How Sundial Brands Built an Authentic Social Mission

Community Engagement is about more than just social media interactions. Cara Sabin, CEO of Sundial Brands, offers advice on being relevant today - and tomorrow.
How Sundial Brands Built an Authentic Social Mission
Image credit: Courtesy of Cara Sabin
Cara Sabin, CEO of Sundial Brands
Magazine Contributor
Deputy Editor
4 min read

This story appears in the December 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In a year when life often felt out of control, consumers increasingly wanted to support brands that made them feel like a part of something bigger. It’s why in a global study conducted in June by communications agency Zeno Group, consumers were four times more likely to purchase from a with a strong purpose. What does that look like in an uncertain future? It may look a lot like Sundial Brands, parent company to top beauty names including SheaMoisture and Madam C.J. Walker, which is deeply embedded in the of color it serves. CEO Cara Sabin explains how they do it, and how other businesses can uplift their own base.

You joined Sundial in 2019.  What was appealing to you about the opportunity?

Quite frankly, this position allowed me to bring my full self to the role. In previous positions, I wasn’t really leveraging my full, authentic self — my , my background, my experiences. But I am our consumer, full-stop, and there’s a certain freedom in that.

Related: Are You Craving Community for Your Customers? Here Are the Tools You'll Need.

SheaMoisture operates what it calls community commerce. Can you explain that?

We’ve invested more than $6 million in community programs that support Black and female . And those investments stretch from our supply chain — we purchase raw shea butter from women-run cooperatives in — to programs we implement in the to promote Black entrepreneurship with grants and education. It’s the way we can walk the walk, or as my team says, it’s our “receipts” of what we do here.

So it’s not just about growing a community but supporting the one that helped your find success in the first place?

Mainstream beauty brands had really excluded Black women, so our customer feels very invested in our company, and we feel very invested in her. The path to true equality is through economic equity and by creating generational wealth for our community. The events of this year, it’s been a re-centering. From COVID to social unrest — we’re emboldened in our mission. It’s important for us to center Black women not just as our customer or our model but also behind the scenes, in the way we work with our creative partners and agencies, and in the way we provide opportunities and resources.

Related: 4 Reasons Why Focusing On Community Is Your Best Marketing Strategy

How do you think about continuing to drive that mission forward?

We recently did a partnership with Brown Girl Jane, which, comparatively to SheaMoisture, is smaller in size, but they had a similar mission: They created the Brown Girl Swap, a call to action to consumers to pledge to replace five mainstream beauty products from their routine with products created by Black entrepreneurs. It’s important that every business we work with is like-minded in terms of investing in the community.

What’s your advice for founders who want to support their community but might not yet have the resources of a company like Sundial?

I appreciate that question because I think a lot of smaller businesses feel a pressure to make an impact, but at the same time they’re trying to build and cultivate their business. But one of the things that’s most powerful is sharing knowledge and sharing experience. No matter the size of your business, we all have something to learn from each other, and sharing information and resources is such a good way to make an impact.

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