After centuries of caring for the world, Black people are prioritizing their own health and wellness with products made for us, by us.
Sienna Naturals, founded by Howard University and Wharton Business School grad Hannah Diop in her apartment in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, is one beauty brand making a name for itself in the hair care space. Diop started the company after her own struggles to find clean products for her naturally curly hair.
The dermatologist-tested, vegan, toxic-free and eco-conscious line of shampoos, conditioners and hair and scalp oils was formulated by a Black female chemist. In 2018, Diop took part in the second Target Takeoff accelerator program, a mini retail boot camp that brings 10 up-and-coming startups together to work alongside business mentors to learn the ins and outs of the retail industry.
After perfecting the brand, she reached out to longtime friend, Issa Rae, star and creator of the HBO series “Insecure,” who won raves for the natural hairstyles she wore on the hit show.
“I’ve known Hannah a long time and watched the evolution of the brand. The products worked well for me and take care of my hair and scalp health, so I don’t have to overthink how to care for my hair after all the styling and manipulation I put it through. I also love that the brand makes treatment products that work no matter how you style your hair,” Rae said in a statement.
Rae was such a fan that she now co-owns it with Diop. Sienna Naturals won three beauty awards last year and is available at Target and select Nordstrom stores.
Black shoppers spend $473 million in hair care and $465 million in skin care preparations, according to a 2018 Nielsen Black Impact report.
In Los Angeles, Kendra Jones and Kristel Settle have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. They sold real estate, owned an indoor play center franchise and created a satin hair bonnet line called No Capz, but struggled to meet retail requirements to get their product on store shelves.
“We knew we wanted to do something else, but we were tired from the ups and downs of our last venture,” Jones says. “We always said, we would know when it was time to jump back in.”
The murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement shifted their consciousness.
“We started to shop Black but could not find Black-owned brands in one location,” Jones says. 
Last spring, they opened a brick-and-mortar store in the San Fernando Valley in California. “We chose the name Uplift Us Marketplace because it means uplifting the Black community, our fellow Black business owners and collectively learning and growing together,” Settle says.
The shop gained media attention, but the sisters wanted a space with more foot traffic, so they relocated to the Westfield Culver City Shopping Center outside Los Angeles.
The 1,600-square-foot boutique, just steps away from a Macy’s department store, features a clean farmhouse/modern design and more than 80 Black-owned brands of jewelry, home goods, art, candles, luxury handbags, supplements, men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and health and beauty butter.
“Every time new customers come into the store, they are excited to have found us, amazed by the store, and proud to shop and spend their money with us,” Settle says. “It gives us reassurance that we are on to something, and that is what is needed in our communities.”
The sisters hope to open more stores across the country. Until then, they have launched an online shopping portal to support more brands.
“The best part of owning Uplift Us Marketplace is the opportunities we are providing,” Jones says. “For some of the vendors, the store has been a game changer, for others, it is another stream of income that helps provide for their families, and for us, that is what it is all about.”
Others found inspiration closer to home.
When Kam and Summer Johnson moved from Montclair, New Jersey, to the more rural Hunterdon County, their son’s asthma and seasonal allergies kept them in the emergency room. Always cautious about prescribing steroidal medicines to their children and desiring a more holistic remedy to treat Zach’s allergic reactions that increased during the spring and fall seasons, Summer researched natural treatments.
She learned about the health benefits of local raw, organic honey and its ability to prevent allergies through immunotherapy. Summer fed Zach a heaping teaspoon of it nightly and within a year noticed a huge difference in his allergies.
After witnessing what it did for Zach, the Johnson’s became curious about beekeeping and decided to officially start their journey as beekeepers.
“We bought three hives and within months got our first harvest. It was euphoric,” Kam remembers. “We were hooked.”
They named the business Zach & Zoe, after their children. After selling their honey locally, the Johnson’s opened a brick-and-mortar store in New York City’s Chelsea Market in 2018. Things took off when it became one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” They went on to become Chase for Business Ambassadors and appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Zach & Zoe’s bestsellers include the Creamed Wildflower Honey, Wildflower Honey with Lavender, Wildflower Honey with Lemon and Wildflower Honey with Raspberry.
The family is excited about their next big moves, an invite to partner in the Target Accelerator program and the spring release of two new flavors: Rose and Cardamom, in partnership with the hit Netflix series, “Bridgerton,” that will be available at select Bloomingdale Stores. 
Other Black business owners have sought to address underserved needs. 
The stigma around the use of marijuana is changing, with medicinal cannabis now legal in 37 states. While African American cannabis companies are starting to cash in on the weed wave, they are still underrepresented. Hope Wiseman plans to change that. At 25, the Spelman College graduate became the youngest Black woman marijuana dispensary owner in the country with the opening of Mary & Main in Prince George’s County, Maryland, along with co-founders Dr. Octavia Wiseman and Dr. Larry Bryant.
“The name captured our initial goal, which is to eliminate the stigma. Mary Jane is an informal name for marijuana, and it is now Main Street culture.”
The 3,000-square-foot space offers nearly 400 medicinal marijuana products, including concentrates, edibles and flowers, and serves 2,000 patients. For those interested in learning more about medicinal marijuana, Mary and Main offers a Cannabis 101 class, and a weekly live broadcast called “The Main Line” that focuses on cannabis and the community.
And across the nation in South Los Angeles’s underserved Watts neighborhood, access to clean drinking water is a matter of life and death. Enter Aqua Equity, an environmentally conscious, premium bottled water company that was formed during the pandemic and whose motto is “Do Good, Drink Good.” 
Founded by former football standout turned wine industry executive Ryan Morgan, Brandon Espy, J.T Rogan, Krystal Jackson, and Watts native Brandon “Stix” Salaam-Bailey, founder of the Think Watts Foundation, Aqua Equity aims to close the social equity gap through monthly water giveaways, financial literacy, food drives, quarterly health fairs and an entrepreneur training program for youth residing in the 1,066-unit public housing apartment complex known as Nickerson Gardens.
“We chose Watts because it is one of the oldest Black communities in California, rich in history and resilience. I’m from a similar development in San Bernardino and wanted to create opportunities for those like me,” Morgan says.
Aqua Equity water is sold in two varieties: Electrolyte-Enhanced and Mountain Spring Water, and it’s  packaged in 100% American-made aluminum cans.
The team is in talks to bring a bottling facility to Watts and recently became the official water company of Kaiser Permanente Hospitals and will be featured in the new 60,000-square-foot, three-story Kaiser Permanente Watts Pavilion set to open this year. They’re also in the early stages of producing a documentary on the history of Watts.


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