African-Americans have $162 billion in purchasing power, and platforms like Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook have helped to level and democratize the monetization of image, services, products, tutorials, our opinions, and unique beauty demands, which cannot be denied.
Have you ever found yourself scrolling through Instagram and Facebook posts, marveling at the magnitude of product ads now available? Aside from the algorithms in place on these platforms that pick up your every “like”, it is rather impressive to see what’s out there, especially in the growing realm of small businesses, e-retailers, and drop-shipping.
For the natural hair community and vendors that cater specifically to African American beauty, stats don’t lie. As of December 2018, 44% of local businesses said they depend on social media to generate brand awareness, with 41% depending on it to drive revenue. A 2016 Nielsen Report stated that Black Millennials were 11.5 million strong in leading innovative use of digital media for success. This is great news. African-Americans (not including other parts of the worldwide Diaspora) have $162 billion in purchasing power (and growing), and platforms like Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook have helped to level and democratize the monetization of image, services, products, tutorials, our opinions, and unique beauty demands, which cannot be denied.
I recently had a chat with such an entrepreneur, David Wongk, who leveraged a uniquely ethnic personal care problem he wanted to solve into a dynamic brand catching a lot of attention (and sales). Puretropix represents the natural gifts from the tropics of the Caribbean, and by Diasporic influence, Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Boasting a diverse ethnic background that mixes Chinese, Belizean and Guyanese heritage, David descends from a long line of forward-thinking and innovative people to get where he is today, and he has been sharing these gifts with the world! Puretropix focuses on erasing scars, healing skin, and presenting the best face forward promoting Black beauty, while also forging local and international relationships on a grassroots business level.
So you and your business are Atlanta-based. Were you always there, what is the back story?
I moved out to Atlanta from California 8 years ago for my family and work.
How do you feel about the transition to ATL, which is decidedly more Black?
DW: I used to hate it but it has grown on me. It’s more friendly. We talk to our neighbors [more] and it is a great place to grow a business. There are a lot more successful Black people out here.
Where and when did you start selling your Puretropix?
DW: It started about three, three-and-a-half years ago. Before that I was working as a pilot and aircraft mechanic for an engineering company for the government. I would go to the barbershop, get shaved, and break out in bad ingrown hairs. I was trying everything out there on the market…stuff was either burning my face or not working. So I started researching and creating my own products.
It is nice when you can have a transition into another industry because of tried and true methodology.
How important is it to know your subject and target audience?
DW: It’s very important (laughs)! Because, you have to know how they move, what verbiage to use. I had an email guy (I’m not gonna say his race, but he wasn’t, you know, “us”) that told me every other company he worked for, emails do amazing when he sent them out on Tuesday, “but for you guys, for some reason, it is Thursday or Friday”… I was like, yeah, because Black people don’t buy/shop, unless they get paid! It is important to know your audience, the issues and the problems they have, otherwise you’re just making products and it is a shot in the dark. I can legitimately make a product and literally out the gate I know it will sell well because I know my audience, I know what kind of ingredients they like to hear and use. I started the company for men with ingrown hairs, but it quickly turned into women.
And where do you promote?
DW: We grew our whole business off of Instagram. From day one into the first six months, we did $100,000 in sales via Instagram. I was promoting to natural hair places, they fit our audience perfectly, had great engagement, and as long as you can show the before and after [pictures], or a testimonial or video, it did really well.
How did you incorporate the rigorous scientific basis for quality ingredients? For instance, how do you balance your sourcing of tropical and raw ingredients in a market that seems to be saturated/obsessed with coconut oil, turmeric, and acaí? And how do you balance that against using triclosan and parabens?
DW: When I started, I did my research, I would see that everybody was using coconut oil and shea butter, but a butter called cupuaçu butter is 10X better for you. Turns out it was hard to get. You can buy it in small bottles, but I had to find a supplier in Brazil to ship five gallons. It is expensive, but the benefits of it are so amazing. In our ingrown hair product, we have an ingredient called dragon’s blood, a sap from Brazil. If you get cut, you put the sap on it and it will instantly heat your cut. Back during Katrina, they were doing tests with it with mosquito [bites]. It stopped infections, but nobody uses it. I’m not going to say it was profitable, it eats more of your margin up.
Do you often test your products on yourself?
DW: Oh, I use everything myself. Before I even start thinking to sell, it is something I use. I have made it, played it used it for months. Given samples to my friends and family. Once it is time to sell, I work with a lab to generate the product. I don’t make the chemical formulations. The lab mostly tests for bacteria, mold growth, etcetera. They will sit down with me, figure out which preservatives to use, stay away from. We primarily use natural products, no animal testing. We try to stay away from certain oils that have been known to irritate people.
Would you say that your manufacturing is local?
DW: We do everything ourselves. The recipes… I created. We make them at home in our facility. There’s nothing more than 55 gallons, that is my magic number. Some things are 25 gallons. If you are chasing a dollar, your products won’t be as good as they could be. I know the quality of my ingredients and I know where they are coming from. I see the results in our DMs, the before and after.
Obviously, you are using local ingredients, but also some sourced in Brazil, Caribbean, and around the world. You also have a mixed background. Do you market to people in the Caribbean? Are your products accessible to them? How do you pull in the people and communities that you source from?
DW: One of my favorite things is to go to a country and sell products. It is kind of how I write my trips off. On Instagram, we get a lot of people reaching out to us, and we start to build a relationship with them. When they hit us up and say, “is this in Jamaica?” I would say, “no, but you can help us, give us a contact of a store…” once we get there, we build a relationship. I tend to send free products out for them to use and play with. They will post,” if you are in this country, go get it”. Now the store owner gives feedback. In Africa, I found a military guy that was stationed there and worked out a way to get stuff out there.
This is a grassroots way of doing business. As a small-batch small business doing international sales, how do you navigate the red tape??
DW: We do this with people. Customers used it and they spread the word, and recommended it and it grew like that. We are recipients of the 2017 Starqt Award for Puretropix Africa’s Best Business Innovation! In Africa (Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and nine other countries), they were overcharging fees because we are American, but we found a local person to have his girlfriend pick up [the merchandise]. Certain places, if they know you’re American, they will try it. By building relationships with locals, we are able to extend our reach.
The Puretropix skincare line has seen an exponential rise in visibility, and popularity, especially as summer and vacation season arrives in the U.S. Aside from regular sales and promotions on Instagram and Facebook pages, David and his small family-run team are doing the most in churning out new exciting offerings beyond the best-selling ingrown hair treatment and you can find Puretropix on Instagram and Facebook as well as their own website.