SKU’d Thoughts
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SKU’d Thoughts

SKU’d Thoughts 43: How have Black people have driven the CPG and retail industry?

In the 25 years I have been living in the U.S, there is finally an open dialogue and wider acknowledgment of the systemic racism Black people face. Even though we have consistently had to operate from behind the eight-ball, it has not stifled our exponential impact on different industries; ranging from the arts to the sciences. The CPG and retail industry in particular evolved with the contributions of Black people. Here are a few innovators who have impacted the industry.

Who kept it fresh & chill for the grocery industry?

Frederick McKinley Jones. In 1940, Jones co-founded U.S. Thermo Control Company (now Thermo King) and patented a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable goods as a much better alternative to using ice in transit. This foundational innovation has been instrumental in the development of the grocery industry and the key to creating the frozen food category. As online grocery sales have spiked during the first half of 2020, all those consumers can thank Frederick Mckinley Jones for ensuring our produce and perishables get to our doorsteps unspoiled.

Who 10x’d the shoemaking process?

Jan Ernst Matzeliger. In 1883, Matzeliger successfully invented an automated shoemaking machine that quickly attached the top of the shoe to the sole. Prior to his invention, the shoemaking process required skilled laborers to manually attach the top and sole of the shoe. The best laborer could produce 50 pairs in a ten-hour day while Matzeliger’s machine increased output up to 700 pairs of shoes a day and effectively cut shoe prices across the nation in half. His machine was an early cog for a global footwear industry worth more $350B.

Who threw shade at the beauty industry?

Lisa Price. In 1993, Price launched Carol’s Daughter, a natural hair and skincare product line, in her Brooklyn kitchen and sold her products at local flea markets. At the time, there was a scarcity in products tailored to Black women who wanted to go natural; the infamous “ethnic aisle” usually had few products. The Black haircare market has continued to grow since the launch of Carol’s Daughter, with Mintel estimating annual consumer spend of $2.56B. Large brands have taken notice. In 2014, Price sold her company to beauty powerhouse, L’Oreal.

Robyn Rihanna Fenty. In 2017, the style icon and pop star co-launched Fenty Beauty with LVMH to provide make-up shades for all skin tones. Prior to Fenty, the makeup industry standard was not as inclusive, it usually featured a multitude of white and light tan shades. Rihanna approached her brand with the understanding that people of color come in many different shades and it worked. According to Forbes, Fenty brought in $570M in sales in a little over a year. The industry has taken notice, with brands like Estee Lauder, Maybelline, and even luxury legend Dior launching make-up with more inclusive shades.

Both women have proven that the beauty industry needs to cater to the Black consumer. According to CNBC, Black consumers contributed to about 85% of all U.S beauty sales in 2017.

Who really started the “sneaker wars”?

Michael Jordan. Before Nike or Adidas were considered the only participants in the “sneaker wars”, Rebook reigned supreme in the 1980s. In 1984, Jordan signed a $2.5M five-year endorsement deal with Nike and projected to sell $3M worth of his first signature shoe. To Nike’s pleasant surprise, sales surpassed $100 million. Fast forward to 1992, Jordan had become a global phenomenon with his 2 NBA championships and Olympic gold medal with the famed Dream Team, and Nike’s stock was up more than 1,000%. Nike has since surpassed Adidas, which bought Reebok in 2006, as the top sneaker brand. The Jordan brand alone grossed $3.1B in wholesale revenue in Nike’s 2019 fiscal year.

Kanye West. In 2009, Nike partnered with the cultural icon (I miss the old Kanye) to release Air Yeezy. And as we all know by now, Kanye West’s ego has no bounds so he parted ways with the apparel maker in 2014 when he couldn’t ink the same royalty deals Nike typically reserved for athletes. In Kanye’s own words, “I told them, I go to the Garden and play one-on-NO-ONE. I’m a performance athlete.” Nike’s loss became Adidas’ gain, as Kanye joined forces with the German shoemaker, which was at the time not only being outsold by Nike. In 2018, Kasper Rorsted, Adidas’s CEO, acknowledged that Kanye was a small part of the $25B company’s operations but “there is no doubt the Yeezy brand has a fundamental impact on our overall brand position”. The brand was reported to have surpassed the $1B revenue mark in 2019, a third of the Jordan brand. This is a massive feat when you consider the Jordan brand has been around for more than 30 years.

Both of these iconic sneaker brands have been the spark plugs for the multi-billion dollar sneaker resale market.

These are just a few Black people who have shaped the CPG and retail space. The multitude of injustices faced by Black people in America is disheartening and adds insult to injury when you consider that we have moved the American economy forward. The impact goes further when you consider the driving force of “Black culture”, from the unattributed promotion of brands by Black Twitter to how hip-hop spawned the streetwear industry, which is estimated to be worth $185 billion. America has to do right by the people who have actively built this country into a global powerhouse.

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