Updated: Mar 3
Recently I had the opportunity to screen a documentary about a topic that interests not only me but the Black community as a whole. And that's the Black hair care industry. I’ve always been fascinated with the men and women who’ve made fortunes, created jobs, inspired each other and future generations of young entrepreneurs who would create their own products, open up salons, barber shops and foray into other business ventures.
The documentary titled No Lye: An American Beauty Story covers the beginnings of the Black hair care market, its peak and its decline. Writer/Director Bayer Mack, delves into the historical record of the industry and the individuals who’ve made a mark in it. He also seamlessly weaves in historical moments in the United States as well as Black History. Most of the people mentioned had to overcome slavery, segregation and poverty to build their empires.
The documentary takes us back to the 19th century, where Black barbers found work cutting the hair of white men. Most of these men were former slaves who took jobs as Barbers because the profession was considered feminine to white men. This led to many opportunities of entrepreneurship for Black men, by opening up barber shops, investing in real estate as well as other services lacking in their communities.
Black hair is unique and varied in its texture, allowing for a lot of experimentation and a variety of treatments. The methods used on Black hair in the past were crude and damaging to the hair and scalp, doing more harm the good. This led to further opportunities for Black entrepreneurs leading into the 20th century. Men and women from humble beginnings began to provide services for their communities that had otherwise been ignored. The concept of For Us By Us was unknowingly created through these trailblazing hair care gurus. Fortunes were built, jobs were created and as the years rolled on and as the look and fashion of the Black community changed, these entrepreneurs adapted and met demand.
The documentary takes us to the slow decline of the Black hair care industry and the factors that led to it. The research and accuracy that was taken in covering this topic is what makes No Lye such an interesting and entertaining watch. It’s a lesson in both Black and Women’s history. There’s so much more that can be said with this documentary and topic. I recommend it to everyone, you won’t regret it and you will learn something new.