Hi babes. Been a long while. I’ve got a story to share, and I’m sharing it in a hurry because I have an hour to myself for once. I’m going to tell you a story about how I got burned by a big beauty brand, why it sucked, and what we can do about it so this shit doesn’t happen to other hard working people in this line of work. My aim in this post is to by no means demonize all big brands in the beauty industry. I am simply sharing my experience with one brand that I will not name (not today at least.) also, I’m very aware that this sort of shit happens in all creative industries and that we, as artists, are very ready for our own movement calling out creative violators and changing the shape of the power structure within our industries. And sharing our stories is the most powerful way I can think of to do that.
Before I tell my side of the story, I want to acknowledge that this is MY SIDE and I know that there are other sides. I am leaving room for the fact that there are probably things that I don’t know that have helped shape this experience and I want to give the other people involved an opportunity to share their sides as well……..If they read this, I want them to know that I invite their perspectives warmly and will publish their words if they want me to so that we can all get a sense of the bigger picture.
Here is what happened.
Very soon after giving birth to my son Angus, I got an email that looked like this.
My name is BLANK. I am a fellow hairdresser, and the global head of education for BLANK part of the Professional Products Division at BLANK.
I’m writing you because we are huge fans of your work and are super interested in becoming your go-to for all of your natural and sustainable haircare and styling needs. We are firm believers that as hairstylists we are professional by nature and honest by choice. We believe that with your expertise we can create some really honestly amazing content.
We, of course, want this to be as authentic and helpful for you as possible: we aren’t asking for any exclusivity, but would just love the opportunity to work together to push natural haircare and styling professionally. BLANK would be committed to posting your work on all of our global channels for worldwide exposure, exposure to the full BLANK team, free product, and exclusive access to new launches.
Please let me know if you’re interested in the above proposal, and we can connect on further details. Really look forward to hearing back from you: reach out with any questions!
I responded like this.
BLANK- thank you SO much for reaching out to me. This is an exciting offer and I am interested but I have to be really real with you…….I see so many claims of green sustainable and responsible/ethical products in the hair industry and I’m always a bit skeptical. My readers and followers appreciate the authenticity and truth to what I share with them, and the natural, alternative and DIY content.NOT to say that BLANK isn’t living up to their claims, because I really like what I see, but what can you tell me about your goals and your commitment to being more sustainable?Also, I have been telling my clients and my readers and followers for years to stop using shampoo and that less is more and we are naturally beautiful and should stop consuming so many resources in an attempt to buy beauty. It has been hard for me to imagine how I could effectively sell them on buying BLANK products unless your brand has a very similar vision/values.
I’m very open to talking more, I love the idea of leading the industry towards a more responsible and mindful take on haircare with a brand like BLANK but it HAS to be authentic and a good fit for my brand and personal values.
Thanks for taking the time to reach out, and I really hope that this makes sense. My goal would be for it to be truly a win win for both of us. Would love to think on this and also hear more specifics of what you have in mind as far as what we can create together, content wise.Best, Roxie Jane Hunt
They were planning a meeting of the minds in LA, where we would be paid to fly down and meet with several other artists, stylists and content creators who reflect their values and brand, and we would all talk about ideas and brainstorm together. Sort of like a think tank. Where we would give them information and then be a part of the creation of the re-launch of the brand. And get paid for it.
After really thinking hard and long about whether this opportunity might be worth pursuing, and talking to my most trusted friends, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to just go there and feel it out.
Digging in a little deeper
I did some research on the brand, looked through their IG feed. Talked to some friends. Talked to friends who had worked with companies who started with similar well meaning values but were later bought up by larger entities and suffered major integrity errosion.
I reflected on the fact that it sort of went against my morals to consider working with a company that perhaps was using authenticity and a holistic approach as a selling point instead of as a committed practice. I thought about the actual value of my authentic experience creating my own products and content from my actual heart and soul. Years of feeling as if my work and point of view and message would never be valued within the industry I worked in. Knowing that what I am doing, having been on my own little soap box for 19 years in the Beauty Industry understanding that doing hair is bigger than just DOING HAIR and MAKING PEOPLE PRETTY, seeing how my unique message is resonating with people who have long needed to feel validated in their experience both seeking beauty on their own, and working in the field of beauty. Hours and hours and lifetimes of sharing what I know for free because I love it. There is value in this experience. I knew that I would not be comfortable giving ANY of my own experience and insight away for free so that another bigger company could use it to sell their brand.
I felt open to the idea, however, of getting paid to share my wisdom IF it would mean working towards the greater good of shared values and vision. But, I surmised, I would only do it if I felt my contribution was to be truly valued in the transaction.
There was also this to consider, though……
What happened next
I want back and forth with BLANK about dates and times. Then, they changed their tune a bit. We would no longer be doing a paid think tank situation. They wanted me to just fly to them, baby and childcare in tow (sleep dep full force) to meet in LA to speak personally and candidly. Fortunately, I had a wedding to attend outside of LA that weekend, so It worked for me to pull it all off. But it was a stretch energetically, time wise and financially to make it all work. But I fell for it. And I went there.
I met them at a really fancy hotel lobby restaurant where breakfasts cost 25$ or more. And I wore my Standing Rock tee-shirt because I really care about that shit on all the levels. And I wanted them to know that. And I told them my personal hair story, start to finish. And they really listened attentively. They told me what they were looking for which was help with content creation, formulation, creative direction, social media, education, basically all the things I am already doing for my own little brand. They wanted me on their team. They couldn’t think of a better person to be building their brand with them. They brought me an enormous bag of product to bring home. They were so excited to work with me. They would start out with having me work with them on a contract basis, ‘date’ me, they said. See where I best fit in. I assumed that this meant that they actually had a budget to pay me with. But assuming makes and Ass our of U and ME.
First step would be this: They would send me their press kit filled with all the info I needed to get a real feel for their brand and their re-launch. I would go home and try their products and see what I think of them. We would go from there.
So, I went home and started playing with their products. I liked them alright, for the most part. They didn’t make me sick, which is a good start. They were pretty clean looking, they weren’t heavily scented, they took many opportunities to tout green-ness and raw-ness and naturalness.
A week later, in the mail came a press kit. I opened it. It was all of the words and the concepts and the feels of my brand, but in a clean and professional looking box. My first thought was shock. Then I had a conversation with myself that was like “well what was I expecting?! They said they really felt aligned with me, so it makes sense that our brands look the same. Then, I thought ‘okay, well I guess I will take this as an affirmation that what I am doing matters enough to replicate.’ But that felt weird too. Because something about it felt inauthentic and I felt personally violated and devalued by the fact that here I was, looking at someone else’s work that looked so much like mine, and they wanted me to sell it for them because they don’t exactly know how to sell it for themselves because they are not actually living it, yet there had been no exchange of money or compensation because of the fact that my content is free on the internet, because I am a sharer. And that makes it fair game to copy and take credit and make money. And there was really nothing I could do about it but hope they had a really big budget to compensate me if they expected me to want to work with them, for the fact that they in essence they told me with their actions that “YOUR WORK IS NOT WORTH IT” by mining my work and recreating it and packaging it and calling it theirs. And the worst part about it is this: This shit happens all day long to people like me who create original work. ALL DAY LONG. And it is abusive.
Why it sucked
And, it sucked because the two women who sat down with me had looked me in the eye as I told them my life hair story from my heart, woman to woman. I want to always give a sister the benefit of the doubt. They were likely doing the bidding of some rich dude somewhere, just doing their jobs and coming at it from a corporate /business standpoint. I get that. And I give them room to make mistakes in their careers too because god knows I have. But it sucked.
It sucked that I went through the work and time and energy and resources to meet them at a very fancy breakfast in a hotel in Santa Monica, while my tits leaked milk and my sleep deprived eyes betrayed my inner exhaustion.
It sucked because they said they were really interested and wanted to ‘date me for a while’ before hiring me on to the team. That felt gross.
It sucked because it appeared to me, after reading through all their press kit information, that they had mined my intellectual property and brand for keywords, concepts, feels. 7 years of my work available for free on the internet was a really valuable resource to them.
It appeared to me that they had mined the work and wisdom of many smaller artists and brands that I know and love who are trying to make their way. But it felt really really unauthentic, and that really sucks because you can’t do intuitive hair in a healing and identity honoring way inauthentically. And you sure as shit can’t do mass produced sustainable, clean products inauthentically.
It really sucked because the very essence of what I DO and STAND FOR is that beauty is not a commodity and it’s not something you can buy in a bottle. I really truly feel passionate about empowering people to find the depth of their own beauty inside themselves reflected in the beautiful world that we live in, and sharing ways to cultivate that beautiful connection through haircare and stying and identity crafting. I truly care about those things. I believe in re-claiming self-care, in being our own healers and changing the beauty conversation and empowering each other instead of stepping on people to get to the top. I believe in the incredibly transformative power of letting our own intuitions guide us, and not letting ourselves fall prey to oppressive forces who seek to keep us down so that they can take our money and our sense of selves and dignity. Nope. And to feel as if the essence of my life work has been sucked out and stuck into a press kit that will be used to sell a brand that totes authenticity but perhaps doesn’t actually value authenticity? Feels gross.
Lastly, it sucked because it made me completely rethink ever wanting to give anything away for free again. And I have identified myself as a SHARER my entire life. Thats Why I Write Blog Posts. Because I like to share my story in case it might be of value to another persons life journey. I believe in connecting through the tradition of story telling, and I believe in being real with each other. I put my actual heart into the things that I share. And it felt really bad and discouraging to me to go through this experience and then not want to share anymore. IT doesn’t feel right to me to not be a sharer. So I’m sharing:)
In essence, what it felt like to me, was that they only wanted anything to do with me if I was to devalue my own worth as an artist and a content creator and an authentic voice and a woman and a mother by giving them what they wanted without compensation. And when I showed them that I valued myself more than that, they disappeared.
What I wished they would have said is this:
Actually, we don’t want you to come work with us because you appear to value yourself and we don’t have the budget for people who value themselves. We would rather find someone who drinks the koolaid who we can trick into thinking that it is to their benefit to give us what we want for free.
Or, perhaps even this, to keep it simple: We are so sorry, we don’t actually have a budget that covers authentic brand identity leadership or advice. We should have told you from the beginning so that you wouldn’t have to go through all of this. We were kind of just wanting to see what you might be willing to give us for free that would make our brand look better.
Making Things Look Pretty
I am lucky that I have friends and family looking out for me who cautioned me again and again to give NOTHING away for free while I was going through this. I am lucky that I had just given birth and had the mama bear hormones running through my body that urged me to protect my creative self and protect my future creations by not giving any information away without a contract of some sort. I am lucky that I am skeptical enough and jaded enough by working in this industry to know that there is a lot of ego and a lot of attempts to ‘make things look pretty’ because that is the message to women at the very heart of the Beauty Industry. Big companies take money from people by making them feel like they are not pretty enough already. This is a core value of Beauty Capitalism. This is the money part of beauty. And this value translates into corporate prey on artists. Companies want us (artists) to make them look good, and they want us to feel like we need them in order to stay afloat. So, they slyly take our shit from us, and then ask us to sell it for them, or they make us think that we should be giving it to them for free so that they can make more money. Off of our original work.
What can WE do about this type of shit happening?
BECAUSE WE ARE WORTH IT.
The solution I have come to is this:
We Can Value Our Work. See the value in what we do. Value the work of our fellow stylists. Do what weu can to uplift the other people in your workspace and help them value themselves.
Valuing ourselves is the antidote that works in all industries and systems where the rich and powerful few seek to prey upon artists/ women/ POC/ etc. for free or cheap labor to keep their wheels spinning. Don’t fall for it. It’s the intersection of capitalism and the crumbling patriarchy and there is no reason why we need to participate in this shit. I realize I am grossly simplifying a solution to the biggest monster in existence by saying that its as easy as Valuing Ourselves but I truly believe that any work being done to promote this value is really really fucking important right now.
When we value ourlselves, it becomes much easier to value others as well, in a critical way…….As in, we are really thinking about it, and considering the work that goes into the creations of ourselves and of others, the time, and the vision, and the experience and the energy etc. and not just participating as the status quo in a mindset of just extracting shit and taking other people’s ideas and not giving credit and making money off the backs of the people doing the work.
We need to be crediting each others work more. Calling out our teachers, listing sources and thanking those from which we gather inspiration.
Also, we can share our stories, and we can call out brands who participate in this shit. I am choosing today to not name names, but I can’t promise that same grace for tomorrow.
I know I’m not the only one out there who has experienced this sort of thing and I want to connect, and offer anything I can to help other artists and stylist not get taken advantage of. I finally gave myself permission to share this, and I hope it will be the permission for others as well who have been keeping this sort of story to themselves.
Maybe, this behavior is Big Beauty Industry Business as usual. I know it totally is. But I’m calling bullshit on it because guess what? NOW is the time that these brands actually need us, the artists and stylists and creators of authentic content and real things, to survive. They need authenticity because they have lost it in themselves, and the only way forward is to get more real. We, the artists, are the ones with the power. So let’s not get fooled in to thinking it is the other way around.
This experience felt really shitty to me. It has been festering in me for months and it took drinking Mezcal with my friend and fellow hairstylist Alexis who let me tell her the whole story and I realized as I was sharing it that I needed to tell this story MORE in order process it and integrate it into my own experience and also fit it into the collective experience.
There it is. Thats what I’ve got.