Led by Jaé Joseph, Black Apothecary Office is determined to change the landscape of the beauty industry and grant opportunities to entrepreneurs of colour that have historically been severely lacking
For most of its history, the beauty industry has done a piss poor job of representing, providing for, and hiring Black people and POC. While Latinx and Black beauty consumers outspend their peers, when it comes to jobs they are underrepresented at all levels and are the least likely to receive investment for their own brands. Between 2009 and 2017, a shocking 0.0006 per cent of the $424.7 billion raised in venture capital was received by Black women. Since then, improvement has been miniscule – between 2018 and 2019, 0.27 per cent of investment went to Black women, while 0.37 per cent went to Latinas.
Looking to change this narrative and make the beauty and wellness industries more accessible to Black and Latinx entrepreneurs is Black Apothecary Office. Founded last year by Jaé Joseph and Brianna Wise, BAO is an incubator and accelerator programme which aims to correct this historical lack of opportunity by providing beauty entrepreneurs of colour with mentors, guidance, education on everything from branding to legal services and financial literacy, and potential investors and manufacturers.
Working with five brands at a time, over the next ten years the goal is to develop 100 businesses with a particular focus on community brands. Guided by a philosophy of “cultural integrity”, Joseph says BAO are working to ensure that consumers of colour are authentically represented by the brands that market to them. “Women of colour have a unique relationship with beauty and wellness – it’s a social activity and a self-care indulgence,” he says. “It is not as transactional as the industry would like to think. My childhood was nurtured by beautiful black and brown women whose beauty and wellness regimen was their power and escape.”
Growing up in the midwest in a Caribbean-American family, his grandfather was originally from St Lucia, Joseph says some of his earliest memories are of his mother, sisters, and cousins getting ready, looking after themselves, having their hair pressed or braided in the kitchen. At 12 he started taking his own interest in products – Shiseido, his mum’s go-to brand, because that was what was in the house. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, however, after the loss of his father, that he started to consider the possibility of beauty as a career. “I went into this protection mode and also this discovery mode as well, it’s almost like you’re rediscovering who you are. And I knew that I needed to instill more wellness within myself. I just started taking care of myself even more,” he says.
Now, after successfully establishing the incubator programme, Joseph and Wise are branching out into products with a storefront brand BAO Essentials inspired by bodega beauty and his Caribbean heritage. Debuting today with four products – a face wash, toner, lotion, and night cream – the range will be available on the company’s new retail platform BAO Universe, stocked alongside other Black and Latinx-founded beauty and wellness brands including those graduating from the accelerator program. Launching in June was particularly important to Joseph as the month has significant meaning to him – marking the occasion of Juneteenth, Pride, and the one year anniversary of the global Black Lives Matter protests that erupted last year in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “That was a huge part of our journey, everyone’s been affected by it,” he says. “June has always been a big month for me, it’s important for us to live out loud to who we truly are, to fight for equality.”
Looking to the future, Joseph says BAO will continue its work developing brands and is also soon to introduce a philanthropic side of the business to further contribute to the community it’s founded in. “Inclusive beauty business needs to involve the community you cater to, needs a balanced representation on all production levels,” he says. “Inclusivity and diversity should not be a temporary marketing strategy, but an integral value that guides cosmetic companies towards greater changes.” And while there are days when he questions whether he is supposed to be doing this, one look at the talent of the people he’s working with assuages those fears. “The amount of young – and not so young – creatives that don’t have the resources but have this great product, this ingenuity within them, is crazy. We know we are doing something right.”