A small stockpile of African-American hair products are lined up along the back wall, and rows of short racks hang without enough products to fill them in the ALL In One Hair Store, a black-owned beauty supply store.
“Buy one get one half off” is plastered on the billboard outside the store. Which is located across from the Walgreens on Adams Street. Discounts like these are not typical at most beauty supply stores, but storeowner Lawrence McGriff said offering deals help him stay in business.
McGriff opened the business with his cousin, Hank Hersey and brother, Ced West, almost two years ago when he realized there were not any black-owned beauty supply stores in Tallahassee.
Some black beauty supply owners said without the support of the black community, and with the difficulties of purchasing products from Korean- owned distributors, it is a lot of work to stay open. According to McGriff, Korean distributors refuse to sell him certain products because he is too close to competitors with identical products.
“A lot of times, what the foreigners will do is buy up stores in order to eliminate blacks.” McGriff said. “Once they buy that territory, it eliminates you from coming in and being able to buy products wholesale at the same price as his Korean competitors.
“I wont get it at their price,” he said. “A lot of times what we buy it for is what they sell their hair for.”
Sharhonda Williams also experienced distribution problems since opening Final Touch Beauty Supply in June 2011.
“Certain companies only cater to their own people,” Williams said. “When you’re in a business like this, things should be a lot more fair.”
Williams said she experiences discrimination when she meets Korean distributors in person.
“We have gone into places in Atlanta and the way they treat you, you don’t want to do business with them,” Williams said.
A documentary by Aron Ranen, “Black Hair Industry Robbed and Dominated by Koreans,” Claims Koreans began dominating the black hair industry in the early ‘60s, with the help of American and Korean governments.
The Chosun Ilbo, a newspaper in South Korean manufactures persuaded the Korean government to ban the export of raw hair, except from Korean manufacturers themselves, in 1965. Six months later, the United Sates banned the import of raw hair from China.
According to report from the Urban Media Foundation, the Korean Beauty Supply Association attributes the dominance in the black hair care industry to Korean immigrants opening wig shops in the 1980s, gaining funding to start small businesses in urban regions.
Skye Christian, founder and owner of Romeo’s Kisses Glamorous Hair, said she has not had any trouble finding distribution for her business since it opened less than a year ago.
“When its about money, nothing is about color.” She said.
Christian is an independent sales representative for virgin hair in Tallahassee. Her interest in selling hair peaked when she realized she was a consistent consumer of the hair industry, purchasing at least $300 worth of hair per month. Christian said the distributors she has done business with are generous.
“They hunt me down,” she said. “They try to send me free stuff. They say, “Hey, we’ll give you gifts to give to your customers.”
Many people are using the virgin hair trend to start new businesses.
Brittany Johnson, owner and founder of Pretty Remi Hair boutique, said she used to work at a large Korean beauty supply store in Tallahassee, and one day she asked her employer what it took to open a beauty supply store.
“She actually told me they don’t help other races.” Johnson said.
After hearing her boss’ response, Johnson said she stopped working at that beauty supply store and began making plans to open her own boutique, which opened in September 2012. Johnson has experienced difficulties trying to purchase non-virgin hair to sell in her store. She said Korean distributors “Will not sell hair to you if you’re on the same street as another hair store.”