News hit the internet on Monday October 20th via WWD. Carol’s Daughter has been acquired by French cosmetics mega-brand L’Oreal. The company that also owns Lancome, YSL, Giorgio Armani, Kiehls, Shu Uemura, Clarisonic, Garnier, Maybelline, Essie, Urban Decay, Softsheen Carson and Mizani, now also owns the brand that Lisa Price began mixing up in her kitchen in 1993. Major, right? How crazy is that?
The initial reaction online seemed to be shock, and then the comments exploded. My personal reaction was basically “WOW, this is so major for Lisa Price! So major for natural hair brands and entrepreneurs! WOW!” Amongst Carol’s Daughter consumers the best description for the online response, is divided. There’s a lot of concern, a lot of assumption and a lot of judgment in the comments. Even on my own Facebook page, I saw some surprisingly passionate responses that lamented the decision and offered earnest criticism. There was genuine dismay in some corners of the internet. I saw no shortage of online schadenfreude amongst those who assumed this meant the end of the Carol’s Daughter brand we’ve come to know and embrace over the past 21 years.
One of the words that was often repeated was “sellout.” That left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I get it. I totally understand the feelings that come from something that feels like it belongs to us and is part of us, an extension of our identity, being sold off to the highest bidder, no longer a black-owned entity. On the other hand, growth is the goal of business. Given that Carol’s Daughter has faced financial struggles in the public eye, would this sale not simply make sense to secure the long term future of the brand? Wouldn’t the investment of a conglomerate with the size and capability of L’Oreal only serve to ultimately improve the business that is Carol’s Daughter? Do we want our brands to stay small forever, and at what personal cost? What kind of business growth would manage to simultaneously appease the fan base AND Carol’s Daughter’s bottom line?
I touched base with Denitria N. Lewis, Senior Marketing Strategist, Founder of CUSPData and arbiter of #CulturalIQ, who’s been outspoken on matters like these. She broke it down from a business angle: “The Carol’s Daughter acquisition allows her brand access to premiere level research, funding, product development and distribution; in addition to the borrowed equity and legacy her brand now gains from another powerhouse brand which will position her line to be around for another 20 (30, 40… etcetera) plus years. A buyout is not always a sellout to me. I feel like Lisa Price was able to cash in on herself, and now will get the opportunity to extend her brand to other avenues globally. Yes, this does give L’Oreal access under the Carol’s Daughter name, but it’s HER name out in front. One can presume, despite the sale, with the executive team still in place – that they are prepared to protect the image at all costs.”
Denitria’s views kind of echoed my own. Also, the emotional response to the sale of Carol’s Daughter revealed that people truly care about the brand to the point of having specific hopes and aspirations for it, that don’t necessarily mesh with the brand’s or owner’s reality. “Culturally, I understand why the community is angry. This is not the first boom in black hair care where what were essentially mom & pop brands were acquired by major conglomerates (see: Soft Sheen Carson, Johnson Products) and the wealth perceivably left the black community. But let’s be honest – those products are sold in stores that are not owned by us, and through distribution channels we have little to no access to – even when we own a product as large as Carol’s Daughter is. As a community we have to understand that regardless of how connected we feel to the brand’s story and founders – a businessperson’s ultimate goal is to build wealth. They may be building to sell or building to keep. Those die-hard fans of Carol’s Daughter clearly interpreted this as a brand that was building to keep – which we learned today, is not entirely true,” Lewis added.
Denitria stated it all so clearly. It seems that many of us are getting caught up in the what-we-wish-had-happened and what-she-shoulda-dones, instead of considering what led to those decisions, and whether or not those decisions were the right ones for Lisa and for her brand. Many are forgetting that behind the Carol’s Daughter brand is a very real person.
I had a chance to catch up with Lisa Price last week when she was in Chicago, visiting the Ulta corporate HQ (she’s always on the go)! It was the day after the news hit, and she had just begun to see some of the comments online. I had to ask her how that made her feel, to see the response from people who had been supporters of the brand for the past two decades downcry her decision. Did it make her angry? Or sad?
“I’m more sad at so much lack of understanding. But what I’ve found is, with the few people I’ve chosen to speak to directly, there are some people who sounded like they were concerned and worried…when I addressed them directly and wrote to them and clarified their comment, all of a sudden they take a completely different stance,” she said. Lisa cited a few cases where her online critics went from slamming her and her brand, to expressing admiration and appreciation when she addressed them directly. For the record, she’s seen quite a bit of the negative feedback and took the time to address several of the specific criticisms leveled against her and her brand.
“Just for clarification, I did not almost go bankrupt, this was not a move of desperation. And to those who are wondering what my legacy will be, my legacy to my children is that they watch their mother work hard. They watch the business get built from the kitchen, to the shelves of Sephora and Ulta and Target. I hope I’ve taught my children that with hard work they can accomplish everything. Because I’ve done this doesn’t mean I’m not leaving a legacy, this is 21 years of hard work.”
Lisa has had to become used to consistent predictions of doom and gloom whenever she makes a major business decision, and despite those predictions, she is still here and the brand is bigger than ever before. From what I understand and what was explained to me, this was a decision made to secure the long term future of this beloved brand, to make sure it will exist long after the creator is no longer here.
I had to ask Lisa what she wanted to say to the people who are expressing these feelings of concern that are tipping over into almost betrayal.
“The way that I feel about it is, I understand why the customer feels the way that she feels, because as African Americans there aren’t that many things we get to have to ourselves, and when we do have something to ourselves, we covet it and protect it. I understand that completely. I am honored that I’ve created something that people feel that way about. I really love, cherish and value the Carol’s Daughter customer. I never want to disappoint her. Unfortunately I have, but I’ve tried very hard not to,” she told me.
I had to specifically press about the use of the word “sellout” and what that meant to her as the creator of this brand. Lisa was forthright about where that criticism is coming from and how it makes her feel.
“I owned my company with my husband. Then I chose to bring on investors because we knew the demand was far greater than we could satisfy. That’s the path that I ended up on. But I never ever felt like I was a sellout, ever. Because it’s my baby. It’s been my life for 21 years. It’s my life. It’s making the products, going on HSN to sell the product, all of the traveling, all of the work I’ve put into building this into what it is. You don’t do that for something you don’t care about.”
The comments about the products themselves also were a part of our conversation, and Lisa absolutely refutes any of the criticism that her products have changed and that this new business move will mean changes in terms of including cheaper or less effective ingredients. “That could not be further from the truth. I’ve used Face Butter on my face every day for 21 years. I’ve used Hair Milk for 20 years. Why am I going to mess up what I put on my hair, what my 8 year old puts on her hair, and what thousands of people are buying and enjoying from my brand? I wish I could personally talk to every single person with questions or concerns about this and say I’m not going anywhere, it’s not going to change. There is no plan to change the formulation.”
The decision to come into the L’Oreal fold doesn’t change what Lisa and Carol’s Daughter have been able to accomplish over the past 2 decades. As someone who’s watched the brand grow from the days of working out of a warehouse, to being on the shelves at Sephora and Macy’s and now at Ulta, Target and HSN; it’s undeniable that Carol’s Daughter changed the landscape of the natural hair marketplace and kicked down the door for so many others to come. In many ways it can be said that Carol’s Daughter elevated the conversation on black hair. Magazines like Vogue, Elle and Allure took notice when they weren’t including black hair companies in their articles before. This is a brand that was made by us, by us in the truest sense. Lisa is a trailblazer. The foundation of her brand is about family and empowerment, and she’s inspired SO many others to look to their own family beauty traditions and recipes, whip up their own recipes and take them to the marketplace online and in stores. Now Lisa Price, who started making batches of her products in her kitchen 21 years ago, has sold her company to the biggest beauty corporation in the world. THAT is creating a lasting legacy and that is trail blazing. For those who are wondering what her role will be now, Lisa Price will stay on as the creative visionary of the brand and she will continue to lead product development for Carol’s Daughter. Except now, she’ll have access to the research, funding, product development, distribution, borrowed equity and legacy that Denitria Lewis mentioned earlier.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m the author of this brand. And I am nothing but proud. Because I know personally how hard it was to come from the person I was in 1993 to the person I am now. I know the boxes I’ve packed, the bottles I’ve labeled, the times I’ve been kicked in the face, the times I thought I had to shut things down. I am not upset or ashamed of anything. I am so proud. Maybe 50 years from now, there won’t be any naysayers,” says Lisa. In the meantime, there’s no time to rest. She’s still got work to do. Carol’s Daughter will have new Monoi body products launching on HSN on November 9. They just launched the Marula line, Curl Therapy, in Ulta – fans can expect to see extensions to the Marula and Monoi product lines in the near future. She’s got a kids line launching in Target, in conjunction with Annie. Look for adorable Annie boxes at Target including Carol’s Daughter products, that Lisa describes as “super cute and super affordable.”
Carol’s Daughter is doing a lot and the future now looks even more secure and therefore bright because of the decisions Lisa and her team have made. Lisa feels ready and excited for this new chapter for her brand: “There’s a LOT of great stuff that’s already planned. And it doesn’t stop. The work still continues. I’m still Carol’s Daughter. Everything changed, but it’s still the same because the work is the work.”
Thank you for the phenomenal interview, Lisa!
There are some really interesting think pieces and posts on the Lisa Price/Carol’s Daughter/L’Oreal purchase that offer a variety of perspectives on the decision. Check these out:
A Black Company Sells, Or Sells Out on NPR
Carol’s Daughter, L’Oreal and the Burden of Owning a Black Business on Clutch
Beauty Conglomerate L’Oreal – A Company With a Troubled History – Buys Out Carol’s Daughter on BGLH.
Lisa Price Discusses Carol’s Daughter Acquisition on Love Brown Sugar
I am excited to see what’s next for Carol’s Daughter, and what this new business relationship will mean for the brand. Opinions are so strong on this issue and there are many valid concerns out there, but now knowing what we know and hearing what Lisa has to say herself, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What do you think?