Posted on: April 28, 2017 Posted by: Upscale Comments: 0

This week’s SheaMoisture ad about embracing natural hair and rejecting hair hate was a bit of a scandal setting social media alight with 82K tweets on Twitter alone.

The surprise is that the misstep happened at a black-owned beauty company. Two years ago, Upscale Magazine published “The Business of Black Hair” and explored how the first black woman millionaire found that success through her own hair care line. Ironically, that line today is under Sundial Brands. Back then, I also explored how we own less of the brands we use today and how companies like SheaMoisture, looking to expand, partner with venture capitalists for the funds to do so. What remains unknown is the chain of events that ended with SheaMoisture joining the ranks of Pepsico and United Airlines via a public apology.

A look into the how revealed that the decision makers within Sundial’s marketing department resulted in an image of the Sundial Brands/SheaMoisture marketing team members: four white women. The image was pulled from their LinkedIn accounts: faces, names, and titles describing a middle management team:

  • Christine A. Keihm, VP of Brand Strategy, SheaMoisture & Nubian Heritage
  • Katie Rogers, Innovation Marketing Manager, SheaMoisture Skincare & Cosmetics at Sundial Brands
  • Aynur Licin, Brand Strategy & Innovation, SheaMoisture Hair Care, Bath & Body, Baby
  • Heather Hennessy, Social Media Manager at Sundial Brands

An employee who contacted me via Twitter, said the entire c-suite is African American. The company is right on that point. They have women of color in decision-making positions, most notably the Director of Marketing Brand Strategy, Asha Harris. Harris apparently helms the department and is supposed to be the lead voice with daily operational marketing decisions left to the team.

Within 24 hours of the picture post, the company responded via Direct Mail to me with a response.

“Hi there. We saw your photo of our employees. We’d like to clear some things up. We are a black-owned, family business with a diverse group of employees—a majority people of color, but also representing different cultures and ethnicities. We love and value every member of our SheaMoisture family. Each person has joined our team having expressed a commitment to redefining beauty standards for women who have historically been underserved in the beauty industry, regardless of their own race or ethnicity. The employees who have been targeted were not involved with the development, approval or execution of the ad.”

SheaMoisture Twitter Account

The DM’s response leads down a path to more questions, mainly: If those are their titles what were they working on instead of their account’s national campaign? Absent from their response is the inclusion of the titles and responsibilities of the women of color in the c-suite. Their LinkedIn accounts provided the following, which should not be assumed exhaustive.

  • Asha Harris, Director of Marketing Brand Strategy
  • Shamika Lee, Chief of Staff / Director
  • Latraviette D. Smith-Wilson, Senior Vice President of Communications

Consider what has happened. Sundial’s marketing department rolled out an ad campaign about brand inclusiveness and managed to exclude their core demographic: dark-skinned, kinky-textured, black women from the most visible ad. The message of no hair hate failed to represent those who have dealt with lifelong hair texture discrimination that still carries through today. The ad omitted the kinky, curly, four-textured hair and offered no representation for dark-skinned women who the brand owns its longevity and success.

Enter Vayner Media.

Sources have told Upscale Magazine that Vayner Media is who Sundial Brands outsourced for the project. Questions to Sundial Brands and Vayner Media have not been answered as of this writing.


Words: Ailene Torres