Hair bonnet controversy proves natural hair is a booming business

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This article is about hair—in particular, black women’s hair. And, more specifically, the billions, yes, billions of dollars that black women are spending on hair care products. Some of those products are not very expensive. Take for example, the satin bonnet. The simple satin bonnet provides nighttime or any time, really, coverage of black American hair strands that can be pulled and damaged by the typical cotton pillowcase. Most bonnets can be purchased from a variety of retailers for under $8. No controversy so far. However, some white entrepreneurs have decided to start selling bonnets that range from $98 to $100. The trend of overpriced bonnets is not setting well with the natural hair community. Videos on YouTube from popular hair and fashion poster, I Am Eloho and others have brought the problem to light.

The solution to the problem, I imagine some are saying, is to simply not buy them. Which is obviously what is going to happen. However, there is a long and storied history with hair coverage for black American women that is tied to racism. In addition, the issue smacks of racism and gentrification. For decades, black women who ventured out of their homes while wearing a satin bonnet were derided for looking unkempt in public. Now, if the trend gains traction among white Americans, it is likely to be more acceptable to wear a $100 bonnet in public, than a $5 one. And in the side-by-side comparison of the bonnets at the two different price points, there is no difference. Certainly, no case can be made that the $100 bonnet warrants its price.

While the issue might not seem like one to some, it is. Historically, black women have had to cover their hair because it was found to be a distraction to white men. Yet, black women have persisted in covering their hair because the very thing that was originally meant to keep them from looking their best, is ironically, the very thing that helps hair to “set” in various styles, while protecting hair from the environment.

According to sources such as HypeHair.com, Refinery29 and CNBC.com, the numbers for the amount of money spent on black women’s hair care products ranges from $1.1 billion to $7.5 billion. Most of that money is spent on items that have been imported from China and elsewhere. The US has little investment in the black hair care sector. And maybe that is what the “inventors” of the more expensive bonnet was seeking to correct. However, why mark up the price so much? It is the same bonnet. Same style, same purpose. Nothing added to justify the price.

For those who were unaware, the natural hair movement is a not just a trend, but a lifestyle requiring tools, acquisition of language and application of skills. After decades of accepting that most American black women wore chemically straightened hairstyles, the public that is not part of the aforementioned demographic, has just noticed that significant numbers of black women had natural hair. As such, their need for satin bonnets and natural oils and other tools has increased.

When one entrepreneur was criticized for the price of her bonnets, in her reply she noted that “hair wrapping” was a “tradition for women around the globe for centuries.” The statement lead Eloho to ask, “Did she just all lives matter the hair bonnets?”

People are free to make and sell the products they think will profit themselves and help other people. But to do so as if the product has not existed before is problematic. To do so at a significant markup is egregious.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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