After deciding to get away from the corporate grind and take a trip to Mexico a few years back, Orion Brown — founder and CEO of local hair and skincare brand BlackTravelBox — found herself happy and relaxed after indulging in some scuba diving. To her dismay, Brown soon realized that she’d forgotten to refill her favorite shampoo in a travel-sized bottle after returning to her hotel room. Sporting her natural curls was a rarity at the time, which made Brown apprehensive to use the resort’s shampoo instead.
Fast forward five minutes later, Brown found herself in a tangled mess with her natural curls nothing but frayed and thinking to herself, “I’m going to have to shave my head!”
“It was bad. Think bubble gum in the hair bad. Only that peanut butter wasn’t going to fix it,” she shared. Six to seven conditioner bottles later, it then took Brown almost an hour of detangling to reel from that moment she described as horrifying.
“To think that I’d have to shave my head because I took a chance on a convenience product in my room that wasn’t made to cater to me. Millions of travelers of color are having the same problem everyday. No matter how fancy the hotel is or how high end their products are, we’re left in the lurch because mainstream travel-sized hair and skincare products are not inherently inclusive.”
She told 303 Magazine that international travel had always been particularly stressful, requiring her to think ahead with adequate preparation. Noticing this pattern, BlackTravelBox was created to help spare Black travelers from the perils of noninclusive travel beauty products.
BlackTravelBox ultimately started as Brown’s passion project while working as a brand management professional in 2017. A year later, she took the plunge and began nurturing the business full time. It’s even been featured on Beyonce.com’s directory of black-owned businesses and a plethora of other media outlets.
Travel can evoke adventure, newness and total wanderlust no matter where you find yourself taking wide-eyed and eager steps into the unknown. However, when you have to constantly stop and think about how to accommodate to your hair and skincare needs, it can really complicate the journey.
In fact, more Black individuals from the states have increased their travel adventures in the past decade. It’s even been found that African Americans spent $63 billion on tourism in 2018. “It’s truly a cultural shift in the black community. I think it’s so important that we support the black community in this moment,” Brown said.
After all, there’s so much to be done in a global beauty industry that still values Eurocentric ideals. It can still be quite the chore to find products that wholeheartedly celebrate the specific beauty needs of Black women. It’s just now that we’re starting to see more Black-owned beauty businesses create worthwhile products in a market infamous for giving a blind-eye to Black beauty.
Yes, the West does dictate the discourse of beauty. However, its influence in areas outside of the United States and Europe have also had a blatant stronghold.
“Interestingly enough, I realized that it was almost a ridiculous issue when I first went to South Africa and then to Kenya, about seven years later, that in both places I’d experienced difficulty finding hair care that was safe, natural and made for the African population,” Brown explained.
The brand only uses natural — or naturally derived — ingredients and safe synthetics that adhere not only to the safety standards of the United States, but also of the EU’s stricter cosmetic regulations. “I wanted to create a clean beauty brand because of the number of harsh chemicals that are typically in ethnic hair care,” Brown explained. Endocrine disrupters and other toxic chemicals have indeed been found to be lurking in products marketed towards Black women without proper labeling. This has made it even more important for Brown to take a stand and positively contribute to the health of Black women.
Upon her due diligence and leveraging her brand management experience to correctly test for stability and safety, Brown found that handmaking products without harsh chemicals actually made the creation process simpler. Each hair and skincare product from BlackTravelBox is TSA approved and gives Black travelers a sense of comfort maintaining their beauty routines on the go.
For example, its Carry On Starter Box helps Black women continue to slay all day with a convenient five-piece set of personal care essentials that includes a nourishing body balm, hair balm, shampoo bar, conditioner bar and butter mint lip balm. Brown also created the shampoo bar — with rosemary, mint and tea tree oils —to give curls an invigorating clean without stripping hair of its moisture.
She’s also launched her new Staycation Candle Collection amidst a time when travel has temporarily been put on pause for many. Each candle transports you to various places around the world, giving you would-be vacation vibes. “Travel is a catharsis like no other,” Brown attested.
Imparting a relaxed atmosphere, Riviera Bordeaux takes you to the vineyards of France’s picturesque countryside, while London Fog is an ode to laid-back rainy days in St. James Park. And circling back closer to home, Harlem Speakeasy exudes notes of alcohol, smoked oak, black cherry and bergamot — reminiscent of the home of soulful jazz and smooth classic cocktails.
According to Brown, BlackTravelBox is unapologetic in its ambition to serve Black women. Everyone is welcome, but the brand has made it its mission to put a spotlight on their value. The brand’s blog and Instagram celebrate real women and leave the airbrushed double standard beauty behind. With quality ingredients and an acknowledgment of her power, strength, struggle, and natural beauty, BlackTravelBox is a proud black-woman-owned business that’s here to stay.
Photography courtesy of Orion Brown