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Eco Attributes Reinvent the Ethnic Hair Care Segment

By: Elle Morris
Posted: June 7, 2011, from the June 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

The global multicultural marketplace is an increasingly competitive environment for beauty brands, and a swirl of ethnic hair care products from both new and seasoned manufacturers have launched in recent years with a common theme: natural positioning. While the beauty market at large has seen a rush of products with organic claims, the ethnic hair care segment seems to have been particularly affected by this trend. Hair care brands in this segment are also now exercising a more multicultural approach, quietly moving away from ethnic-specific messaging in an attempt to appeal to a wide range of skin tones and hair textures that constitute the ethnic population.

A Fast-growing, Worldwide Segment

The ethnic beauty segment is one of the fastest-growing worldwide, a trend that can be attributed to growing populations abroad (particularly those in emerging markets), and subsequently, the increase in the purchasing power of multicultural consumers. Today, men and women of color account for approximately 80% of the world’s population, and that figure is only expected to increase in the coming decades as ethnic populations continue to rise in the U.S., U.K. and France. Additionally, in emerging markets such as India, China, the Middle East and Africa, beauty sales—and hair care, in particular—are exploding, largely driven by an ever-expanding and youthful middle class.

Regardless of demographic trends and market fluctuations, ethnic consumers have also been found to spend more of their income on beauty products than their Caucasian counterparts, with hair care products often accounting for more than half of those sales.

According to Diagonal Reports, black consumers spend up to seven times more on hair care in France, and in the U.S., African-American women account for 30% of all hair care product sales. Depending on the cultural context of beauty—traditions, routines, ideals and so on—beauty cultures can appear dramatically different, but the importance of hair maintenance and its relationship to beauty is a common trait among ethnic populations. This has helped keep the global ethnic hair care market relatively insulated during the recent economic recession. Across cultural groups, ethnic consumers see their hair as a form of personal expression and a key reflection of their personal identity. From Africa to Asia, ethnic hair has different needs than Caucasian hair, and ethnic consumers seek hair care formulations that address those needs. They want products that prevent hair loss, repair dry or damaged hair, facilitate styling and moisturize the scalp. In recent years, another significant trend has been pronounced dissatisfaction and greater education regarding the effect of chemicals on hair, helping to transform this market to one characterized by healthy hair and how to get it.

As the spending power of multicultural women continues to rise (some research shows more than $1 trillion in the U.S. alone), more products are being introduced with the multicultural consumer in mind, particularly within the hair care segment. Increasingly more conscious of chemicals found in hair care products, ethnic women are a driving force for the natural trend in the mainstream, spurring product innovation related to high-quality ingredients, eco-attributes and ethical positioning. Since 2009, organic and natural hair care product advancements have swept the ethnic hair care market as safer alternatives to harsh, chemical-based products that have traditionally been a staple in hairstyling. These product launches—including curl relaxers and curl enhancers, hair-follicle restoration and scalp treatments—all have similar benefit claims: Using eco-ingredients, they are able to restore and deliver healthy, shiny, manageable, strong hair.