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Tracee Ellis Ross on changing beauty’s “concealer culture”

As her haircare line launches in Boots, the actress and activist talks about empowering Black beauty

tracee ellis ross
Micaiah Carter for Pattern Beauty

Tracee Ellis Ross – the 49-year-old Hollywood actress, activist, entrepreneur and daughter of a legend – is an outspoken advocate for Black people and one of the most influential figures in the natural hair movement. For the last 12-plus years she’s been working on Pattern, her own haircare line, which debuted in the US in 2020. Finally, UK customers can get their hands on it too – and enjoy the “juicy and joyful hair” it’s on a mission to facilitate.

Unlike some celebrity product lines, assumed to be solely money-spinners, Ross’ is certainly rooted in credibility. “The brand really was born out of my own journey with my hair and realisation that the world was not mirroring back to me my own authentic beauty,” she tells us. Growing up Ross couldn’t find products that suited her curls – though not from want of trying. She recalls her mother, Diana Ross, saying to her age 12: “Listen here little girl. I don't know what is happening with these hair products, but you're gonna break the bank. You need to figure out how to use what’s in the shower or get a really good job or marry a really rich man because this is not working!”

Since then, Ross’ journey with her hair has been “a really long road,” she explains. “Growing up in a society that told me that there was a ‘right’ way to wear my hair, there was a ‘right’ version of what my hair should look like,” directly affected her self-esteem. It was “the age of ‘easy, breezy and beautiful and bouncing’ [hair],” she says – think Jennifer Aniston, whose signature swishy locks have garnered as much admiration as her acting over the years.

tracee ellis ross, harper's bazaar shoot
Tracee wears Dior dress, photographed by Renell Medrano

Indeed, those ideals didn't match Ross’ reflection, and despite seeing natural textured curls and coils within her family, that representation wasn’t enough. “As a teenager, you don't care how your mom wears her hair. You want to see how people in music and all of that [wear theirs].” Cue rebellion. “I tried to beat my hair into submission,” she reveals. “I tried body lotion in my hair, I slept in rollers, I did blowouts at the salon… I weakened my hair with chemical relaxers and texturisers and ponytails that were too tight that gave me a headache. I even whipped out an iron at some point – an actual clothing iron – trying to figure out how to style my hair and get it to do that thing.” Ross’ hair was left broken and damaged, and it was only once entering teen-hood that she (at first reluctantly) embraced her natural texture.

“It's now been about three decades of me building a foundation with my hair; a foundation of trust and love,” she explains. It can do anything now. “My hair can be big, my hair can be small, my hair can be slicked – my hair is in the best condition it's ever been.” And that’s despite having it done daily when filming eight seasons of Black-ish. She credits this all to her changing behaviours and to Pattern.

tracee ellis ross
Campbell Addy for Pattern Beauty

But creating the product line designed to meet the unmet beauty needs of the curly, coily and tight textured hair community was not only about how they worked on the hair, but about how they made people feel. She says the brand itself provides “an active space for the celebration of Black beauty” – and a way to alter the default negative marketing that the community is subject to.

“I never understood why the beauty industry and the retail industry was designed to make you think you had a problem you had to fix,” Ross says, calling this “a concealer culture” which attempts to change individuals. “You don't have to convince people they're not worthy or not enough in order to get them to buy shampoo and conditioner,” she says. “And I wanted to change that whole paradigm of marketing” – to one which empowers instead of prevents people being comfortable in themselves. As the brand lands here in Boots – one of the country's largest retailers – she’s again accomplishing it.

Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross launches in Boots on 29 June

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