Erica Culpepper, General Manager at L’Oréal, oversees the Carol’s Daughter, Softsheen-Carson, and Thayers Natural Remedies brands at L’Oréal USA. She also serves as an advisory board member for the L’Oréal USA Women of Color Think Tank, and Chair for CEW’s DE&I Task Force. Here, Erica talks to CEW Beauty News about the 50th anniversary of Softsheen-Carson’s iconic brand Dark & Lovely, what it means to celebrate and champion Black beauty, and how to continue to redefine diverse and inclusive beauty.

For Erica Culpepper, Dark & Lovely is more than a brand, it is a self-affirmation. “When we say “I am Dark & Lovely” it celebrates, it inspires, it empowers individuality, creativity, and self-expression. And it also validates, that ‘yes, your Black beauty matters’,” said Erica of the brand that has been synonymous with hair care for Black women for 50 years, which is part of the portfolio of brands she oversees as General Manager at L’Oréal USA.

“Dark & Lovely is a true American icon and original pioneer in Black beauty. Dark & Lovely was founded in 1972, when a Black woman’s beauty was not affirmed nor appreciated. We had to lift ourselves up. Tell ourselves we were beautiful, hence the words “I am Dark & Lovely” are still so powerful today. Dark & Lovely was the first of many, including the first hair color for Black women and the first no-lye relaxer. This was a game-changing innovation that was gentler on hair and scalp. We’ve been here for Black women through all of their hair journeys and evolutions, and we are still here today bringing new products to inspire them, as well as a new generation of Dark & Lovelies,” said Erica.

In honor of the landmark anniversary, Dark & Lovely is partnering with Gen Z actress, producer, and activist Storm Reid as brand ambassador. The partnership, Erica explained, seemed destined to be as Storm’s mother appeared in Dark & Lovely ads when the actress was growing up. Storm is also part of the brand’s newly launched philanthropic initiative, Building Beautiful Futures, which is focused on closing the opportunity gap for Black women through scholarships, mentorship, and career opportunities. Dark & Lovely’s new haircare range Blowout will also be expanding nationally.

Creating Standards of Beauty that Shift Culture

At Carol’s Daughter, Erica is building on Love Delivered, the brand’s Black maternal health platform. Carol’s Daughter is also expanding on its top-selling Goddess Strength and Wash Day Delight collections, completing the regimen with new styling and care SKUs.

“We have a lot of fun coming up with solutions to help Black women achieve their many styles. As Black-founded, Black-led brands, we are not just our sister’s keeper, we are our sister,” said Erica. “When we develop insights, launch new products, and create new campaigns, it all comes from a place of listening to her – our consumers – but it also comes from our own shared experiences. For example, when we launched Carol’s Daughter Wash Day Delight range, we wanted to celebrate the fun part of Wash Day. There is so much conversation around the time intensity of the wash day routines and how the “struggle is real”, but we also know wash day brings a sense of connection, community, and self-care as well. We partnered with Pandora to create a Wash Day playlist that women could play along to as they spend all day on Sunday washing their hair! We made wash day fun and delightful, and our content reflects that, too.”

According to Erica, the best way for Black women to celebrate their beauty is to “fully own and celebrate everything that makes us different. It’s about creating the standards of beauty that shift the culture. It’s constantly defining, disrupting, and defying the norms with our own expression of beauty and style, unapologetically. For example, it’s a well-known fact that Black women change their hair style nearly 30 times in a year. Whether its braids, wigs, weaves, or natural hair, straight, curly. We do it all and take pride in the switch up. You never know who, with the right hairstyle and persona to match, is going to show up to a meeting one day. And that’s something we take pride in and enjoy.”

Erica points to the breadth of products, including Dark & Lovely’s Protective Styles, Fade Resist Color collections, Uplift Bleach Kit, and Blowout line, that help create the look du jour, whether an afro, twists, braids, wigs and weave. “My attitude toward beauty has a name. Her name is “Darling,” as in ‘don’t be like everyone else, darling.’  So when I go out, I think ‘Hello Darling, you are the fairest of them all.’”

As an advisory board member for L’Oréal’s Women of Color Think Tank, Erica is determined to further the representation of Black people on every level: models, brand leaders, team composition, creatives, and creators. “2020 lit a fire in my belly like never before,” she said.

“I would love to continue to see the diversity of Black beauty, hair textures, skin tones, and talent represented outside of the “Black brands.” We all have a responsibility to ensure that beauty is representative – it belongs to all of us. Supporting Black and other underserved communities, authentically and unapologetically, is our collective responsibility.”