing the power that one has for good and for the good of the larger community. So my relationship with Ulta actually preceded me even having Goop and having my operational partners. My relationship with Mary Dillon is what started it.

There were two retail partners that I reached out to when this was just an idea. And it took me 10 years to get this off the ground. So at the end of the 10 years, I finally sat down with some retail partners and started trying to figure out how to do this on my own. The 10 years was a difficult 10 years, but it was an important 10 years because I really was able to articulate my vision very clearly and gain my own sense of how I wanted to navigate the industry and the importance of what I felt the space that Pattern needed to occupy.

So 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, in my producing. That is how I move through the world. So it was no different in the beauty industry and the beauty space.

And I brought those questions to the beginning of my relationship. 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. And, you know, I had a very long experience during my 10 years of really learning about the market and why the market was not looking in the direction of this vast community of people that not only needed support and to be serviced by an industry, but also that had a lot of spending power.

That if you just look at industry from a capitalist standpoint, it was also an untapped market for no reason and needed to be addressed in both how one markets and creating metrics to support how one markets.

MELODY HAHM: I mean, one of the other paradigms that you've been instrumental in sort of dismantling and reshaping is the entertainment world, right? Whether it's through "Black-ish," I know you launched an overall deal with ABC as well early this fall. Tell me about the kinds of content-- it feels so poignant, right, and particularly relevant this year, during a very tumultuous pandemic, election-stricken year.

I'm curious how you think about your own work. Do you feel as though there's another layer of importance and significance as you go and shoot now? Do you feel like that's always been the cornerstone of even shooting "Black-ish" and "Mixed-ish?" I'm curious about your thoughts there.

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: So "Blackish," you know, for me and how I play Bow Johnson, and one of the things that's been incredibly important to me, it's been out there in the press, and it came sort of jokingly at work, that whenever they give me lady tours, I push up against that. And I'm like, why? Why am I doing laundry in this scene? Do I have to be doing laundry? Any of those things that sort of allow us to expand what we see as possible.

So for me, it has been very purposeful to find ways to expand the ideas of humanity and what's possible while entertaining, you know, with a core of joy. And I've brought that through all my characters. And now, as I have five projects in development and one more that's about to jump onto the slate, thinking about that in the same way, and both in front and behind the camera. That it's not just necessarily about the roles that are written but the lens through which those things are seen and shot and how those stories are told and allowing the diversity of experience and point of view to be a part of the holistic experience of storytelling.

MELODY HAHM: You've been able to craft this amazing platform with your social media as well in being an advocate, right, for social justice causes, for political causes. You were one of the hosts of the DNC earlier this year. When you think about the two runoff races happening in Georgia right now and the weight that you have thrown in different messaging or some of the statements that you've made, how do you feel as though your voice will lend to the greater cause?

I've seen, you know, other sorts of politicians, celebrities also perhaps relocating to Georgia for a little bit of time. Do you feel as though that push and all of this momentum will pay off? Do you have optimism as we head into January?

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: I do. You know, we turned Georgia blue. And we turned Georgia blue through the extraordinary efforts and work of people like Stacey Abrams. These things do not happen by accident. And I think to tell the narrative of this election without-- as if, you know, voter suppression didn't exist or this-- you know, I know there were a lot of headlines that this election was the safest it's ever been or whatever. But that was through the work of civil rights activists, lawyers, and, you know, the Legal Defense Fund from the NAACP.

Like, they were really incredibly intelligent, astute, and hardworking people that made sure that this election went off that way. And so my hope is based on and sewn into the fabric of the Civil Rights Movement and the work that is being done. The uprising, the Black Lives Matter Movement, people like Stacey Abrams, and there's so many others. I hope that people stay engaged.

I feel like this last five years, we have seen people wake up in a way that we have needed to all wake up. And then in this last year, even more. The reality of you are only as strong as your most vulnerable neighbor has always been true. But we have been able to see it in real time, not as some sort of imaginary thing during this pandemic. And it requires all of us to show up for our fellows and really make sure that we are engaged in this process of democracy.

So many people in this country have lost their jobs and have no idea how they're going to get another one because businesses are closed. You know, there's so much happening. People are still-- like, numbers are higher than they were when we originally shut down in terms of this pandemic and COVID. And so there's a lot to make you afraid. We are siloed off from the collective energy of our families and our friends and the things that we usually lean on for comfort.

And so being engaged and informed has actually helped to lessen my fear and help me feel like I'm not helpless, but I can actually be involved and help move us in the right direction. I'm not the only answer, but I am part of the solution.

MELODY HAHM: Yeah, I mean, one of your passions is fashion. And of course, when you think about body politic and the way in which clothing can actually be transformative, right, and I loved in your speech at the People's Choice Awards where you say, it can be a tool for transformation. It's an entrance, and clothes can be your superhero cape. Do you think eventually you may run for office one day in your fashionable glory?

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: Oh my. That was quite an entrance into that question. I don't know, I have no idea. I don't think so, but who knows? I mean, you know, there's a lot of things-- right now, my plate's real full between Pattern and this production company. I'm really grateful, at this point in my career and at this age, to take all of the experience that I've gained from this life that I've lived and start being in a position-- and to be able to be in a position where I'm creating content and not just being a part of content and feeling like I can actually be using the power that culture has given me, to do things that are about the greater good.

You know, to have uncomfortable conversations and necessary conversations about how to reimagine the spaces that are genuinely not working. And are not only not working, but harming people and oppressing people. And so I don't know if that would lead itself to running for office in any way. But if that's the call that happens and it's a way that I would end up being effective, then I'm not closed to the idea, you know?

MELODY HAHM: Not ruling it out just yet. Thank you so much, Tracee Ellis Ross. It was a joy speaking to you today.