Mielle’s Rosemary Hair Oil Is Popular. But Who Is It For?

When vials of Mielle Organics’ rosemary-mint hair oil started disappearing from store shelves this year, Black women who had come to rely on the product were appalled.

Social media sleuths quickly found that in December, the influencer Alix Earle had shared with her nearly five million followers on TikTok that she had experienced “tremendous hair growth” while using the oil. Joining a wave of other influencers who had also started to endorse the product, Ms. Earle, who is white, added it to her Amazon storefront, where she earns a commission when her followers buy the items that she recommends.

In post after post on social media, Black women lamented that all this attention did not bode well for their favorite product. In their view, an oil that they felt had been created specifically for their hair, when relatively few products are, had been hijacked by non-Black consumers. (Ms. Earle did not respond to requests for an interview.)

“At one point, it was sold out at every single Target in New Hampshire,” said Ronelle Tshiela, 23, a law student at the University of New Hampshire, who had used the oil for several years. “I was frustrated because as a Black woman, there’s not that many options to begin with. The natural and ethnic hair care aisle is very limited.”

Even in a multibillion-dollar industry, there are many hair-care manufacturers with few offerings specifically formulated for Black hair, if any at all. In that vacuum, Black-owned hair care companies like Mielle Organics are capitalizing on the opportunity and expanding.

With Black consumers consistently spending a substantial portion of their income on beauty products that are targeted specifically for their hair, the companies that manufacture those products are able to build a loyal consumer base, as Mielle Organics has.

The company, which started out with a focus on natural hair, has never designated a specific race that can or cannot use their products, according to Monique Rodriguez, 39, who founded Mielle Organics in 2014.

“I get and understand the frustration of Black women and why they want to protect an item,” Ms. Rodriguez said in a recent interview. “I think that everyone should be able to use whatever product they choose to use if it works for their hair. I’m not going to discriminate against what race should use it.”

Ten years ago, when Ms. Rodriguez began experimenting with different food products to concoct hair conditioners for her own “severely” heat-damaged hair, she was looking for something that was not yet available in the small “ethnic hair care” sections in stores, she said.

She began sharing her experiments on natural-hair forums, where she found that other women were looking for similar products as well.

“I would share different tips and educational content that was helping my hair, and I saw that it was helping a lot of other women that were dealing with different hair challenges,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

She quickly became an influencer in the natural hair orbit. Soon, she said, women in the natural-hair forums started to ask where they could buy her creations. Ms. Rodriguez, who had been working as a registered nurse for 10 years by that time, decided to marry her science background with her passion for beauty products and create Mielle Organics (pronounced my-ELLE).

“I had the light-bulb moment, and I decided that I would take it seriously and create products that I felt were natural and affordable for our consumers,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I saw an unmet need in the market. I saw that there was a void, a lack of availability, education and product accessibility.”

It was that void that pushed Ms. Tshiela, the law student, to create a video in response to Mielle’s hair growth oil becoming a social media trend. The video met a chilly reception on Twitter and TikTok, where many users told her that she was overreacting, she recalled.

“The history of Black hair in this country refutes the claim that it’s just hair or it’s just hair-care products,” Ms. Tshiela said. “There is legislation that has moved through Congress to protect natural hair, to protect protective hairstyles. So when people say it’s just hair, they’re just hair products, it doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t match reality.”

The potential of Black hair care companies has caught the attention of the consumer-goods giant Procter & Gamble, which announced in January that it had bought Mielle Organics. The company now operates as an independent subsidiary within P&G Beauty, with Ms. Rodriguez and her husband, Melvin, serving as chief executive and chief operating officer.

Ms. Rodriguez said she hoped that working with Procter & Gamble would help allay customers’ anxieties about the availability of Mielle products.

“P&G will act as a resource to help us scale and increase our product distribution,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “We will be able to have more access to African American communities and will have the ability to innovate faster.”

For consumers like Ms. Tshiela, greater availability can make a real difference in a space where social media trends can move the needle on consumer behavior in ways that are hard to predict.

“The people who actually need these products, the people who don’t have anywhere else to turn, are unable to access these products, because of overconsumption and because of the influencer culture,” Ms. Tshiela said. “Not every product is meant for everybody.”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com