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Brother Michael F. James (Fall 1989) Reflects On Decade-Long Building Of Frederick Benjamin Grooming

"Before it was trending, our focus at Frederick Benjamin Grooming was always centered on men of color.

We've been for you (and about you) for 10+ years"

–– Michael James, Founder & CEO, Frederick Benjamin Grooming

For years, Brother Michael Frederick James watched Black men lose hope in the grooming department. They felt powerless fighting their dry scalps, unsightly razor bumps, and held on to the belief that harmful, ineffective chemicals were their only option. So, Brother James set out to find a better way.

Inspired by the legacy of his grandfather –– the original Frederick Benjamin –– James developed a regimen of products to help every man sculpt his best self, no matter his style.

After spending more than a decade working for cosmetic giants, Revlon and L’Oreal, James, a third generation entrepreneur, combined his experience and passion for men’s grooming to craft a line of advanced personal care solutions for men and the professionals servicing their grooming needs. James had confidence that he knew first hand the power of personal appearance and the effect that quality products can have on a person’s attitude and outlook.

Frederick Benjamin Grooming formulations are naturally and scientifically infused with the latest technologies and active natural oils to address the most common grooming concerns of today’s modern men. These ingredients combine in this hair and shaving line specifically formulated for men of color. It’s not just about how your hair looks, but also how healthy it is, and even the styling products in this line help to promote healthy hair and scalp.

In addition to the nationwide network of in-barbershop offerings, retail presence, and online marketplace, Frederick Benjamin is partnered with Barbershop Books, a 501(c)(3) community-based program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops, plus provides early literacy training to barbers across America. This partnership leverages the cultural significance of barbershops in the communities to increase boys' access to culturally-relevant, age appropriate, and gender-responsive children's books with the goal to increase out-of-school time reading.

Grooming Brand Frederick Benjamin

Bridges Barbershops And Ulta Beauty

By Rachel Brown --

In 2010, Frederick Benjamin founder Michael James took to the road to convince barbershops to buy into his grooming brand. He was armed with a smattering of its debut products — Shampoo, Conditioner and Daily Hydrator — and a thesis that men of color would switch to better-performing formulas without unnecessary fillers and thick skin.

“There was definitely resistance. There were a lot of people walking into barbershops selling CDs and candy or raising money for this that or the other, but no one going in with a haircare line speaking to the issues — dry scalp and hair, in particular — they saw time and time again. It was a different pitch,” recounts James, a beauty industry veteran who spent a decade working for Revlon and L’Oréal prior to creating Frederick Benjamin. “Half were receptive and half told me they use what’s in the drugstore. The nos pushed my confidence up. I knew how to respond to objections.”

Today, the brand named for James’s grandfather is facing objections less often. It’s entered around 100 barbershops across the country, 20 Navy Exchanges and, as of this month, Ulta Beauty’s website with its full range of seven products. The latest distribution gains, along with sustained progress in a direct-to-consumer business that’s been surging ahead at a double-digit annual growth rate, are expected to propel Frederick Benjamin’s sales past $1 million in 2018.

“It’s everything for me. All the time and energy I’ve put into this was to see my products in this kind of outlet and reach the masses,” says James of Frederick Benjamin’s arrival at Ulta. “Not only is it what I’ve been working for, but it’s also a tribute to what I saw going on. There is a white space I identified many years ago for the multicultural men’s market because of a lack of quality products geared toward that guy. The reason Ulta reached out to us was they were looking at the market the same way. That tells me to trust my gut.”

Frederick Benjamin’s pursuit of male customers has been assisted by competitors jumping into grooming and promoting sophisticated offerings for blokes. “The beard trend started happening, and men began to use products outside of water and soap,” mentions James. Frederick Benjamin’s introduction of Sleek Water Pomade in 2011 didn’t hurt either. The pomade contains spearmint oil that generates a cooling sensation on the scalp, clove oil for blood flow, nettle oil for hair strength and hemp seed oil for hydration. It’s priced at $16 for a 3.5-oz. size and is Frederick Benjamin’s bestseller in dollars. The 4.2-oz. styling crème Daily Hydrator for $12 is the bestseller in units.

“We brought water-based pomade to a category that was used to seeing formulas built on petroleum and mineral oil, which are heavy, greasy and take forever to rinse out,” says James. “Once we hit the market with pomade, it really took off.” He continues shaving products were the next step for Frederick Benjamin, and the brand released a three-item regimen with Easy Primer Pre-Shave Oil, Hydro-Glaze Cooling Aloe Shave Gel and Bump Clear Post-Shave & Bump Treatment. It conducted a clinical trial with 60 human subjects to show Bump Clear reduces and prevents razor bumps and ingrown hairs.

Pictured above: Alpha Rho Chapter Alumni Brother Boris Dobrijevic (Legendary 19, Fall 2011) appeared in an advertising campaign spot for Frederick Benjamin Grooming.

The products are enveloped in white and orange packaging accented by additional shades to broadcast their merchandise classifications. The shaving products, for instance, feature green, and the styling products include gray. “We didn’t want to be overdesigned. I asked the designer to think about having these products live at super high-end department stores, not that I wanted to go there. There was something about the richness of simplicity with strong, bold colors,” says James, noting that Frederick Benjamin is “known for innovation, a clean look and a great fresh scent. There’s not a lot of fanfare. We let the products speak for themselves.”

For now, Frederick Benjamin is pressing pause on product launches to concentrate on driving revenues at its distribution partners, notably Ulta. It’s ramping up public relations and social media efforts to spread the word about its presence on Ulta’s site and, hopefully, fuel purchases. After a small jolt of capital that funded the development of Bump Clear, Frederick Benjamin is seeking a larger amount to support marketing initiatives. James divulges the brand’s objective is to secure $2 million to $5 million.

At the intersection of the multicultural and grooming segments that James foresees as robust going forward, Frederick Benjamin isn’t slowing down. “Men are getting comfortable growing their hair out. When you have more hair on your head, it has a higher likelihood of being dry, looking dull and needing shine. As men grow their hair out, they begin to see attributes that they want to enhance, whether it’s shine and hold, which can be achieved with our Pomade or softness, which our Hydrator gets them,” he says. “Guys are open to these products, they just need to be spoken to in a way that they can relate to.”

Pictured above: The SURREPTITIOUS 20 Brotherhood, initiated into Alpha Rho Chapter at Morehouse College, Fall 1989.

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