'People Want To Support Us Now. I’m Just Sad It’s At The Expense Of Someone’s Life'

Kay Cola, founder of OrganiGrowHairCo, shares the conflicting emotions of running a Black-owned business these days.

This story, as told to Nicole Pajer, is from the perspective of Kay Cola, the founder of OrganiGrowHairCo, a Los Angeles-based company that makes hair care products with natural ingredients for all women. Self-funded and launched in 2016, the brand has since expanded to include skin care and supplements. Though Cola initially created the line after noticing a lack of clean luxury hair care options that catered to her natural hair, she makes products “for every hair texture and every race.” She’s proud to run a Black-owned business that hires 70-80% Black employees and the rest Latino.

Since day one, Cola has been an activist, donating money to build orphanages in Africa, and most recently providing masks for those in the crowds at the Black Lives Matter protests. In light of recent events, Cola has a lot to say about what beauty brands can do in order to help drive positive change and where the industry hopefully goes from here. Hint: Fewer generic #BlackLivesMatter emails, more action.

I saw him being murdered on Instagram. I remember being in my home on my phone and seeing it. And the thing was, it wasn’t shocking because I’m so used to seeing it now. It’s so many Black men and women that this is happening to that it’s like, “God. Another one? Really?” And it’s sad to even say that or feel that way, but that was my initial reaction. Then, I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach like, are these guys even gonna have any consequences for what they did? You get this anxiety that’s like, “Oh, OK. These guys are gonna get away with that because of the color of their skin.” And it’s just it makes you feel defective.

“My goal is to make people be happy with what they were born with, and the hair texture that they have and the skin color that they have and to make them feel beautiful just the way they are.”

I’m a very optimistic, hopeful person and lately I’ve just felt really helpless. I’m disgusted to see the amount of ignorance that human beings have and some of the comments that are even being made right now and the division. This thing seems like a no brainer to me. Just treat everyone with compassion, treat everyone the way you want to be treated ― but it doesn’t seem like everyone feels that way. So I’m extremely angry. I haven’t been able to sleep. I’m forcing myself to eat. And it’s been very stressful trying to run a business while you’re battling anxiety, depression and anger and trying to battle the simplicity of just other people being able to live their lives. None of us asked to be born and yet we are born from the womb to fight for our lives, just because of the color of our skin. It’s ridiculous.

I don’t know how I’m managing, honestly. I force myself to do yoga and meditate because you can become so enthralled with all of the things that are happening. I’ve had to take CBD oil just to go to sleep. For a couple of days, I slacked on my work because I couldn’t focus on it, I couldn’t do what I need to do.

The movement’s impact on her business

As far as the business goes, we’ve had a lot of support from Blackout Tuesday posts raising awareness that we are not only Black owned, but we’re 70 to 80% Black employed and the rest of the percentage is Latino. So I think a lot of people didn’t know that, and they were happy to find that out. I think this awareness is going to be good for my business because people want to support us now. And they’re turning away from the bigger brands who are sending out these generic PR emails that lack empathy and compassion, just so they can get a dollar. And customers understand that. They’re giving us a shot and it’s a shot that’s well deserved. And so I’m happy to see that more awareness is being brought to Black-owned companies. But I’m just sad that it’s at the expense of someone’s life.

“Beauty brands have always pacified ― they’ll have one or two Black models ... or they’ll just have one dark-skinned model. You’re not representing us when you do that. We’re not stupid.”

I have a lot of white customers, and they have DMed us recently and said, “We support you, we stand with you, and we appreciate what you’ve done for our hair care as well.” And I think that’s beautiful.

On brands making moves “too little too late”

I’ve been getting tons of those emails from various brands and I’ve responded, “This is disingenuous,” or “Too little, too late.” And I’m still getting emails even today from brands that I have supported for years. And it just makes me feel like I’m being pacified. It does not feel genuine, it does not feel like any real change is going to be made. And it just feels like it’s contrived. The Black dollar is extremely powerful and they’re probably feeling some of that. And people are gonna see that we’re not playing around this time. I can see a difference in posture and energy with people now than I’ve ever seen before. And we’re not playing around.

And it’s disgusting to me also because these beauty brands have always pacified ― they’ll have one or two Black models, or they’ll always pick the lighter one or the one with the looser hair texture. Or they’ll just have one dark-skinned model. You’re not representing us when you do that. We’re not stupid. We know what people are doing. My kids are actors and I always can tell when [casting agents] are trying to throw the mixed kid and Black kid in there. And I think brands need to realize we’re not idiots. We know what you’re doing and you’re not fooling us, and it’s not making us want to buy your product because it’s disingenuous.

I think that a lot of businesses that may be genuine are getting flack because they are being like, “Oh, I need to change.” And now we feel like they did it too late. But if they’re consistent, then we’ll know that it’s not just for right now. Hire more Black people and include more Black models of all hair textures and dark shades. Don’t just hire the light girl with wavy hair. Literally include everyone and do it consistently and make everyone feel good about your brand. It’s your job to make everyone feel beautiful. And go the extra mile and get some Black people on your team. Ask questions and let them have a voice. And let them lead in that area, because we know what we need and what makes us beautiful.

Her role as a Black business owner

When my daughter came home and told me she wanted to straighten her hair because everybody else at her school’s hair was straight, my goal was to make other girls never feel like that ever again. My goal is to make people be happy with what they were born with, and the hair texture that they have and the skin color that they have and to make them feel beautiful just the way they are. I’ve had people write me all the time about how they got teased for their curly hair or they never embraced it and they cried and broke their hair off trying to achieve some society standard. We celebrate our customers. We don’t post influencers. We post our customers and they feel like stars. We always encourage our followers to leave a nice comment under their photos. And people feel really good about that ― they’re so excited that people are liking their photo and they’re getting a little closure. It’s all about the average daily person, making them feel better and not relying on these influencers and celebrities.

I’d like to see Black-owned businesses step it all the way up. Make sure your packaging is on point. Make sure your customer service is on point and take this opportunity and knock it out of the park. I would like to see other brands genuinely care and want to hire people, not just because it’s going to give them more exposure and money, but to recognize Black women are some of the most amazing workers and are on point and smart.

I was on a Target commercial and they hired a guy to make sure that none of the white writers wrote anything that would offend Black people. Even that in itself is ridiculous. If you’re gonna do a commercial about Black people, why don’t you hire Black writers?

Take care of yourself

I would also like people to focus on their mental health, because we are extremely traumatized right now and it can be very toxic to society. I would like people to do things that make them feel good, that are healthy to society, healthy to them. And maybe just take a pause if you need to, and don’t feel guilty about it because this is some heavy stuff. We’re addressing our anger but we need to address our sadness and our depression and anxiety. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but definitely rise to the occasion and don’t get tired. I’ve been doing yoga, hanging out with my kids. Watching them laugh brings me back to some sort of balance.

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