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P&G’s Partnership With Mielle Feels Eerily Familiar to the Downfall of SheaMoisture

Black woman with long hair looking up. Image: Ogo via Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-holding-neck-staring-on-wall-1661837/

The last few weeks of the natural hair community online have been a flurry of controversy and frustration. After influencer Alix Earle (who has straight to wavy hair) promoted Mielle’s Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil in a sponsored TikTok, saying the product gave her “tremendous hair growth,” the hair care item made specifically for Black women (with tight, coily hair) quickly sold out nationwide. In places where it was still available, prices rose seemingly overnight, thanks to the demand that video’s five million views created. Now with the news of that Mielle founder Monique Rodriguez is partnering up with Proctor & Gamble (P&G), many are worried the accessibility, affordability, and quality of the product are going to nosedive.

As soon as Earle’s video went up, comments began begging people to ignore the Mielle recommendation, but it was too late. White women who had bought it because it became a “trend” started to share videos of their hair falling out or feeling gross—because the product was not made for them, and they bought it anyway. Black customers reported the price rising 20 to 50%, and that’s if they could even find it at all. Like other items gentrified in 2022, videos were stitches explaining why they need to stop applying to oil to thin hair. Disinformation (about the severity of the hair loss) was spread to kill the trend, but it persisted.

@charismaticblackgal if you see this in the store, just leave it there ? #hairtok #miellehairoil #hehe ♬ original sound – c

The general attitude is frustrating because every part of the beauty world—but especially hair—is not made for Black women. For most of American history, Black hair textures (especially for women) have been policed, and in 2023 we can still be fired or reprimanded in most states for having a natural or protective style. (This is true despite the news about relaxers causing serious health issues.) Black hair-care selections in stores are typically maybe a few shelves of products, mostly from white-owned companies and usually heavily watched (via convex mirrors, cameras, locks, and more). It’s been that way forever and that is barely changing, even now. So once a beloved brand or product goes out of stock, there’s little to nowhere to turn.

@gagittarius

Leave the drops alone.

♬ original sound – never a dull moment??‍♀️

Unfortunately, this video was just the beginning of the end, as rosemary-infused products were already trending in the hair care world for months. Back in August, and after a trend of a home recipe grew on TikTok, InStyle recommended Mielle explicitly after citing an expert’s sign-off on the ingredient. They took the expert saying yes to rosemary but didn’t mention anywhere that the product (not brought up by Mielle, and was the reporter’s recommendation) is explicitly made for thick, coily hair, or that this is a Black hair brand.

@britttanyrose Again, do what you want. But why??? your saturating another space that black women need??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️ ##blackhair##miellehairoil##mielleorganics##fyp ♬ Blind – SZA

The downfall of Sheamoisture and Mielle’s response

Many are comparing the trajectory of Mielle to what happened with Sheamoisture in the late 2010s. After a series of controversial marketing moves and an ingredient change that the company lied about until it became undeniable due to compounding evidence by customers, many Black customers lost trust in Sheamoisture. When it was all said and done, the product no longer worked well on Black hair, and the company was sold to the mega-conglomerate Unilever (a major competitor to P&G). Charisih Naturals broke this down from a place of love and as a long time user of Mielle.

@chairishnaturals #greenscreenvideo what do you think will happen now? #mielleorganicsrosemarymint #naturalhairdaily✨ #naturalhairjourneycontinues #naturalhaircarecommunity #naturalhairproducts ♬ original sound – Natural hair

Because not everyone is Very Online to talk Black haircare, many are just finding out that this happened. They thought it was their hair that was the problem and not that Sheamoisture that changed. One TikTok user explained that she didn’t know the ingredients had changed until her daughter’s scalp broke out and the family’s braider explained this was happening to many customers using the product. The move of marketing to Black people and then seemingly throwing them away for a “wider” audience has played out in other products, too.

@aalbyno_hi #stitch with @justtommmiiii I can’t keep spending so much money on these products #blackhairtiktok #blackhairproducts #aalbyno #curlyhairproblems ♬ original sound – aalbyno??

All of this was weighing on people’s minds as Mielle stayed silent. Because this controversy started just a few days after Christmas and Mielle is a small company, it took them a few days to respond. On January 3, 2023, Rodriguez issued a statement:

[…] I also wanted to come here first to assure you directly that we have no plans to change the formula for Rosemary Mint Oil or any of our products. There have been a few recent comments posted on this topic, but I can personally guarantee you that we are not making any ingredient changes.

While it’s a solid response, it hasn’t appeased everyone, and some of the goodwill gained from it dissipated when on January 11, news broke that a partnership was reached between Mielle and P&G.

The economics of it all

The fear of losing one of the few suppliers of haircare has started to manifest in economic conspiracy theories that don’t hold water and are in direct opposition to the glowing praise of Rodriguez for years. These theories probably feel real to some because this happens a lot. Not just with beauty products but with other commodities like foods, language, fashion, etc. Gentrification and appropriation are a feature and not a bug of our culture, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some will weaponize them.

This is not to say specifically that a Black woman will throw other Black women under the bus, but that capitalism requires growth. The supporters of this P&G partnership insist fellow customers shouldn’t jump the gun in believing this product will change, with a few even going so far as to suggest that orienting itself to white customers is the best business decision and that it’s therefore the best option for customers to build Black wealth. Historically and contemporarily, that flip at the expense of others, and it either way, Black capitalism won’t save us.

We won’t really know until something happens, but it’s well within our right to express frustration and anxiety about this tumultuous month involving Mielle, considering everything at stake and the little-to-no other options. The biggest winner in this whole situation is P&G, who gets to use this situation to move attention away from the Benzene class action lawsuit. This lawsuit includes aerosol antiperspirant deodorant, body spray, dry shampoo, and dry conditioner from popular brands they own like Secret, Old Spice, Pantene, Aussie, Herbal Essences, and more over a five-year period.

(featured image: Ogo via Pexels.)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.