Meet The Woman Behind Today’s Multimillion-Dollar Black Hair And Beauty Startups

In the past ten years, global category-leading manufacturers like Procter & Gamble and Unilever have seized the opportunity to create specific products that appeal to diverse consumers. These consumers spent $473 million in total hair care (a $4.2 billion industry). In addition, they made other significant investments in personal appearance products, such as grooming aids ($127 million out of $889 million) and skincare preparations ($465 million out of $3 billion). As Nielsen summarizes:

“Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color but the mainstream as well. These figures show that investment by multinational conglomerates in R&D to develop products and marketing that appeal to diverse consumers is, indeed, paying off handsomely.”

Black people make up 14% of the U.S. population but have outsized influence over hair and beauty subcategories. Yet just 12% of the U.S. Black population works in the cosmetics manufacturing industry, relatively defined as manufacturing perfumes (natural and synthetic), cosmetics, shampoos, and shaving products. The percentage of Black entrepreneurs in this industry is undoubtedly even smaller. However, one Black woman has spent over 30 years helping other entrepreneurs corner the ethnic hair and beauty market. 

The Black Beauty Ally

Germaine Bolds-Leftridge has supported such diverse beauty brands as Oyin Handmade, Curls Dynasty, and Mielle Organics. Her Maryland-based sales and marketing company GBL Sales provides the sales, advertising, and marketing attention that small, niche ethnic beauty brands desperately need to compete with category leaders. This includes:

  • crafting strategies and introduction models to showcase brands to buyers and retailers,
  • developing the beauty brand’s backstory and brand messaging,
  • presenting features, claims, and benefits, and 
  • selling in brands to retailers.

Due to serving as a small business resource for distribution and expansion, GBL Sales experienced sales growth in 2021 despite the global pandemic. Three years ago, Bolds-Leftridge also created one of the most significant experiential beauty events in the South: The Ubiquitous Women’s Expo. Bolds-Leftridge is also Chief Creative Officer and one of the major stakeholders in Ambi Enterprises LLC, the investment group that acquired skincare brand AMBI from L’Oréal USA. She explains:

“When I started GBL Sales, I wanted to become a major player in the beauty space.  However, to make a difference, I had to create a new business model which built more creative and authentic brands.  The main goal was to make small brands into household names. I knew if I could help smaller brands to grow that the larger brands would soon know my name.”

A New Chapter: Manufacturing IKNOW Skincare

As the owner of her skincare brand, Bolds-Leftridge is also operating in the male-dominated manufacturing industry. In a time when other women are being shut out or held back (yet men are advancing), Bolds-Leftridge recommends those in male-dominated workplaces use the following advice to thrive in their environment: make allies, build consensus, set goals, stay positive, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and lastly, don’t be easily offended.

“It has been proven that women can break into any industry. A great example is Katherine Johnson, the mathematician, who broke into the male-dominated arena at NASA. It takes perseverance, self-awareness, not easily deterred and a greater understanding of your higher source to integrate into any space where the majority does not look like you.”

She’s hoping her latest venture IKNOW Skincare will resonate with Generation X and Baby Boomer Black female consumers, a segment with exceptional skincare needs often forgotten by larger beauty companies. 

“The impetus for IKNOW Skincare came from watching my mother’s transition in 2020 from cancer. My mom always had beautiful skin and stressed the importance of taking care of it. I wanted Black women over 50 to have a different kind of relationship with their skin and to continue to become their best selves. I don’t buy into youthful-looking skin or anti-aging marketing. I am into embracing #RealAge.”