If you’ve ever owned one of SheaMoisture’s products, you’ve probably read their origin story on the back of the bottle: “Sofi Tucker started selling Shea Nuts at the village market in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912.” On the surface, this makes them look like a great Black-owned business with humble, sustainable roots. But is that the truth?
I’ll be honest with you up front, I love SheaMoisture’s hair products. Their conditioners just work so well with my curls. You might remember from my post I’m NOT Zero Waste, that I was using their Yucca and Plaintain Hair Masque as a leave-in conditioner (and I’m sad to see that they no longer make it 😭) and I have the Wash N’Go Defining Gel-Oil but I don’t like it that much. Of course, I don’t love that all their products come in virgin plastic packaging, so I’ve been trying to wean myself off SheaMoisture recently.
With that out of the way, it’s time to ask: Is SheaMoisture greenwashing and pandering to the Black community?
Let’s start with greenwashing, because here I think we can easily say NO.
SheaMoisture’s parent company, Sundial Brands, is a certified B Corp. Certified B Corps (short for Benefit Corporations) “are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.“ Unlike other companies that put profit above everything else, B Corps acknowledge the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Sundial Brands in particular gets high marks in the Community & Environment categories of the B Corp designation. 👍
They also use certified Fair for Life shea butter and other organic ingredients. Fair for Life is a fair trade certification that “is part of a broader context of sustainable development within a region that safeguards and supports the local social fabric, particularly in rural settings.” Fair for Life’s website is vague, but generally fair trade designations go beyond fair wages to also support the community in which agricultural products are grown. From my understanding, fair trade solutions are custom fit to each community’s needs, which is why there aren’t specific guidelines. Certified organic ingredients, just like for our food, are grown GMO-free and without most manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, which is generally better for the earth and the farm workers.
As the B Corp designation, the Fair for Life certification, and the organic certifications are all third-party verifications, these show (imo) that SheaMoisture is a transparent company that is making conscious effort towards fairer and greener practices.
Is SheaMoisture simply pandering to the Black community while not actually doing anything to support minority communities? Here I would also argue no.
As their website proudly promotes, SheaMoisture is committed to their Community Commerce model. In their words, when you purchase SheaMoisture products “your proceeds are developing critical community infrastructure in Ghana such as a safer work environment, access to healthcare, and piped water that boosts production capacity and quality. In the U.S, investments are made in entrepreneurial and educational programs that empower women and transform communities.” Through Community Commerce, SheaMoisture funds scholarships for students in the U.S. and abroad, from high school to college and graduate school opportunities. They also recently announced the SheaMoisture Fund to support women of color entrepreneurs during COVID-19.
Part of why I chose SheaMoisture to evaluate is because I saw their company mentioned on Instagram as a company that was not Black-owned and therefore was a worse choice for curly hair products. It’s true that in December 2017, Sundial Brands was bought by Unilever, which is a huge conglomerate of over 400 brands. In theory, this could degrade their commitment to fair practices and organic ingredients, but I wasn’t able to find evidence of this in my research. I definitely don’t think Unilever is an eco-friendly company overall even though they market themselves as a sustainable company and are probably making some progress internally. I do believe that SheaMoisture, independent of Unilever, has proven their commitment to supporting minority communities and the environment.
In my opinion, SheaMoisture is a pretty good company. As a business using their profits to give back to communities, I’d say they’re killing it. Do I wish they would take more responsibility for their packaging and go plastic free? Oh yes. As consumers, this is where we can start applying pressure.
Also as I side note, I also have some gripes with SheaMoisture’s website. It’s is a hard to navigate and seems to not be updated regularly (a lot of content seems to be from 2017/2018). But back to the point.
Would I buy hair products from Shea Moisture? For products that are hard to find package-free (like leave-ins and deep conditioners), YES.