Before Melanin, Pattern or Mielle, there was Carol’s Daughter.
In 1993, when Lisa Price founded Carol’s Daughter, a line that sells body and hair care products for textured hair types, the black consumer was often an afterthought in the broader beauty market. Today, discussions around natural curls, coils, and bends are much more prominent in the conversation. Brands like Bread Beauty Supply and Pattern are grabbing a bigger share of the hair care market, and general market brands from Pantene to Living Proof have expanded their offerings for textured hair types.
“There’s so much more to choose from,” said Jessica Philips, vice president of merchandising at Ulta Beauty. “You have a lot more innovation and inclusiveness in hair care, which is amazing…we’ve had a lot more black founders in the market.”
Carol’s daughter hasn’t always benefited from the changes she helped bring about. It’s now an incumbent rather than an upstart – it turns 30 in business next year and has been part of L’Oreal since 2014. The brand has occasionally found itself catching up with new rivals connecting with their customers through social media and cool, Gen-Z brand.
An updated marketing strategy and products aimed at appealing to a new generation of consumers have helped (net sales have doubled in the past three years, with the Goddess Strength line, launched in 2020, the best-selling line, according to Anne Garrison, Vice President of Global Marketing, President of Brand). Now, after launching in the UK this month, it plans to enter the rest of Europe next year. A second Gen Z-focused line will soon launch in the United States.
Keeping founder Price front and center is an integral part of the strategy.
“I always sold, made and promoted what I believed in, what I used in my home,” Price said. “I think people see that. They see that you love what you do.
Price, who worked in television production, began making products from natural ingredients in his Brooklyn kitchen in 1993. After selling his designs at local flea markets, the business took off, landing in many big retailers like Ulta Beauty and Target and attracting investment from celebrities like Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
The brand’s momentum reflected a broader shift among black Americans in the 2000s, who, propelled by safety concerns around chemicals and the visibility of textured hair in the media, traded chemical relaxers for products that allowed them to style their hair naturally. Between 2008 and 2018, sales of chemical relaxers fell by 40%, according to market research firm Mintel. By 2014, Carol’s Daughter had reached $27 million in net sales, distributing its products through hundreds of outlets across the United States.
Then L’Oréal came to call.
In 2014, Price sold her business to the beauty giant for an undisclosed sum, continuing to be involved in the brand’s day-to-day operations. The exit was intended to provide the company with the infrastructure it needed to achieve the next level of growth. But changing the brand would prove more difficult than expected.
The acquisition came just as a wave of new brands targeting the same customers hit the market. In the 2010s, upstarts like Camille Rose, Mielle Organics, and Bouclème jumped into the textured haircare space, later joined by names like Bread Beauty Supply, Pattern, and Melanin.
Many of these brands have proven popular with younger consumers: Mielle and Melanin were founded by natural hair influencers who already had large followings on social media, while others like Bread and Bouclème came onto the market. with modern branding and Instagrammable packaging.
“All of these brands were launching and really targeting the black consumer, but also communicating the same story that Lisa had — so we had to work harder to break through,” Garrison said.
The rise of social media has given consumers a direct line to brands. As a result, community engagement has quickly become an integral part of a crowded and rapidly changing beauty market, said Nicole Crentsil, a Ghanaian-British entrepreneur and angel investor in textured haircare brand Afrocechix.
“A lot of founders don’t necessarily always consider changing consumers, and how branding and community are so critical when it comes to growing your business: not just how you speak to your community, but the way your community responds to you,” she told BoF in a previous interview. “What are the interesting conversations your community is plugging into when it comes to beauty and hair? You [as a brand] must also be plugged into them.
Amid new competition and a rapidly changing beauty landscape, Carol’s Daughter sales have declined.
Carol’s Daughter was also grappling with another challenge: maintaining the authenticity and DNA of a black-founded brand for the black community while being under the umbrella of big business – and owned by white people – L ‘Oreal.
Following the acquisition, Price received criticism from some social media users claiming that Carol’s Daughter was now operating under the company’s beauty structure that had historically ignored black Americans. The backlash has been particularly difficult for Price.
“Eventually we will get to a place where there will be a black-owned L’Oreal, or there will be a black-owned Unilever, so that when other companies look for strategic partners to help them grow their business, they’ll be able to go to businesses that look like them,” Price said. “But we’re not there yet.”
In 2018, Carol’s Daughter began “very intense strategic work” to optimize the business model and jump-start growth, Garrison said. This involved doubling down on product innovation, introducing new products like its Wash Day Delight water-to-foam shampoo and its Goddess Strength range, both of which hit the market in early 2020. (The Goddess franchise Strength is now the brand’s bestseller and growing in double digits year over year, Garrison said.)
Additionally, the brand revamped its marketing, focusing on Price as founder and her ongoing management of the brand. Operationally, the company has strived to be more nimble and maintained its direct-to-consumer digital business (unlike some other L’Oréal flagship brands like Maybelline, which typically sell online through third-party retailers) .
“The ‘Big L’Oreal model is really a non-working model for Carol’s daughter,” Garrison said. “We couldn’t really operate like other L’Oréal brands, we had to maintain our independent and entrepreneurial spirit, so we had to do things differently.”
This shift in strategy resonated during the pandemic as consumers had more time to experiment and were pushed to embrace their natural textures due to salon closures. Over the past three years, Carol’s Daughter has grown steadily, doubling its net sales, Garrison said. (The company declined to share current revenue figures; L’Oreal does not detail sales for individual brands.)
Now, the brand hopes to double its sales again over the next three years, said Garrison and Izar Hyacinthe, European business development director for L’Oréal. But success will depend on staying relevant, especially among the next generation of beauty consumers.
Investing more in creating content for Tiktok and Snapchat is part of the strategy. In a few weeks, the company will launch a new line targeting a younger audience, differentiating it from the mainline with an emphasis on gender fluidity and hair experimentation, Garrison said.
The brand plans to replicate its recent US success in new markets. It landed in the UK this month via drugstore chain Superdrug, partnering with Paris and London creative agency Haiti 73 for the market launch. The brand is also in talks with black beauty stores, Hyacinthe said.
Expansion across Europe is planned next year, starting with France, which has the largest black population in the region. It won’t be an easy market to break into: the natural hair movement has spawned a proliferation of local brands, including Beauté Insolente, Mango Butterfull and Secrets de Loly, which have received investment from private equity firm Quilvest Capital Partners more early this year.
“We definitely know the competition is tough, so we have to be unique,” Hyacinthe said. Key to success will also be emphasizing the brand’s “30 years of expertise,” Hyacinthe said.