The most undeniable force in this world is the Black woman. We are creative, resilient, selfless, and undefined. This Women’s History Month, we are saluting Black women who are disrupting their industries from nuclear engineering to costume design and everything in between.
Below is a list of amazing women whose work continues to challenge how we are seen in the world:
1. Adrienne Lofton, Industry: Marketing & Business
Senior marketing executive, Adrienne Lofton, has made strides to transform the identity of brands in athletic apparel. The former marketing lead at Under Armour, and now Nike executive has overseen campaigns that promote inclusivity in the activewear industry. Under Armour’s 2017 #UnlikeAny campaign helped spark conversations by challenging how female athletes are viewed in athletics. The series featured six game-changing athletes, including the American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer, Misty Copeland.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Lofton about her inspiring journey. Here is what she had to say:
HFH: What’s one piece of advice you would give to Black women climbing the corporate ladder?
A: Being a black woman in Corporate America isn’t easy, and I’ve always actively worked to ensure I stand proudly in the space I occupy. At all levels of my career, I quickly realized that I am not like most people in the room. Be it my race or gender I don’t look like them, and because of that my life experiences are naturally different. The good news is this reality makes the perspective we bring to the table unique, and ensuring we use this differentiator as an advantage versus allowing it to take us down, is a critical piece to how I’ve learned into my biggest potential obstacle and turned it into a positive.
As each of you step through your careers, I encourage you to take a similar approach. Never feel the need to show up as a “version” of yourself because you are a minority, instead be authentically you. Don’t be afraid to speak up even if you are the only voice in the room that has a certain perspective, remember to always back that perspective up with fact-based data and show them why the spot you have at the table is deserved.
HFH: The campaigns you have led have played a significant role in pushing race and inclusivity conversations forward. What helps you remain authentic in your marketing efforts?
A: I am a strong believer in ensuring the brands I work for, represent the consumer we serve. And being lucky to work in the Sport, Fashion and Beautify industries there has never been a question that all races and genders must be present and thriving in the stories I tell.
Whether it was having the opportunity to shine a light on what it felt like for Misty Copeland to become the first black prima ballerina of the ABT or Natasha Hastings who broke through the emotional barriers to become the world-class sprinter she is today, or being part of the team that brought Natural Hair products made for black women to Target, everything I’ve done has been about ensuring we see ourselves, feel inspired, confident and can trust in the brands we love to serve our essential needs. The data shows that inclusion and values-based marketing is the expectation of the consumer, and I take that as my daily challenge to deliver.
HFH: If you could speak to 20-year-old Adrienne, what would you tell her?
A: If I could speak to myself at 20, I would teach myself three critical lessons I’ve now learned:
1. The hard work and dedication it will take to become successful in this industry will be a challenge. Filled with uphill battles, highs, and lows, but it’s nothing I cannot handle as long as I remain focused, hard-working and dedicated in my charge.
2. In this hectic and fast moving life, it’s critically important that I spend just as much time focused on building and maintaining relationships with family and friends as I do developing my professional career.
It’s these relationships that have sustained and encouraged me through the tough rough waters, and from time to time I’ve let work get in the way of nurturing relationships with dear friends. This is never a challenge I could have foreseen as a very social young woman, and I would instill the need for a strong work/life balance that should be essential in every woman’s life.
3. Finally, and most importantly, I would remind young Adrienne to simply be kind to herself. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to how I show up in the world. I’ve been keenly aware of things like my physical appearance, my weight, the outward definition of success versus where I thought I should be in my career, and frankly I was never satisfied.
In my later years, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I still drive for my very best, but I’m now able to go easy if I fall short of the goal. I’ve realized that being at our best is about loving ourselves no matter what version shows up in life’s moments.
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HFH: As a Black woman that has broken the glass ceiling, what does embracing your natural hair texture day to day mean to you?
A: This is such an interesting question and one that I find myself thinking about often. I have always worn my hair in a variety of styles with the focus on finding looks that compliment who I am. I remember walking away from the relaxer early in my career because I was tired of how difficult it was to maintain.
The day I went from a shoulder length relaxer to a very short cropped natural cut was the first time I felt free to bare it all. It came with all the usual questions and asks to touch from my white counterparts, but it also opened the door for a view of black women that they didn’t always encounter. From that moment I’ve explored all sorts of styles from singles and cornrows to extensions and color, and now to my short natural curls all in the name of self- love and expression.
HFH: What quote do you live by?
A: My favorite quote often serves as a reminder when working through challenging situations both at work and in life: “I always wondered why someone didn’t do something about that, then I realized I am that somebody.”
2. Dr. Kristian Henderson, Industry: Public Health
The conversation of health and wellness for Black women has shifted to the forefront and Dr. Kristian Henderson’s contributions to this movement have not gone unnoticed. The founder of the all-natural beauty and wellness marketplace, BLK+GRN, understands the need to connect women with natural lifestyles to non-toxic products. The wellness expert also makes it her brand’s mission to keep Black women informed on clean, high-quality products made and owned by Black artisans. Her work promotes the notion that we, as black women can take ownership of the products we use and where we buy them from.
Here is what Dr. Henderson shared with us about her role in public health:
HFH: When did you realize your purpose in public health?
K: I grew up in a small, conservative town in Arkansas where I was always pushed to achieve great things. It’s the sort of place where you're expected to become someone of great prestige like a doctor or a lawyer, so I just naturally gravitated toward a career in health. I was always really interested in not only the well-being of others, but understanding health patterns and the impact the environment had on people's lives, and vice versa. It was really important for me to use my background and expertise in public health to help people live healthier and happier, by giving them the tools to make better lifestyle choices.
HFH: What made you decide to launch BLK + GRN?
K: My interest in health and wellness continued all throughout school. And after working for a few years as a hospital administrator, I found that I fundamentally disagreed with the way our healthcare system is designed because its focus is not solely on the patient and fostering a whole-body treatment approach to ailments. My values were not aligned with the hospital space, so I had to find something different. That's when I created BLK+GRN, which is an all-natural online marketplace and educational platform that offers non-toxic beauty and wellness products curated by all-Black artisans.
At the time, I was also going through my own wellness journey, which consisted of extensive research. And the bulk of that research pointed to health disparities among Black women, which was a result of toxicity in personal care products. There were two main issues that I wanted to address: One, Black women’s lack of access to high-quality, clean products; and two, Black artisans' lack of access to retail platforms to scale. Interestingly enough, Black women spend twice as much on personal care products, yet 75% of the products marketed to Black are formulated with ingredients that are considered toxic and linked to hormone disruption, reproductive damage, and even cancer. Now more than ever, Black women are looking for higher quality Black-owned products, but there has never really been an easy way to purchase these green products. This inspired me to launch BLK + GRN and create a safe space for Black women to discover non-toxic products curated by and for women who look like them.
HFH: What does it mean to “be happy”, “be healthy”, and “be whole” in 2019?
K: I would say, start with love. Spend more time doing things you love, with people you love, in places you love. And eventually, your world will be consumed with it. To be happy, healthy, and whole also means to be present - in every single aspect of your life. If you're seeking to increase your own happiness and live a healthier life, try incorporating mindfulness techniques into your daily routine. Being proactive and focusing on the here and now is the key to a positive transformation, because the true meaning of health is the state of complete physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, and not merely the absence of disease.
HFH: What piece of advice would you give to Black women artisans?
K: Running your own business can definitely have its ups and downs. So, my first piece of advice is to develop a self-care routine to help balance the highs and lows that come with entrepreneurship. There is a price to pay when it comes to novelty and hard work, but one shouldn't sacrifice their health in the process. I found that developing balance is key to creating a sustainable business that can thrive. I would also say to develop a mission-driven business.
Our core mission at BLK+GRN is connecting women with high-quality, toxin-free products that support wellness, and to cultivate forward-thinking Black artisans and entrepreneurs. Our vision is to radically disrupt the global economy and wellness space to equitably include small, black-owned businesses by empowering women artisans to grow and scale their businesses. We're looking to revolutionize holistic and whole-body health by providing people with an educational and customer-centered platform to discover products from all-natural, black-owned brands. This mission, this vision, is what really keeps me going. Knowing that I’m contributing to uplifting my community by valuing their health and mobility.
HFH: For Black women beginning their wellness journeys, what’s one daily practice you recommend they start implementing?
K: With the array products currently on the market and the endless stream of wellness trends flooding social media, navigating the beauty and wellness space can be quite intimidating for beginners. So, I would say do a bit of research on wellness products and practices that you feel may work best for you. Then slowly start to incorporate healthy alternatives into your daily routine. I also always start my day off with deep breathing. This calming technique is a great way to detoxify the body, de-stress, and encourage full oxygen exchange to help you function throughout the day.