Why Is Black Hair Care Brand Mielle At The Center of TikTok Drama?
Black women aren’t happy about the co-opting of Mielle on TikTok. The Black-owned hair care brand wasn’t under fire, instead, it was embraced by white women. Below we explain the TikTok drama surrounding the brand.
Natural hair care line Mielle is at the center of a complicated viral social media conversation.
On December 28, Alix Earle, a white TikTok influencer with 3 million followers, posted a video sharing that the brand’s Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil was among her top Amazon purchases of the year. After the product landed on Earle’s list, other white TikTok users started creating videos featuring the oil, with its newfound popularity apparently leading to it being sold out in places where it normally wouldn’t be. As a result, it’s become somewhat inaccessible by those who’ve been buying the oil before it became a TikTok trend — Black women. This has opened up a touchy dialogue among social media users, as it’s yet another instance of white consumers gentrifying a product by a company that’s a success because of its supportive Black consumers.
Created by entrepreneur Monique Rodriguez in 2014, Mielle is largely known as a company for Black women’s textured hair, with some products specifically made for 4C curls. This, along with Black people’s history of using oils to maintain healthy hair, is why some Black women aren’t just upset with seeing white women herald the oil as a new discovery, but see it as an erasure of their long relationship with it, too.
@chrissyliz #stitch with @chrissyliz last update! please do your research, thank you for the 99% of comments that were helpful :)) #hair #hairtok #mielle #miellehairoil #greasyhair ♬ original sound – christine!
The viral moment also opened up old wounds that were left untended by Black-centric brands like Shea Moisture and Carol’s Daughter, who merged with Unilever and L’Oreal in 2017 and 2014, respectively. The former, in particular, received notable backlash when it released an ad that same year seen as an attempt to embrace a whiter demographic, a notable shift away from a brand made by a Harlem-based Black woman for Black women. In the commercial, two white women are the focus as they speak about embracing their natural hair, serving as the faces for the commercial’s “Break free from hair hate” campaign. Needless to say, the 60-second clip fell flat; Shea Moisture’s core Black audience felt pushed to the side by it, with some even expressing their outrage on social media. The brand immediately followed up with an apology via Twitter, but the damage was already done. With this in mind, it makes sense why Black women are protective of products they feel work for them. After all, Black consumers tend to contribute significantly to the beauty industry, with a study by McKinsey & Company revealing that they spent $6.6 billion on beauty products in 2021.
One Twitter user, Dr. Uju Anya, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, summed up why Black women responded negatively to Mielle being embraced by white women in a tweet.
“Black women have legitimate reasons to side-eye white folks ‘discovering’ Mielle hair oil. When brands BW single-handedly kept afloat start chasing white money, they raise prices, change formulas, and erase Black women from their image.”
@ronelle__I live in New Hampshire (yes you read that right) and the selection of Black hair care products is already abysmal. Please consider using alternatives, Mielle Organics is the only reason I still have natural hair 😭♬ original sound – Ronelle
Fortunately, the oil is still accessible despite its recent blowup, with the Mielle website having the item in stock. Also, the brand released a statement addressing concerns about the oil’s formula, assuring users that they don’t intend on changing it but will update them if any changes are made. Still, what’s happening with Mielle points out the valid concerns of Black consumers who are often limited to beauty supply stores to snag hair goods that work for them. Despite it now being the norm for stores like Target to stock Mielle, Shea Moisture, Carol’s Daughter, and other brands, this was not the case 10 years ago. White consumers — who the beauty industry tends to cater to — should be mindful of this history. They should also be aware of how their rampant purchasing of this item has led to a lack of access for some who may not have as many avenues for trying to get the product as they do in real-time. Though it’s seen as good business for multiple communities to engage with and purchase products, it’s hard not to acknowledge how this also impacts the core audience, with Black women unable to get the goods they need because they’re sold out.