Ready for some disappointing statistics? African-Americans outspend the entire American market on personal soap and bath needs by 19%, yet it’s nearly impossible for them to capitalize on that need; Black female business owners receive less than 1% of venture capital funding. The thing is, Black-owned brands — especially ones in the beauty space — have always existed. They’re just not getting the same kind of shelf room as the power players.
Here’s where 4th Ave Market comes in. The online marketplace (named after the storied 4th Avenue shopping district in Birmingham, Alabama) is elevating Black-owned brands in the beauty and personal care industry, making it easy, accessible, and affordable for everyone. Refinery29 spoke to co-founder and CEO Salim Holder on what it means to amplify Black companies through commerce, and the future of what it means to buy Black.
Refinery29: Prior to 4th Ave Market, you had a successful career in marketing. When did you know you wanted to launch your own business?
Salim Holder: “I loved what I did, but it occurred to me [that] I’m growing these businesses by millions of dollars, and I was like, ‘You know what, if I could do it for them, I could probably do it for myself.’ That’s the thing that really drove me: The fact that I couldn’t see the connection between the things I was doing on a daily basis, and how that was actually improving the lives of others.
It was always important for me to actually contribute to the communities I’m a part of. And so with that, in January 2018, I decided I was going to step away from the corporate world. I wasn’t sure what the next step was, but I was like, ‘I know it’s not this.’”
What was your personal connection to the beauty space?
“When I go to the store and try to find a product for my hair, I get a four-foot section that might not have what I need. And I thought about it: we’re spending to the tune of $2 billion a year. In fact, Black Americans are 85% of sales of ethnic and multicultural hair-care products, but yet we own 7% of the stores. We created for it, that market, as a way to drive greater awareness and distribution of those products that are coming from the community, but also to do it in a way that makes it easier for consumers to find the products they want, and for the brands to get in front of those consumers.”
Can you tell me a bit more about the process of finding new brands and bringing them on?
“We have 90 brands that reached out to us and said, ‘We want to be sold on your site.’ I brought on a person and we’ve created a process with a scoring card and curriculum that kind of looks at everything from packaging graphics, to web presence, to testing out the product itself and seeing how well it works. [Going forward], we want to take new products to industry professionals like barbers and stylists. They can rate it and review it, and we can host that on the site.”
4th Ave Market’s offering is primarily focused on grooming, bath, body, personal care, and hair. Is there anywhere that you would love to expand into?
“We’ve been thinking more about health and wellness. We feel like there’s a huge opportunity for that. I don’t mind having a lot on the site, but I want to curate the content and the products to make it super easy for people to navigate and find what they want.”
What does it mean for you to have this platform to empower Black-owned brands?
“It’s huge. One of the things I always believed was that the idea of profit and purpose didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. And for me, this is such a personal thing; at previous companies, I was usually the only Black employee there. The opportunity [for representation] is much bigger. To me, it’s not just about participation, but also about ownership.
And that’s why this is something that I’m so passionate about. I also see this as something that can be much bigger than the Black community. There are a lot of people that might not be Black, but they want to buy Black-owned brands and truly just want their dollars to go to companies that are aligned with their values. ‘Black-owned’ does not mean ‘Black-only.’ And they need that transparency to know which companies do. We feel like we can be that retailer that helps with that.
I read a study that shared that 78% of consumers care that their money goes to companies that align with their values. That’s well over half of the people. It’s definitely where things are going.”
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