In November 2013, Jodie Patterson — a former Zac Posen PR director who later launched a beauty line and opened a boutique — saw a gaping hole in the beauty industry. Women of color, she believed, were being underserved when it came to hair and makeup products. So she and business partner Benjamin Bernet, a former L’Oreal executive, decided to do something about it.
The result is Doobop, an e-commerce beauty site launched this past November that describes itself as the "first beauty e-tailer uniquely curated and edited for multiethnic women." The founders focus on individualized customer service, and the site offers a carefully edited line of products, many of them from outside the U.S. Customers fill out a questionnaire about their hair type, skin color, and preferences so that they receive customized recommendations. (Jodie and her hair and makeup experts personally answer all customer questions.)
The Cut talked with Patterson about the impetus for starting the site, why no one shops for hair products in the “ethnic aisle,” and how she feels about Solange Knowles's hair choices.
Why did you start Doobop?
I was working in fashion, in PR. It was really a hectic, fast-paced job. The fashion world is not very family-focused and I was on my way to having what is now five children. I wanted something more suitable for my lifestyle, and I ended up in beauty. I opened up a store, a boutique and salon called Georgia in Soho. That gave me the taste for global beauty. I saw that women, when left to their own devices, go outside of the ethnic aisle. They don’t shop by ethnicity, they shop by need. I really was interested in that. Benjamin, my co-founder, was at L’Oreal and watching this segment kind of feed itself, but the industry wasn’t feeding it. It wasn’t being strategized, this area of brown beauty. When you walk down the street, you see real women and you see beauty in real time. It’s a brown situation, the world is brown! [Laughs.] We thought, Wouldn’t it be great for the industry to catch up with real life?
How did you decide which brands to launch with?
We launched with 25 brands, so relatively small in terms of what’s out there. A lot of brands I knew firsthand from my boutique, and I had personally used them for several years. We brought those brands first, then we vetted them through our focus group, which is 100-plus women that I’ve been working with for the last nine years. [They all have] different skin tones and hair textures. These are women who are New York-minded, brown women with textured hair, but a range of skin tones, Lupita to Beyoncé or even fairer, with textures that go from wavy to kinky. We were looking for women that were in pursuit of smart beauty and really vocal.
What kind of feedback have you received about the types of hair products people are looking for or want to see more of?
There’s a lot of talk about the natural hair movement, but I’m not seeing it that way. That connotes a woman with some version of an Afro. When we talk about the natural hair thing, we think, Okay, it’s a woman wearing her hair in its complete natural state. But what I’m seeing a lot now is that women want an approach to beauty that’s less complicated. I’ve been calling it beauty without struggle. A lot of the questions are about giving up or reducing the chemicals, but not being locked into one style. They want versatility. Like, Today I want to do a short bang and bone-straight, but tomorrow I want to do curly and fluffy all over the place.
What do you make of the criticism that some celebrities, like Solange Knowles, get when they’re perceived to be not “natural” enough?
There’s so much that goes into it, it’s so charged, it’s so emotional. For women of color, it’s really about more than the lotion or the potion. And we’re really vocal, and we have a lot of opinions on beauty. The internet has allowed that to flourish. But I love Solange. I love that she mixes it up. We’ve gotten really boring and stuck in a rut. I think that cookie cutter image of beauty for the general market, but also that image for the ethnic market, is just dead to me. Bravo to Solange for flipping it back and forth. She’ll wear a wig, she’ll wear a weave, she’ll do braids, an Afro, she’ll go straight. It’s an exploration of beauty to speak outside of strict ethnic rules. I love it.