Professional Jeweler Archive: About Face

April 2005

Cover Focus | Ethnic Markets: Black Americans

About Face

The image of fashionable, upscale America is changing

By Peggy Jo Donahue

If you’re not marketing jewelry to affluent and fashion-conscious blacks, you’re missing an opportunity. At New York’s February Fashion Week, one of the hottest tickets was to the fashion show for the clothing and jewelry lines of Kimora Lee Simmons, the wife of hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons.

At the Academy Awards, there was a celebration of black talent that included Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman, an acknowledgment by the staid academy that black influence on films is unmistakable.

You shouldn’t be surprised.

Young, elegant and clearly non-white marketers and stars understand there’s a permanent change going on in the landscape of American life. Clothing and accessory lines such as FuBu, Sean John, Phat Farm and Baby Phat go beyond streetwear and have migrated in popularity to non-black consumers. It’s not just in urban centers such as New York City and Los Angeles. We’ll look at the changes in black consumers on these two pages and at Hispanic consumers on the following two pages.

A Growing Market

Black consumers set fashion trends and are prime users of increasingly expensive consumer products and services, according to American Demographics. If you sell luxury goods, you need to be aware of this market’s influence on style and spending patterns.

Disposable personal income among blacks will have grown by nearly a third from 2002 to 2007, from $646 billion to $843 billion, says the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.

Be aware of the power of female purchasers – they’re even more likely than white women to influence household spending. A significant majority of black women – 62% – decide which financial services to use and what investments to make vs. 51% of white women, says Essence Communications Partners.

By 2006, black women’s spending power will have increased 32% over the previous five years, says Packaged Facts, a New York City market research firm. That’s 8% more than is projected for the general population. Though affluent black women are still a relatively small group, their numbers are growing – almost 50% of black women have attended college. And even when their net worth doesn’t say “affluent,” their aspirational spending and love of brands do.

Not Just Hip-Hop

Black tastes don’t solely emanate from the hip-hop or sports world. Though advertising messages targeted to blacks tend to skew heavily to northern and urban tastes, there’s more to the market. Family Digest, a women’s magazine that focuses on black families, says the majority of blacks live in the southern states and almost half live in suburban or non-metro areas, where urban culture isn’t as dominant. “We’re not all in the ghetto,” says Dan Murphy, the black vice president of Multicultural Diagnostic Research at Insights Marketing Group, a Miami, FL, consumer research company.

Many experts say black consumers show a high degree of loyalty to small businesses that address their needs directly because their interests have historically been neglected, says a business development white paper by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The simple act of including blacks in your ads or marketing to them in black publications can have a big impact.

But be careful how you proceed because cultural gaffes are easy to make. Your best bet when beginning communication to blacks is to seek help from an agency or marketing consultant that knows the market. If none is available where you live but you have an ethnic publication or radio station where you plan to advertise, ask its sales staff for advice. You also could contact a local black chamber of commerce.

Singer Li’l Kim at this past fall’s New York Fashion Week.
Kimora Lee Simmons and her husband, Russell Lee Simmons, at the debut of her Baby Phat jewelry line.
Morgan Freeman shows off a LeVian watch the day before winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar at the Academy Awards.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications