There’s a second and more important reason that I’ve chosen to take this path in life:
Appropriation: There is a long and ugly history of white people emulating innovative ideas developed by POC and marketing it for profit to white audiences. This is visible to anyone who isn’t willfully ignoring it. I deeply hesitated at the idea of profiting from the knowledge I’ve earned by the grace of the many Black women sharing their hair journeys online. But once I realized my formula could genuinely help the women who have taught me so much, I started thinking of ways to structure my business as a Social Enterprise (Wikipedia entry).
There is no shortage of wonderful ways to give back to Black women but I was particularly stirred when I began to learn about maternal and infant mortality rates for Black women in America. I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until Beyonce’s Vogue interview, published August 2018, that it occurred to me to look a little bit deeper into this. Once I had learned that my lifelong idol and role model nearly died in childbirth, I was moved to tears and a path began to be illuminated. Here are some very informative links:
- Beyonce’s 2018 Vogue September Issue interview
- Serena Williams’ birth story which garnered international attention
- Jamila Taylor details the issue at AmericanProgress.org
- The story of Shalon Irving, from NPR
- A PBS interview with Monica Simpson of SisterSong and Linda Villarosa of the New York Times
- Linda Villarosa’s NYT article told through the experience of Simone Landrum
These articles and the combined experience of two of the most famous, standard setting, powerful and privileged Black women in society led me down a path of deep introspection. The issue is racism, pure and simple. The heartbreak in that is that there seems to be no discernible end to it. I saw clearly, how I could give back to the segment of the population that has so deeply inspired me. I could build my hair business in a way which would, most importantly, allocate the bulk of profits to helping move the dial on reproductive justice. There’s also absolutely nothing preventing me from centering black women in marketing materials, creating products which specifically address their needs and convenience and simply helping re-think societal narratives which consistently treat Black women as afterthoughts.
How exactly can a small fledgling beauty brand help address such a deeply entrenched problem? It seems to me that the most powerful method might be the simplest: help remove barriers for Black women entering medical professions, whether they be doctors, nurses, psychologists, midwives, doulas or anyone else who is in touch with expectant mothers. Racism seems as insurmountable as an incurable stage 4 cancer, but the lack of access that Black women who are expecting have to Black medical practitioners seems to be a way to apply laser focus to the issue and move the dial for this generation.
I’ve continuously delayed the launch of Kompas as I deeply contemplated whether or not helping Black women access higher education and mentorsin medical fields would truly make a difference. I’ve consulted with friends, including one of my dearest who happens to be a black nurse. I’ve consulted with relative strangers, so that friendship wouldn’t cloud judgement. I’ve read up on various organizations in this space. And it’s very evident that clearing paths to maternity centered medical professions for Black women could bridge the statistical divide between the care Black women are subjected to, in comparison to what white women receive.
The Kompas cosmetics business goals from the outset are these:
- Allocate 80% of net profit toward a scholarship fund for Black women studying to be doctors, nurses, psychologists, midwives, doulas and other maternity focused specialties, in order to improve the chasm of statistical inequality on maternal and infant mortality rates.
- Create products which improve the everyday life of all women, but ESPECIALLY black women.
- Maintain product development integrity, creating products that are as simple and healthy as possible, without sacrificing effectiveness, ease of use, environmental factors, safety or animals to testing.
- Maintain marketing integrity: center black women and promote black beauty in marketing materials, refuse to succumb to mainstream beauty industry propaganda-style campaigns, focus communication on facts and science rather than standard puffery which insults women’s intelligence.