A'Lelia Bundles Speaks
Flo Ngala/Netflix

A'Lelia Bundles On Netflix's 'Self Made,' Black Hair, And Self-Expression

Madam C.J. Walker’s great-great-granddaughter champions the Black hair care industry, entrepreneurship, education, and self-expression of today’s youth.

Netflix looks to answer the Oscars debacle from earlier this year with an exciting new four-part limited series, Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. Starring Octavia Spencer in the title role, Self Made utilizes the research of Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, who wrote a New York Times bestseller about her family’s legacy in Black hair care. A’Lelia, a former network television news executive and award-winning producer for 30 years at NBC and ABC News, authored On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker to inform a new generation about the importance of America’s first successful Black entrepreneur.

Madam Walker was the daughter of slaves, and a widow at the age of 20. Seeing a need for healthy hair alternatives that catered to the Black woman, Madam C.J. Walker and her family built a business empire that focused on cosmetic and hair care products for women of color. Many of her company’s employees were women, including Marjorie Joyner (co-founder of the National Council of Negro Women) and Alice Kelly (the first forewoman and manager of the Walker factory). Through hard work and effort, Madam Walker turned her wealth into philanthropy and made friends with “talented tenth” MVPs: W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.

A’Lelia Bundles is also the president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, making her the oracle behind her famous ancestors’ speeches, publications, documents, photographs and past public initiatives. VIBE was fortunate enough to get the engaging public speaker and lover of history to talk about her great-great-grandmother’s impact on the Black entrepreneurial spirit, discovering her own revolutionary acts through her Black hair growth, and shares why she celebrates today’s stars for championing Black self-expression.

VIBE: Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker hits Netflix on March 20, during Women’s History Month. With those events in mind, I wanted to ask you about your involvement with the series and what message do you hope the show can convey to Black audiences?

A’Lelia Bundles: My book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker was optioned a few years ago by Mark Holder of Wonder Street [Productions]. Mark then approached Warner Bros. and then Netflix about turning it into a series. Once that went through, Octavia Spencer came on board, and we went through the process from then on. I’m considered a consulting producer, which means that I had some script review, but I really hope that what comes from this is that more people will know Madam C.J. Walker’s name, and that their curiosity will be pricked a bit so they’ll want to learn even more about her.

Obviously, with the show being a limited series, you can only scratch the surface of her legacy and impact. Add to that that I’ve done almost 50 years’ worth of research on Madam Walker and her life, and so I am renaming my book into Self Made with Octavia Spencer’s picture on the cover, as well as an audiobook that I just recorded a few weeks ago.

Congratulations.

Thank you!

It is an interesting time in the world of content creation where people of color are able to inform others through the visual medium. Earlier this year, we had Who Killed Malcolm X, and When They See Us in 2019 had a new generation learning about the Central Park Five. You say  Self Made only scratches the surface, but what do you hope people take away from this show when it compares to the rise of the Black haircare industry?

There is a core of people who know and love Madam C.J. Walker, but there’s a much larger audience who don’t really know about her. I think Self Made will give people a window into her life. Octavia Spencer is the right person to play this role. She has an understanding of the obstacles that Black women face and, in her own personal life, she has certainly overcome obstacles and dealt successfully with challenges.

The message I hope people get from this series is that a Black woman in the early 20th century not only started a business, but empowered other women, and went on to become the first self-made Black millionaire. By helping those women become economically independent, she created jobs and generational wealth for thousands within the Black community.

 Switching braids a bit, I wanted to ask you about your own hair care journey. When did you learn that Black hair could be politicized?

I learned that my hair could be politicized when I was a senior in high school. Both my parents worked at the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, with my dad eventually being hired by another company called Summit Laboratories that made chemical hair straighteners.

At that time, I’d see Angela Davis and Cicely Tyson with the big afro, plus the Black Power Movement was in full swing. People were getting rid of their processed and straightened hair, which awakened my political consciousness. I knew to have an afro was a sign of rebellion, much like how the white kids were growing their hair long, Black kids like me were using our hair to make a statement against the issues of the time.

 To relate that to what’s going on with today’s youth, I wanted to get your thoughts on the struggles that kids like Deandre Arnold and others experience when trying to express themselves…

Companies like Sundial Brands and people like Matthew Cherry are making a statement by supporting young people while saying to the rest of the world that you will not shame our babies. It’s very hard to be a kid, especially in a predominantly white school or white town where other people want to police your body and hair. It is angering to me that anybody can be expelled from school because of the hair that grows out of their head. Our hair is beautiful the way it grows and the judgments that other people make need to evolve.

 Speaking of evolution, I must ask what your own favorite hairstyles of today are that you’d rock if you could?

I love people who have really long locs. I love how they can go in different directions or pile it up into a big crown on the head. I love just really full hairstyles that have structure. My hair is pretty limp [laughs] and I’m not able to do that, but if I could, I would. At this stage of my life, though, it would take so much work and product and maintenance that I am really all about that easy life.

 How do you feel about media places like Huffington Post’s Black Hair Defined project spotlighting stories about Black hair and the Black hair care industry?

It is really important that places like this make statements that our hair is beautiful and that there’s nothing wrong with our hair. People like Richelieu Dennis, founding CEO of Sundial Brands and now owns Essence Magazine, has created a $100 million VC fund called the New Voices Fund for women entrepreneurs of color. Support from companies and media places like these are uplifting Black hair, hair care, and cosmetic companies that make it plain that we’re not going backward and only are going to continue to express ourselves.

 Last question, Ms. A’Lelia: What is the continuing impact Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy has on Black entrepreneurs?

Her impact is that of a great American rags-to-riches story. I hope that by the time people have finished watching the series, and doing some additional research, that they really see Madam C.J. Walker as a multidimensional woman. She was the first child in her family to be born after slavery, who was a millionaire by the time of her death in 1919 and made a difference in her community as a patron of the Arts and a helper of other women to become economically independent. I think this, her being an impactful inspiration to many, gives hope to others to follow in her footsteps.

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Scotch Porter

Scotch Porter Founder Calvin Quallis Talks New Haircare Line, Self Care Beyond Products

Calvin Quallis worked multiple jobs that he hated before founding Scotch Porter, but between childhood memories at his mom’s beauty parlor and his own trips to the barbershop, one thing stuck out. “On some of those worst days, I’d go get a haircut and come out thinking I could take on the world,” Quallis said. “So I’ve always known that grooming and self care had the chance to make you feel better about yourself.” After founding a barbershop called Center Stage Cuts  in New Jersey and seeing so many customers with dry, damaged hair in their beards, he began to research ingredients and start making products in his home. In the first 12 months of Scotch Porter – named after his favorite drink (scotch) and his favorite musician (Gregory Porter) – he made more than a million dollars in sales. Since then, Scotch Porter has become one of the most known names for black men’s beard and skin care products.

This year, Scotch Porter is seeing changes. February has seen the launch of a new hair care line, and a new set of ingredients to the beard and skin care products that were already so popular. Plus, the signature brown tubes that hold their products has been changed to new, streamlined blue packaging. Quallis visited the VIBE office to talk about the foundation of the company, 2020’s new leaf, and Scotch Porter’s emphasis on community and lifestyle beyond what their customers put in their dopp kits.

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VIBE: Black men have always cared about how we look, but in recent years, we’ve been more comfortable using products for our faces and beards. Where do you think that comfort comes from?

Calvin Quallis: I think it’s a couple of things. One, access to social media. We’re always in front of a camera, always visible. When you’re always visible, you want to look your best. Two, folks are just much more comfortable that were in the past considered female-oriented. So, always being in front of a camera, with selfies and the gist, and wanting to look your best and becoming comfortable using products that were originally toward women.

VIBE: I’m not sure that you were the first black beard company that I heard of, but you were definitely one of the first that I had seen that didn’t just seem like a homemade thing. You were very professional. What kind of strategy went into how you presented the product?

I did work at a design firm. So just seeing designers put together beautiful buildings and different projects, and also in my own personal life, I like nice things. So in terms of the overall aesthetic for the brand, I think it comes somewhat naturally, and then also working at a design firm and seeing how they put together projects, and how they start from scratch, and how they think about design. I think that lended a hand as well.

VIBE: When you were selling this early on, was there any convincing you had to do for the customers?

At that time, I didn’t see many folks talking to black men about beard care or hair care. I didn’t see ads on Instagram or Facebook. So when we launched, it was easy to break through the noise. I noticed at the shop that guys were growing out their beards more, and there weren’t products on the market meant specifically for coily, curly, dry hair. So I seen that as an opportunity, and folks weren’t advertising products like that. It kind of made it slightly easier than it is now, because every other day there’s some new product that’s popped up that someone has created. At that time, it was easier to cut through the clutter because there wasn’t much available for guys with hair textures like us, and they weren’t advertising it if it did exist.

 

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All the hair care you need is right here. Try the Scotch Porter Superior Hair Collection, to clean, nourish, hydrate and style your hair from start to finish. ⁠With key ingredients Kale Protein and Biotin, achieving the healthy hair & scalp you need is waiting for you. 👀 no further... add this collection to your cart. #MensGrooming #ScotchPorter

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:01am PST

VIBE: Tell me about the new hair products you’re launching. 

We’re launching new reformulated hair care products, along with reformulated beard and skincare products. Our new hair care line includes five products: our Hydrating Hair Wash, Nourish And Repair Hair Conditioner, Smoothing Hair Balm, Smooth & Shine Hair Serum, and our Leave-In Conditioner. All of these hair care products, including our beard and skincare products, are multifunctional, so they do more than just one thing. Our hair balm and hair wash don’t only cleanse and condition, but also include some flake reduction actives, and healthy hair and scalp botanicals that help with things like dandruff, and it also helps prevent hair thinning.

VIBE: I’ve been using Scotch Porter for so long that I always associate the image of the brown containers. What made you decide to change up the look?

I’ve noticed for a while, the space is just becoming increasingly competitive. I’ve known for about a year that we needed to reinvent ourselves, and to reup. Make better products, make them more affordable – we’ve been able to reduce the price point on all our products by about 25 percent. Also, pull out things from our products. There’s no BHTs, there’s no parabins, no formaldehyde donors. We’ve gotten rid of phenoxyethanol, and we’ve included really interesting ingredient stories. This, again, is all based on seeing how the landscape has gotten increasingly competitive.

VIBE: I wanted to dig into that a little bit. You were one of the first in the space. What do you think is the balance between sticking with what you know, vs. knowing when you need to change?

Part of it is insight. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you, with a focus on the consumer. Understand what’s going on in the marketplace, but also thinking how we can better serve the customer by delivering even better products. The products that we’ve reformulated are even better than we’ve had before. Thinking of price points and making products more accessible. Then, just giving folks more value and pulling out interesting ingredients that help with some of the issues that men have as it relates to grooming.

VIBE: One of my favorite parts of Scotch Porter is the emphasis on lifestyle and community. Last year, I went to the pop up shop you had, and I was impressed – not only did you have the products at a discount, but you also had the panel for black men to congregate. You also have the email newsletter, and the print manual; in the former, you recently told customers to go to the doctor. Also, each purchase comes with the NakedWines voucher. It just feels like there’s an intention to make black men enjoy each other and love themselves.

It stems from our mission. Our mission from day one has always been to help men feel their best and to live their most fulfilled lives. These touchpoints are just expressions of that. Even as I think about wellness – over the last 14 months or so, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I’ve been getting better at looking at what I’m putting in my body, and what’s important, and these are the things I need to do if I want to be around longer. I’m still on my journey; I ain’t there yet. But we’ve always been talking about how internal and external wellness are a big part of helping guys to feel their best. Some of the articles you see, or the pop-up shop where we have a discussion around mental health, and even the articles on going to the doctor. It’s a holistic approach to helping men feel their best. For us, it’s never been about just giving you the next goop to put in your beard, and that’s all that you need to look and feel your best. It’s internal and external.

VIBE: The manual and the newsletter have these important messages, but it doesn’t feel like they’re talking down to you. It just feels like one of my homies emailing me about it.

Because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to digest it. And again, I’m on my own journey. I’m not there yet. I’m not rocking a six-pack. And it’s not necessarily about that. Each and every day, what can you be doing to make your life better? For us, that’s what it’s about, and that’s the conversation that we have with guys. It’s not about us being on a soapbox pretending we have it all figured out.

 

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It’s official! We’re proud to share that #ScotchPorter is now available at select @Target retail locations across the nation. (CLICK LINK IN BIO FOR STORE LOCATOR) • • We’re pumped about our retail expansion as it provides us with the opportunity to bring our #MULTIPurpose better-for-you Beard and Face care products straight to your local #Target store. • • When it comes to accessing products that are non-toxic and healthier for you, you deserve options that won’t break the bank. With key ingredients in our Beard and Face collections including Biotin and Pomegranate Enzymes, our products have you covered. • • Thanks for riding with us, we’re just getting started!☄️ #MensGrooming #TellAFriend

A post shared by Scotch Porter (@scotchporter) on Feb 17, 2020 at 1:55pm PST

VIBE: Within the past couple of years, Bevel sold their products in Target and they were later acquired by Procter & Gamble. Do you have any plans to expand in terms of selling products outside of the website?

On February 9, we launch in about a third of the Target doors with our beard care and skin care products. We’re super excited about that. Target has launched a campaign, and I’m included in the launch for their black history month Black Beyond Measure campaign, where they’re highlighting black founders and their success stories. Excited to be a part of that and share my journey, both with potential entrepreneurs and regular customers.

VIBE: Anything else about Scotch Porter that people should know?

One of the things that’s always been important to me is providing access, opportunity and employment to people that look like us. It’s really intentional. I’d say about 95 to 98 percent of the folks that work with us look like me and you. We provide opportunity, and we provide what I consider great pay. I remember when I was working for somebody else, feeling like I had to fight to climb the career ladder, the limitations that were put on me had nothing to do with my skill set. When I was starting Scotch Porter, I made it very important to hire people who look like us and give them an opportunity to climb up.

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(L-R) Jonathan Mannion, Iman Shumpert, Kristen Noel Crawley, and Don C celebrate the launch of Nectar of the Culture program and the limited-edition Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial Rosé bottle at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on Sunday, February 16, 2020.
Courtesy of Moët & Chandon

Nectar Of The Culture: Moët And Jonathan Mannion Celebrate Kristen Noel Crawley And Don C

As the Windy City bustled with basketball fans, Moët & Chandon took a moment to acknowledge the next generation of pioneers who continue to move the culture forward. During this year's NBA's All-Star Weekend, the French luxury champagne brand fine winery partnered with iconic photographer Jonathan Mannion—who has captured VIBE's October 2001 cover featuring DMX and many more hip-hop —to spotlight Chicago's own Don "Don C" Crawley (Just Don, RSVP Gallery) and Kristen Noel Crawley (KNC Beauty).

Held on Sunday (Feb. 16) at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, fellow creatives and friends gathered for a family-style brunch laced with glasses and newly designed bottles of Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial Rosé. As four life-sized portraits were presented and unveiled, everyone in the exclusive and star-studded room raised a glass to toast the influential couple and the man behind the lens.

"I've been on a journey with Jon. Together we gone to different cities around the United States celebrating people who we believe are pushing the culture forward," said Jasmin Allen, Vice President of Moët & Chandon U.S. "And today we're in Chicago, the fantastic city of Chicago, against the backdrop of All-Star Weekend, to celebrate leveraging the lens of the mastermind Jonathan Mannion.

"With Jonathan, we've had the opportunity to capture the brilliance of Don C. and Kristen Noel Crawley. Separately, they've done phenomenal things in their areas of expertise and for their communities. But I would argue that together they are bar none. Today, we celebrate them in all their glory."

As the event drew to a close, Mannion took a moment to thank everyone in attendance and talk about the importance of pursuing your dreams, being present for each other as creatives, and broke down the deep meaning of Moet's latest campaign, "Nectar of the Culture."

"Nectar is divided into two different sections. There's "Nec" which means "death"[sic] and "tar" which means "to overcome," which is really powerful, to overcome death. And I think about what I've done with my photography and so many of the people I've photographed in this room and shared my gift with in order to then share it with you guys is really, really essential."

He continued: "We're mortal. We're not here forever, so what's your mark going to be? This is a challenge to really be present for each other and support each other. I just want you to take the time to be together, to embrace each other, to cherish these moments because the moments are essential. I truly am grateful to my partners Moët for believing in me, for believing that my vision was an important one, for bringing this campaign, 'Nectar of the Culture,' to life."

Other creative luminaries in the room included Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis, Yaya DaCosta, Brian Michael Cox, Mano, Nigel Holt, Set Free and more. Scroll down to view more photos from the event.

Moët & Chandon has also released a new, limited-edition collection of custom-designed Moët Nectar Imperial Rosé bottles which pay tribute to the Rose Gold Era and its associated visionaries. As for the "Nectar of the Culture" campaign, Moët and Mannion will be heading to Los Angeles to raise a glass to another pioneer(s).

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Walker & Company

Bevel CEO Tristan Walker Talks Growth, Regrets, And Combat Jack

This writer had never used Bevel products before meeting the company’s founder and CEO Tristan Walker, but I still felt like a longtime user when he walked into the VIBE office in Times Square. Walker founded Walker & Company, which houses Bevel, a company that made shaving products specifically for black men, in 2013 – and I first heard about them via repeated ads on The Combat Jack Show and other podcasts in the Reggie Osse-founded Loud Speakers Network. He also scored an investment from rap legend Nas, who shouted out the brand on his song with DJ Khaled, “Nas Album Done,” with lyrics that referenced his own legacy while praising a new one: “signature fade with the Bevel blade, that’s a major key.” Walker continued to build the brand, getting products in Target stores and eventually selling the company to beauty powerhouse Procter & Gamble while remaining the CEO. Despite not using Bevel’s shaving system or trimmers, the company still had an unmistakable place in “the culture” with endorsements from some of its most prestigious figures, so it always felt like one of us was winning.

In 2020, the Queens native is spearheading his first launch since merging with Procter & Gamble and has elevated Bevel into a full-fledged beauty and skincare company for men: body wash, soap, hair products, beard care, face serum, deodorant, and more, all in sleek, tone on tone packaging. There’s also Form, a fledgling line of women’s hair care products. “I want my sons to be able to use this stuff exclusively,” Walker says, before breaking down each product one by one. “...We have exclusively Walker & Company products in my home now, which gives me hope, pride, and excitement to the culture.” In a conversation with VIBE, Walker shares how he maintains his company’s integrity while working with bigger brands, his entrepreneurial regrets, and how black men will continue to build capital in the beauty industry.

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In recent years, there has been a much larger willingness, if not pride, for men to take care of themselves and how they looked. When I was growing up, it was only products for women; men were called “metrosexual” if they had products. What do you think has led to this change with men being more comfortable sharing what they use?

Time. Truth waits for no one. It’s okay to be yourself. I think we were unfortunately early on that; unfortunate because the world wasn’t caught up to that. The fact that you can look however you want to look, with whomever you want to look in that way with. I think it’s just taken some time to have people catch up to it. The wonderful thing about Bevel is that women celebrate us, men celebrate us, LGBTQ celebrates us. Bevel is a brand that respects a culture that is colorless, genderless, and stands for something. It took Bevel to have to realize it now, a brand to help them feel better about sharing what they believe.

The metrosexual thing, you speak to any other company, “men are redefining what masculinity was.” But we always wanted to look good, we just didn’t have the products to serve us. I kind of challenge your sentiment a little bit. We’ve always cared how we look. People wearing du-rags, wave caps and sh*t. We just didn’t have the products and brands that we could evangelize confidently. I used my wife’s stuff for a while, but I can’t say that I was confidently ready to evangelize those things. Bevel gives us confidence to do it. It gave Nas confidence to talk about it; Magic Johnson, John Legend, all these folks. They shop in the same aisles we shop in, and everybody who needs products for the same type of hair that I have, shop in the same shops I shop in, and need products to celebrate that. The combination of time, and having something to celebrate, are two things that over the past six years, have given us something with some type of permanence to it.

Do you think that the increased usage of social media has contributed to it?

There’s no ashy knuckle filter. [laughs] But we need to take care of ourselves before those filters come on. Whether or not Instagram exists, you don’t want bumps on your face. When I started Bevel – I always talk about this story about working on Wall Street, and they would require us to shave, and I didn’t have anything to shave with. You’re walking around the world with razor bumps on your face? That’s not humanity. It’s just healthy to provide people with things that they need.

Social media just creates this new world of people requiring their own upkeep. Whether it’s superficial or not doesn’t matter to me; I just care that our products work for them. [laughs] This also goes back that people should be able to live however they want, share whatever they want, when they want.

You’ve had big moves over the past couple of years: selling your products in Target, and then being acquired by Procter & Gamble. What did those two deals do for Bevel, and how have you been able to keep the company’s integrity through those situations?

The only reason those things happened is that I required our ability to keep our integrity for them to happen. The company didn’t just come and buy us; we had to accept that offer. And the acceptance of that offer was a function of us requiring some things. I’m still the CEO of Walker & Company; I don’t have a P&G title. I’m still the CEO of Walker & Company, that is what I do every single day. I told them – and they’ve respected this – we need to be able to do what we do well, and you do whatever you do well. When there’s a way to merge the minds, we’ll do it, as evidenced by some of the technology that we have. We’re not in a world anymore where we have to keep raising money in order to deliver some of these innovations. We delivered 11 new products in nine months, which is unheard of in the industry, but that’s because we took the best of we do...and what they do. You put those things together and develop something pretty special.

It’s no different in retail; we’d love to work with you, but we aren’t going to be in the “ethnic” aisle. Target was the first to say, “you know what? You’re right.” We were, and they are too. And starting next month, we’re going to be in CVS, Sally’s, Target, nationwide, because people understand the power in this. Every trend report you read, it’s like “people of color, black men, black hair.” We were on this six, seven years ago.

Was there any hesitation with having your company acquired, as opposed to making it public with an IPO and maintaining ownership?

Everything starts with your goal, and I just wanted the company to be around in 150 years. I don’t care if it was standalone, I don't care if it was with another company. I just cared that Walker & Company existed as we wanted it to for the next 150 years. Procter & Gamble is the best solution for us to do that. This is a company that makes tens of billions of dollars a year, spends billions of dollars in research and development, that has a respect for its consumer, and knows that we’re the only brand that’s authentically connected to it in the way that we are. They respected our point of view. They believe that we can exist 150 years from now. Which other company in our space has been around for over 50 years? 100? 150? There’s only one: Procter & Gamble. And I’m still the CEO of Walker & Company. I wasn’t fearful of that, because again, they didn’t just come to acquire us. We said, “this needs to be true,” and they fulfilled their side of the bargain.

 

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This is how @shaq and Ernie #BevelUp for All-Star Weekend, courtesy of @kennysmith 🙌🏾... (Don't worry, Charles. We got you too. 😉)

A post shared by BEVEL (@bevel) on Feb 7, 2020 at 9:45am PST

You’ve also started Form, a women’s line of products. Have you met the goals you’ve had with Form so far?

Form started out as a dream to do something for women with textured hair. It was really ambitious. We thought there was a world we could personalize and experience a product offering for them. It was a test to learn. Bevel is our motherload business, where we need to make sure that we get this right. Doing one brand alone is a lot of work. We have 15 people on our team, and it’s a lot of work. Form is about to go through something that Bevel has over the past year. We don’t have the stuff to share now, but within the next six to seven months, people will be reintroduced to the brand in the way that Bevel was introduced. Form achieved what we hoped for it to, where we got all the testing and learning required to understand where we really need to be, and what women want, but more to come.

As I said when you walked in, I haven’t used Bevel products, but I’ve always felt familiar with the brand. A big reason of that is because I heard about you on podcast ads – Combat Jack Show, Taxstone, Loud Speakers. What made you take that approach so early?

It was us, Mailchimp and Squarespace, I remember; nobody wanted used to f**k with podcasts. I got on the phone with Reggie, rest in peace. This was 2014, when he started podcasting. Combat was like, “yo, I’ve got a bald head. Give me the product, if I like it, I’ll talk about it.” Podcasting at the time was interesting, because it was starting to take off. The Loud Speakers guys were the guys. You’ve got Charlamagne, Tax, Combat. But no one wanted to advertise for them. They’d advertise on other types of podcasts, but to the brands, they were too risky – cursing all the time, chopping it up, that sort of thing. I was like, this is our audience. You had all the radio guys building their podcasts, so it was only a matter of time before those listeners were going to come listen to their podcasts. These podcasts live forever. You go to Soundcloud, you see podcasts from four years ago with a Bevel ad in it. With the evergreen nature, this is an interesting platform.

The first time I knew it was going to take off, Combat used the product. He was like “I love it, I didn’t get razor bumps anymore.” He did a podcast, and we paid him, I think we were the first people to start funding those guys. Figured, we’ll see what happens. I didn’t give him a script. Now with podcasts, you get the preroll when it first starts, and midway through you do another one that’s usually scripted. That first episode, he spent the first five minutes talking about his Bevel experience. It wasn’t an ad, he was just talking. Halfway through, he does the same exact thing. We got ten minutes of authentic promotion. At that point, I was like, this is it. I’m just going to give them the products, in order to talk about it they have to say that they like it authentically, and you can say whatever the f**k you want. We never policed them. This is crazy suicide to big brands, they’d never do that. But I want you to speak about it as if I was speaking about it. They became able to talk about it in a way – anybody, the first thing they say is, “I heard about you on Combat, I heard about you on Tax.” That’s when I realized Bevel had a cultural influence I didn’t expect.

You’ve said that since you guys have started, no one has tried to do what you’ve done with your level of ambition. But it does seem like companies are trying – Rihanna with Fenty, for example. Companies want to cash in on the black customer, but I’m guessing there aren’t many black CEOs or execs in the space. Does it surprise you that no one has taken your level of ambition yet?

No. I think for one, you said companies are trying to cash in. I don’t give a sh*t about cashing in. I want my sons to be able to use this stuff exclusively. They deserve to not have that Wall Street experience I had. Then we can talk about cash. And it takes time to get there. We haven’t even scratched the surface. I’m the first black CEO in P&G’s 180-year history. And this is P&G. They know that too, so some of this is dynamics and demographic shifts happening and changing. We’re on these trends of necessity that have gotten us to this point. Rihanna is doing Fenty, and it’s wonderful. There’s a lot more on the woman’s side.

There’s a really great book written by Professor Quincy Mills on the history of black barbering. It talks about the difference between women entrepreneurs and men [men] entrepreneurs. The history of black barbering, slaves were cutting their masters’ hair, shaving them. So it started the service model. But women, early 20th century and late 19th, were starting their own salons and product companies. They started as entrepreneurs. But black men, who were barbers, had been in service for the past century. There are very few, until you get to the Scotch Porters and things like that, who are serving black men. I think some of it is endemic to the history up until this point. But now we have a history where in 20 years, there are going to be more people who look like us than the folks who don’t. Time matters with this stuff. But that’s why you’ve seen the Fentys, you’ve seen the Tracy Ellis Ross’, you see all these folks thriving on the women’s side of the equation, because there’s some history there. Now, we want to do that on the men’s side.

 

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Words from the legendary, @blackthought (2018). This year, we take it even higher... #BevelUp ☝🏾

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Having an idea for a business is one thing. Getting to the point of being able to talk about your business is another. You’re really adept at not only what you want to do, but at articulating it to people. Is that a skill you’ve always had, or is it something you’ve had to develop?

That’s good, no one has ever asked me that question. I like making things very simple. I choose my words very deliberately. There’s an economy for words, and sometimes people spend too much money. [laughs] I think words matter, especially for black men. So I believe very much in simplifying things: let’s develop a brand to eliminate razor bumps for black men. That’s a really simple thing for people to understand, especially if you’re black. If you’re white, 30 percent of you still understand it because 30 percent of you have it, but for black men, 80-plus percent of us have it, so let’s start there. If you solve people’s problems, the fame will come later. And then, I’ve been better able to articulate the vision. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about this stuff because it didn’t exist yet six years ago. We did the hardest thing in the world, convincing black men to put razors on their faces. They’re definitely going to believe me if I can do this other stuff like all-day lotion. That simplicity really did help.

A lesson that I learned: whatever I say the brand is, doesn’t matter. It’s what they say the brand is that matters. It got to a point where Combat’s consumers, and everybody else were articulating what Bevel was, and they were all consistent. I didn’t do anything. It’s a feel to it, a tone to it, a vibe to it, a color to it. It all comes together. People make up their own language. Now, our campaigns are tied to what we’re hearing other people say about the brand. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “Bevel Up;” that’s going to be a campaign we launch soon. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say, “hey, you got those Bevels?” Where’d you get that from? How’d you even butcher our name like that? [laughs] But it’s random people from all over. There’s something happening. Some of it is my deliberate nature of simplifying things, but some of it is letting them articulate what they believe it should be, and editing it to make sure that it’s consistent.

You’ve had superstar investors: Nas, Magic Johnson, John Legend. How have you raised money, and what advice would you give to a young entrepreneur to get in the same room as some of these guys?

For the folks you mentioned, I just met them and asked and they got it right away. Nas was the first guy I spoke to, and in five minutes, he said “I’m in.” I spent the last 55 minutes talking about what this could become. And these guys shop in the same aisles. So convincing the individual black investor was pretty easy. “This doesn’t exist, I get razor bumps.” Nas is like, “you going to make a trimmer?” I’m like, “yes I will.” The big investors, where we raised most of our money – that’s hard. We raised tens of millions of dollars trying to convince people that this need existed. Again, I was uniquely qualified to do it because they trusted me with other things that they did. I don’t think anybody else would have been able to raise money at that time for this.

That said, I tell people when they ask me how to get in front of them, raising money was the most regretful thing that I did. I raised $39 million of money, and I wish I didn’t raise a cent of it. With raising money comes things: you have to return it, you have to take in other opinions that might not be meaningful, you lose ownership. I have 39 million reasons I can talk about as to why I wouldn’t do it that way again. Having gone through this, of course I needed to get it off of the ground, but now I know what I didn’t need, either. If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t raise a thing. There’s a density of genius in the black community that other people will have to respect with time. I think we just need to believe in ourselves. All too often we forget, sometimes we need to narrow our scope in order to not require having to raise the money. Once you narrow the scope – razor bumps – it opens up opportunities for the lotions, the body washes, and all that stuff. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

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