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Recognizing many stores don’t stock products suitable for Black women like herself, Leslie Roberson didn’t just work to fill a need in the marketplace, she created a movement upending the beauty product sector.

“Oftentimes we go into the store, and we can’t find products that are suitable for our skin and our hair care needs,” Roberson noted. “So, I created a retail store that has nothing but products with melanated skin in mind.”

Roberson launched The Black Beauty Collective in April 2023 in Hyde Park, one of Chicago’s most storied African American neighborhoods. The 400 square-foot space was created so black entrepreneurs could bring their brands into a retail space.

There are actually areas of the country that are deserts where we have to drive further to gain access to products and because of that, there is a need in the market for more access to product lines created by black women who understand that need,” says Roberson.

Roberson cites a study from McKinsey & Company to reaffirm that black representation in the beauty industry is lackluster at best. She points out that beauty is a $60 billion a year industry and African Americans spend about 11 percent of that $60 billion annually. However, she says black business owners only represent about 1.5 percent ownership of brands in the beauty industry.

“It is not because these black business owners do not have amazing brands. It is simply because of limited access to capital and the inability to scale into retail and to do marketing,” Roberson said.

Black Beauty Collective carries a wide range of products for skincare, body and bath items, candles, greeting cards, and wellness accessories. The variety of makeup products specifically designed for women of color is robust. Pricing at the Black Beauty Collective is affordable, including a wide selection for less than 20 dollars.

The Black Beauty Collective operates differently than a traditional retail store. Entrepreneurs pay monthly to be members of the collective. Roberson says the members receive 100 percent of their retail sales in return, minus sales taxes and transaction fees.

“Because these owners and entrepreneurs get 100 percent of their retail sales, I’m very cognizant of how their store is performing. I make sure we are driving enough market so if they are here, there is traffic for them. Also, I intentionally chose this Hyde Park neighborhood. It is the perfect neighborhood for an initiative like this in terms of the demographic,” stressed Roberson.

The roadmap appears to be promising for Roberson in the early stages of her business. She says customers are coming to her store from all parts of the state.

I get customers driving in from southern Illinois to come see us,” explains Roberson. This has quickly become one of the destinations to visit when you come to Chicago. The support we’ve received from the city, state, and from the customer base has been overwhelming. I get people calling to the store, leaving me messages, telling me how much they love what I’m doing.”

For Roberson, her new concept is much more than a place to buy beauty products.

The Black Beauty Collective is a movement,” she explained. It is a movement because I am changing the way that we have traditionally done beauty or sold beauty brands. I am disrupting the traditional model. A lot of smaller beauty brands think that they have to go after the big box stores. But I think you do not necessarily have to do big box stores. You can showcase your brand footprint in other ways.”

The path to retail leadership for Roberson follows her service in the U.S. Army, which she credits as a launching pad for her career in beauty.

“The military has prepared me for my entrepreneurial journey. It’s all about discipline. And the beautiful part is the gift and the curse. I can outwork anybody, and I probably get that passion, that drive from my military time. So, I will absolutely get up early. I’ll go to bed the latest. I am like nonstop when it comes to achieving goals,” Roberson boasted, but with a palpable sense of humility.

As a veteran, Roberson jumped into the corporate world, zeroing in on a career in human resources with a focus on talent acquisition during which she was tasked to diversify teams.

“I looked to identify untapped talent. I have transferred a lot of my skills from that space and found talented entrepreneurs across the country that have amazing products, amazing backgrounds, and just need an opportunity.”

From cosmetics to candles, the opportunity that the Black Beauty Collective is offering entrepreneurs is inspiring.

Cori Saulsberry is the CEO and founder of the cosmetic line Bronze Glory. Saulsberry, a licensed cosmetologist of more than 20 years, says the professional burnout she was experiencing turned into a catalyst for her business.

“The majority of beauty products that are marketed toward black and brown communities contain harsher ingredients and toxic chemicals,” Cori stated.So I started Bronze Glory to change the narrative.”

Cori says she believes Black Beauty Collective is the perfect partner to help her grow her business and deliver long-term success.

There was just something about Leslie where I felt like we were completely like-minded,” says Saulsberry. She believed in my vision, and I believed in hers. So I was very excited to join the Black Beauty Collective. I am grateful because not only did it put Bronze Glory in a space to thrive and grow, but I have met other amazing business owners as well.”

Paris Johnson was recruited to Black Beauty Collective by a company employee who reached out to Johnson on Instagram. Johnson is the owner, founder and CEO of Auvreal Candle Co., a business that specializes in all-natural candles.

“I wanted to start a candle company, because candles have been my love language. I love using candles for all types of moments in my life, such as taking a bath or meditating,” Johnson said.So, making candles was very important to me, especially making something that was clean and natural to burn in my home.”

Johnson embarked on her journey to sell candles after she was laid off during the pandemic. She believes that this life change was a blessing and opened her life for the opportunity to connect with Leslie Roberson.

“I am grateful for Leslie, allowing me to be a part of the Black Beauty Collective, because she is an amazing mentor and leader, and she gives the black businesses within the collective opportunities that may not have been within reach,” Johnson said.

While Black Beauty Collective is operating in a unique space in the beauty industry, Roberson is optimistic about the long-term significance of Black Beauty Collective and the success of its entrepreneurs.

“One of my personal goals, and I don’t talk about it in most settings, but one of my very own personal goals when I rest at night is by the time I retire, I want to look back over my career and see I have had a direct hand in creating at least 25 black women millionaires… because I believe that black women will give back,” Roberson said. “They will create jobs. They will give to their churches. They will give to the not for profit. They’ll build out their communities. They’ll do the work to make sure that it’s not just them being successful or keeping the wealth, but they’ll give it back and continue to pay it forward.”

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