Q&A: Jodie Patterson, DooBop co-founder

If you’re not familiar with DooBop, get ready, because I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it. Since launching last year, DooBop has been curating products with the needs and desires of brown-skinned women in mind. The impressive (yet not-overwhelming!) brand selection includes rising indies like RMS Beauty and Andre Walker along with more-established names such as Caudalie and Fashion Fair. For women of color (and Caucasians, for that matter) this kind of online shopping experience just hasn’t existed before. Ever.

DooBop is the brainchild of Jodie Patterson, a former fashion PR director turned entrepreneur. She and co-founder Benjamin Bernet launched the business to, as they put it, “create a chic online shopping destination that mirrored the ethnic diversity spotted daily on the streets of New York City.” Along with a team of influencers, Jodie tests all products before they hit the virtual shelves, selecting only the ones that are deemed truly worthy.

In May, I visited Jodie at her gorgeous home in Bed-Stuy. She’s graceful, warm, intelligent, thoughtful. In a word: lovely. Here, she talks about the changing definition of beauty, parenting a transgender child, and lots more — so much, actually, that you’re going to want to read this story to the very end. Oh, and because Jodie has the inner/outer beauty thing goin’ on, there’s a cheat sheet to some of her most-loved products, too. (Thought you might want that.)

I can’t believe nobody created something like DooBop before. How did you take that idea and actually make it happen?
I think the idea represents a glaring gap. A woman like myself is difficult to speak to from a corporate perspective, because we are talking to a brown-skinned woman with textured hair — and she is a complex customer. I think brands are nervous to speak to this woman. Let me backtrack. I think women understand that beauty comes from the inside at this point. It’s not as much about the lotions and the potions, and it’s not only about the length of your hair and your features. It starts with a feeling, and you reflect that feeling with your lotions and potions and with your hairstyles. So it’s really about identifying your own beauty.

It’s an emotional, historical journey you’re on when you talk to brown-skinned women about their beauty.

I think there is an enormous difference between feeling beautiful and having that outside-in sense of just looking beautiful.
Exactly. With that awareness and with the ability to blog and to speak freely, I think women — particularly brown-skinned women — are really verbal now. If you get it wrong, if you talk about some woman’s beauty in the wrong way, if you use the words incorrectly, you seem really insensitive. Brands can’t afford to be insensitive, and they can’t afford to insult people. They can’t afford to make these mistakes, so they just back off. They say, “You know what? It’s too touchy.” It’s an emotional, historical journey you’re on when you talk to brown-skinned women about their beauty. It’s about their mothers and where they came from and the rituals they did growing up — and you know, Southern women have different traditions than Northern women. I do a lot of interviews with women on their hair rituals with their moms. There are deep, deep, deep emotions attached to them. So, getting back to your question: I think that brands just don’t have the know-how to talk to a woman, to talk to this woman in the way we do. And of course, it’s me, my mom, my sister, my daughters, my cousins, so I am very familiar with her. We just approach it like a conversation.

And when you are having that conversation, have there been any surprises?
Well, the customer actually surprised me. We had this idea that she would be very much like me. We thought, “This is going to be an insightful brown-skinned woman with textured hair, and that’s our sweet spot.” Then we got blessed by Oprah and her magazine on a few of our products and our customers found us. Many of them are brown-skinned women and many of them aren’t. Many of them are Midwestern white women. They are really loyal customers, and they make up a very good percentage of our success. What I found is your customer finds you; you don’t determine your customer. This customer found out [about DooBop] and we realized she was not exactly who we thought she would be. [We thought,] “How do we keep her?” So we just reached out and called her.

Women just want a good product and a good experience. You can’t lump them ethnically.

Wait. You’re literally calling people?
Yeah. We call and we thank her for buying a product that Oprah suggested, and we ask her what she likes about it. That was really surprising — that you can reach people you didn’t think that you were going to reach. The other thing that surprised me is that — and I knew this — beauty is not ethnic. No one is shopping based on their ethnicity. I’m black, African-American, but what does have to do with my really thin and limp hair? So I am thinking I’m black, there are ethnic aisles I should shop, but most of the products don’t really serve me well. And then my girlfriend, who is Asian, does she shop in Chinatown? Or is she in the general-market aisle? It doesn’t really make sense. So we found, again, that women really care about what works for them. Women just want a good product and a good experience, and you can’t lump them ethnically.

That’s a good point. I feel like a lot of larger companies struggle with that. You look at some cosmetics brands, and there will be 10 shades for light skin tones and then two that are slightly darker.
I don’t know two brown-skinned women that have the same shade. I have never seen it happen. We go in these focus groups, and everyone is trying on and blending. It’s really difficult to find your shade. Most companies don’t create enough shades — or if they do create them, then the buyer at the store doesn’t buy all the shades and it gets discontinued. Somehow, there is this belief that you just need a few to service that community. It just doesn’t work.

But even strictly from a business standpoint, I have read over and over again that women of color, specifically African-American women and Latinas, spend a lot of money. They are huge beauty consumers.
Eight to one. For hair, we do eight to one. So, using us, I would buy eight shampoos and you would buy one to find what you like.

If it were not for enthusiasm, black women and Latina women would have jumped ship a long time ago on the beauty industry.

Do you think that is out of passion, or is it out of frustration?
It’s both. There is complete trial and error happening because again, we are being marketed to as opposed to being addressed in terms of our needs. You get, “They told me Beyoncé was using this, but it’s not working for me.” Or you tried a product because you thought it was in the right aisle, “your” aisle, and it just does not work. What you said was a good point about enthusiasm. If it were not for enthusiasm, black women and Latina women would have jumped ship a long time ago on the beauty industry. No one has supported us. No one has said, “God, you’re beautiful. I totally get your hair. I am going to help you solve your needs.” It’s just been an uphill battle, and the only reason we outspend is because we love it so much — and because culturally, we want it and think we need it. There is this desire to be beautiful by certain standards. There is a desire, as we all have, to be successful. If you talk to a woman going to work in corporate America — I mean, the things she has to do in the morning to get ready! She can’t just wash her hair and go, or she will have an Afro, and Afros aren’t acceptable in corporate America. There are 10 products you are using: shampoo, a pre-shampoo so your scalp does not dry out because you will be doing a lot of blow-drying. The conditioner, then the leave-in, a gel, then hairspray, and a shine. I am sure there are a couple more, and that is just a regular day.

Olivia Pope would not be able to go into the shower and have shower sex. There is just no way.

This is making me think of Scandal. With TV, sure, you take license. But with Olivia Pope, we never see how much time it would take to look like that, to have that hair. I think a lot of white viewers wouldn’t necessarily know what goes into it.
She would not be able to go into the shower and have shower sex. There is just no way! She has a weave, so what would happen is she would take a shower, they would have passionate sex. The edges where you leave your own hair out would look fluffy, or like an Afro, or something different. It would be frizzy and all of the fake hair would be flowing. There is no way. Literally no way. And actually, there is another show with Gabrielle Union called Being Mary Jane. She’s a newscaster and there is a scene where she’s like, “There is no way I am doing any news outside in the rain.” All I have to tell you is this: edges. Because your edges change if you have a weave. Everything else looks like European, and all of a sudden, there is African.

You mentioned the standards of beauty. A lot of women grew up not seeing themselves reflected in larger culture, and certainly not always — if ever — reflected as beautiful. Do you think that is changing for brown-skinned women? Or are we still stuck?
I think it’s changing for everyone. When you look at Lupita [Nyong’o], she is everyone’s favorite. Everyone adores her. She does not speak just to brown-skinned, dark-skinned women. When we start looking at that, we realize that across the board, there is a different approach to beauty. It’s about feeling. There was a study, and women were asked, “Do you think Oprah is prettier, or do you think Naomi Campbell is prettier?” Most of them said Oprah, because Naomi Campbell has a shitty attitude.

Ha! It’s true.
They literally rated Oprah prettier, more beautiful. That, to me, is pretty outstanding. Women in general understand that beauty comes from within. It’s changing drastically, quickly. I think companies and brands now know they have a responsibility. For them to keep up, they have to tap into this deep thing that is happening with women. You see companies try to make a shift. They are a little clunky because they are big corporations, but they are trying to get into the internal-external conversation. So yeah, I think it’s changing for all of us.

Jodie’s picks

A few beauty essentials she swears by:
  • Georgia by Jodie Patterson
    “My own brand, of course!”
  • Leonor Greyl Eclat Naturel
    “A daily styling cream with no build-up.”
  • Nuhanciam
    “A ‘water’ face cleanser that grabs all the dirt.”
  • PhytoSpecific Phytotraxil
    “Super-duper anti-hair-thinning treatment.”
    “Chic, multi-purpose leave-in for curly hair.”
  • NCLA nail art
    “We designed three nail art appliqués, exclusive to DooBop. The West African design is awesome. I have tons of African fabric in my house, so I was using that as inspiration.”
  • Fashion Fair
    “Perfect foundations. You’ll be seriously surprised.”
    “Must-have tinted moisturizers & cheek stains to make you glow.”

We are talking about a woman who is bigger than each brand. The brand is not the superstar anymore. The woman is.

And you really seem to acknowledge and know your customers.
They are dynamic and we see that with our content. Whenever we write about something that is specifically deep or atypical — like when I write about my transgender child — there is a lot of reaction. Or if we write about what happens when you are 40-plus and what that means for women and beauty. If you think of yourself as a beautiful women and you are 45, what does it mean to be 45? Your hair thins, your eggs aren’t so fertile anymore, and your skin is saggy. Those things happen. At the same time, you are at your most creative, your most powerful, your most confident. We talk about those things and we see people coming to the site for that and sharing that. Again, we are talking about a woman who is bigger than each brand. The brand is not the superstar anymore. The woman is.

I love that. As a mother, how do you work with passion in the industry while cultivating a healthy sense of self and beauty for your children?
There’s this image the beauty industry is putting out, but then there’s the image that I give them through my work and my home life. I think that you have to show in your actions what matters to your kids. Most of the time, they see me in my natural state. They don’t see me getting dressed up all the time and going out. I think it’s just being a real woman — and when I say real, I mean I don’t always think about being beautiful. When I go to sleep at night, I think, “Shit, can I do the things I have to do tomorrow morning? Am I capable enough, am I smart enough, am I caring enough? Is my family getting enough of me?”

I have a transgender child. And that is big, because when I talk about beauty, I am talking about whatever is inside.

That is what I am thinking of when I go to sleep, not “Am I beautiful?” And I’m not thinking about that during the day, so that is how they see me. But I also talk to them about it, and we talk about feelings all the time. They’re like, “You are taking it too far, Mom. It’s just too much to talk about feelings.” We do prayer at night. I have a child born as a girl who lives as a boy and identifies as a boy. And that is big, because when I talk about beauty, I am talking about whatever is inside. Whatever that feeling is, you have to be that, because that is where the beauty is going to come from. I can’t tell you; you have to figure it out. If you tell me you are not a girl, and I am having a hard time believing it, but you tell me you are not a girl at two years old, I am actually going to listen.

That’s big.
And then when you once tell me that, I have to do lots of research to figure out what that means, because I don’t really know what transgender means. I thought it was like transsexual, so I have to do all the research. We do that together and we Google it, look at books, ask other people about being transgender together. Then I think the message is made pretty clear that whatever it is that is inside is valid. I have another son who says, “I don’t really believe in transgender,” and he says it to his brother. He says this is just a bunch of BS, and they go back and forth. The one who is transgender says, “It is not an opinion. It is just a fact. It just is.” So there is a whole conversation in my house.

These are deep kids.
One believes in God. The other does not believe in God, does not believe in transgender, and he is total math whiz and a chess champion. The other one is transgender, totally believes in God, wants to be rock n’ roll, and has named himself the president of the bad-boy club. Everyone just has their own way. And we uphold that.

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