Pick up any package of SheaMoisture products and look at the back panel, and this is what you will see: “Sofi Tucker started selling Shea Nuts at the village market in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912. By age 19, the widowed mother of four was selling Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade hair and skin preparations all over the countryside. Sofi Tucker was our Grandmother and SheaMoisture is her legacy.” But there is so much more to the story and this company.
The SheaMoisture line of products is owned by Sundial Brands, which was founded by Sofi Tucker’s grandson, Richelieu Dennis. In addition to SheaMoisture, the company also owns Nubian Heritage and Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture premium hair-care line sold exclusively at Sephora. Sundial Brands took in an estimated $200 million in revenue in 2015, which was a 31% year-over-year increase. The company was valued at around $700 million, after Bain Capital bought a minority ownership stake in the family-owned company in September 2015. The SheaMoisture product line has surpassed Burt’s Bees products to become the #1 natural beauty brand in the bath and body category in the U.S. With the cash infusion from Bain Capital, Sundial Brands is set to expand distribution from 25,000 stores carrying SheaMoisture products to 45,000 stores. SheaMoisture can be found in CVS, Walmart, and Target stores.
Although the family business was started in 1912, the current SheaMoisture line wasn’t created until 1991 by Mr. Dennis in a tiny apartment in Queens, using his grandmother’s recipes. The apartment was shared by Mr. Dennis, his mother, and his friend from college. Needing a way to support themselves after fleeing war-torn Liberia, Richelieu Dennis and family started selling shea-butter shampoos by the pound on the streets of Harlem. At the time, no company was selling all-natural beauty products and Mr. Dennis had to convince potential costumers he wasn’t just selling ‘snake oil.’ Richelieu had anticipated the changes in the natural beauty segment, and has expanded the SheaMoisture line to include everything from lipsticks to baby shampoos. The company has grown tremendously from the tiny apartment in Queens, to having their corporate headquarters in Amityville, New York.
In the highly segregated beauty products field, Sundial Brands has pushed stores to move their products from the shelves marked “ethnic,” to being marketed to consumers of all races. The company has aimed to not simply be multicultural but cross-cultural. Sundial Brands has products to treat everything from acne to eczema to frizzy hair, which are all issues that transcend race. With the help of the marketing firm Droga5, SheaMoisture started a campaign called #BreakTheWalls. Along with the online call to action, Sundial Brands also aired their first 60-second commercial. The commercial took viewers through a drugstore from the perspective of women of color as they were relegated to the ethnic shelves, and the narrator asked the question, “Am I not beautiful? Is ‘ethnic’ not beautiful?” The video was viewed over 1 million times in the first 24-hours and SheaMoisture gained over 300 million social media impressions.
Mr. Richelieu Dennis believes in the philosophy that it takes a village for everyone to be successful and with that in mind, SheaMoisture operates on a fair-trade production program. Sundial Brands first finds high-quality sources for its ingredients such as shea butter, shea soap, and baobab oil. With a source to purchase from, the company currently buys from 2,500 women in Ghana and Turkey. They are also starting to purchase from suppliers in Brazil, Jamaica, Kenya, and Morocco. The company not only purchases from small suppliers, they also look to improve the lives of their suppliers by making the production process more environmentally friendly or bringing piped water into the area.