In-Depth Interview

Afro Sheen: the return of an iconic hair care and styling brand

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

Afro Sheen hair styling product portfolio photo courtesy of the brand
Afro Sheen hair styling product portfolio photo courtesy of the brand

Related tags: Product development, textured hair, Hair styling products

This week, the popular unisex hair brand that went dormant in the 1990s is back on the shelves and sites of at-mass retailers. Cosmetics Design checked in with product development and marketing experts familiar with the Afro Sheen brand to learn more.

“Afro Sheen is such an iconic brand and it was an absolute honor to bring it to life,” ​Akuba Torvikey, Product Development Manager at Strength of Nature, tells Cosmetics Design.

“We wanted to maintain the essence of the original brand which served both men and women,” ​says Torvikey, ​explaining how she and her team approached the relaunch. “Not very many brands that cater to African Americans are positioned as unisex and we knew we would stand out in this way. We were intentional about choosing packaging and fragrances that appealed to men and women in function and form. The ‘Afro’ has evolved and we knew we wanted a line that catered to that evolution and focused on styling products that worked for multiple textures and types.”

What the Afro Sheen relaunch means for the hair market

“Growth in products designed for textured hair is driving growth in the hair care market in comparison to other products that are flat to declining,” ​says Romina Brown, President of Strategic Solutions International, a marketing and category growth consultancy based in Chicago, Illinois.

“It is important to note that the multi-textured hair market is growing in both affordable and premium price ranges,” ​says Brown, adding that “Consumers find it less risky to try new products at an affordable price without feeling as if you’ve wasted your money if the product does not work on your hair.”

And, she points out that affordable brands perform well for retailers: “Affordable brands typically drive volume metrics for the mass market retail space. For example, Cantu, considered to be a leading value brand, is the top brand contributing to growth with an average price point of about $5,” ​Brown tells Cosmetics Design.

Looking at consumer recognition of the Afro Sheen brand, Brown believes that “the heritage and cultural pride that Afro Sheen evokes aligns with the current movement of validating and fully celebrating ‘the culture’.”​ And that “due to Afro Sheen’s historic iconic stature in the black community, they are uniquely poised to connect with Gen Z and Millennials who understand the importance of legacy.”

Still, she says, “While Afro Sheen is an iconic and trusted brand for the older generation, millennials and Gen Z may have limited exposure to the Afro Sheen legacy. In jest, I might liken this to Beyonce's remix of the classic hit "Before I Let Go" by Frankie Beverly and Maze.  That classic hit has been revitalized and a new generation is experiencing it in a whole new and relevant manner.  Other classic brands such as Care Free Curl and Sta Sof Fro have not formally relaunched but have also made a comeback in the textured hair community.”

Beauty supply and mass market considerations

“The entire hair care market is a texture continuum from straight / chemically straight to zig zag coily,” ​explains Brown. And, “The market is shifting to hair types and curl patterns that have traditionally been considered unique to minority groups.”

“These growing groups are looking for solutions to all their hair care needs,” ​she says. “They want healthy hair and lifestyles. They want to correct / improve problem areas, they want more versatility in styling options and they want more accessories to highlight their style.”

Afro Sheen is now retailing on Amazon.com as well as at Walgreens, Sally Beauty, and Walmart stores.

Sally Beauty is in the beauty supply channel and serves professional hair dressers. But as Brown points out, “The local beauty supply channel is a beauty destination for African American women and is estimated to represent at least 40% of the African American hair care market volume. Therefore, a significant representation in this channel is necessary for overall success,” ​of a brand like Afro Sheen.

How to reinvent a classic hair brand

Johnson Products Company, owned by George E. Johnson, Sr. and Joan Johnson, founded Afro Sheen in 1954. And the brand was part of the cultural revolution through the 60s and 70s. So bringing the dormant brand back was about more than just updated product formulas, as the brand’s Product Development Manager Akuba Torvikey acknowledges.

“When the afro rose to popularity in the mid-60s, it was a political statement and came at a point when African Americans were embracing natural beauty and rejecting European beauty standards. Products that rose in popularity with this trend included products such as conditioners, softeners, hair oils, and sheens,” ​explains Torvikey.  

“In the 70s and 80s, we would see an uptick in chemicals to alter curl patterns from blow-out kits to the Jheri Curl to no-lye relaxers. With these styles came supporting products such as activators, curl moisturizers and hair dresses for heat styling,”​ she says. And, “The 90s brought with it straight styles, more innovative styling and another wave of Afro-centric styles such as braids and locs. Popular products included gels, spritz, and braid sprays.”

“Now, in the 2000s, there's considerably more versatility and also notably more protective styling (when the natural hair is styled in a way that prevents manipulation and breakage). These trends have brought with it styling products such as heat protectors and curl creams and finishing products such as edge gels.”

And all of that awareness and hair history was considered in to the reformulation and relaunch of Afro Sheen. “The new Afro Sheen line delivers 9 products that cater to the many ways one can achieve healthy, hydrated afro-inspired styles from a blow-out spray to a cream-gel to a foam,” ​Torvikey tells Cosmetics Design.

“No questions asked,” ​she says, “our hero product is our Glow Up Shine Spray​. Oil Sheen became iconic and synonymous with the Afro Sheen brand and the new line wouldn't have been complete without it. It was important to us that our oil sheen evolved while paying proper homage to its predecessor. We offer a natural propellant rather than opting for an aerosol spray. We were also intentional about using natural oils that work well on both hair and skin and using high-quality ingredients like Grapeseed Oil, Coconut Oil, and Sweet Almond Oil.”

And Torvikey notes that “in testing, I was intentional about working with samples across varying hair lengths, textures, and types. It was important that our products out-performed selected benchmarks. We also looked to the original line for packaging and fragrance inspiration.”

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DeannaUtroske-smallphoto

Deanna Utroske is a leading voice in the cosmetics and personal care industry as well as in the indie beauty movement​. As Editor of CosmeticsDesign.com, she writes daily news about the business of beauty in the Americas region and regularly produces video interviews with cosmetics, fragrance, personal care, and packaging experts as well as with indie brand founders.
Deanna will be speaking next at the Uplink Live event in LA this month​ (save 10% on tickets with code: CD10) and at Green Beauty Night in February​.

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