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The genesis for A-Frame came about three years ago, when The Good Doctor star Hill Harper and his business partner Ari Bloom determined that they wanted to start a company from scratch, that did things “the right way.”
Bloom, an entrepreneur who sold his fashion software firm Avametric in 2018, tells The Hollywood Reporter he was “very much focused on making things that were going to make people’s lives better,” adding that they were interested in “making things for people who actually are missing things in their lives that were important day-to-day things that they could use.”
Together, Bloom and Harper co-founded A-Frame, a socially responsible development company for brands founded by celebrities, focused on an inclusive approach to personal care and wellness. “We were going to build a company from the ground up that did business the right way and empowered people with a diversity of life experiences,” Bloom says. Celebrity brand incubators like A-Frame, along with Maesa and Beach House Group, are a growing trend in the investment space.
Adds Harper of today’s marketplace, “Things could be better, as far as the products that are offered to communities, the people who are actually running companies, who’s making decisions, who’s actually in the room. I think that there’s a point in everyone’s life where we ask those questions, and then you kind of look in the mirror and you say, ‘well, I guess maybe I have to be part of the solution.'”
Thus far, the company has been responsible for tennis star Naomi Osaka’s suncare line Kinlo, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade’s babycare line Proudly, and John Legend’s forthcoming skincare brand. Earlier this year, it was announced that A-Frame had raised an additional $11.2 million in funding. And upon inception, A-Frame also made waves with their fundraising model: the team did not take on any lead investors that were not represented by a woman or person of color.
“93 percent of venture capital was invested by white men, so we said we’re going to focus on 7 percent of capital out there, and we didn’t have any problems. We were able to find great investors,” Bloom says.
Harper — an activist, author and the actor who portrays Dr. Marcus Andrews on CBS’s The Good Doctor — says that, looking ahead, the team would ideally like to help launch one to two brands per year.
Each celebrity brand gets funding from A-Frame to get started, but also raises its own capital from outside investors. As an incubator, A-Frame retains 50 percent ownership and the celebrity founders own the other 50 percent of their brands.
This approach to equitable partnership is somewhat rare in the startup space, but A-Frame’s founders wouldn’t have it any other way. From the start, they endeavored to work with brands that addressed glaring issues in the market, and that would help create a portfolio of diverse companies that were not only led by and focused on underserved communities, but that also represented a broad range of needs and life stages.
“The partners that we work with, they are owners of the company, and they are intimately involved in building the product, building the team, and building the company from the ground up,” Harper says. “So it’s not approaching a celebrity and saying, ‘Hey, this is kind of an endorsement deal. We’re just going to use your name and likeness, we can attribute some quotes to you, and therefore try to use your platform to sell product.’ It’s not that whatsoever.”
In terms of selecting their partners and finding the right fit of companies to support, Bloom says it’s a mix of landing on someone who is “going to be the acknowledged, publicly facing partner, but also somebody who can really collaborate with us as a partner behind the scenes … [the people] we’ve chosen to work with aren’t just promoting and talking about it publicly. They’re helping us develop products.”
Case in point: Osaka came up with the name Kinlo (which is formed from the words for “gold” in Japanese and Haitian) and she was heavily involved with choosing the scent and packaging for her brand (which is available at Walmart). And Union and Wade’s line of baby products targeting melanated skin — now sold in Target, their retail partner — is based on their own daughter Kaavia’s favorite products. All of A-Frame’s brands launch on their company websites first and with exclusive multi-year deals with their retail partners.
“I wouldn’t have launched a business if it weren’t for the consistent de-centering of the needs, wants, and desires of Black women and children specifically, as well as other melanated folks who have been marginalized in every sector of business and life,” Union recently shared with THR.
With Kinlo, Osaka is targeting inequality in the suncare industry, which has historically been focused on white skin despite 40 percent of the population having more melanin in their skin, thus requiring different formulas. According to Bloom, because mainstream skincare products generally aren’t built to protect and preserve deeper complexions, underserved communities aren’t using the products as much, making it “a public health issue that needs to be addressed,” he says, adding: “We need to make sure that the information is getting out to the community that’s being served. And Naomi is the perfect person to do that because of the platform she has, because of the social activism that she’s known for and because of the credibility and trust she has in her community.”
The experiment of A-Frame is a lesson in diversity and inclusion being a self-fulfilling prophecy. When that’s the nucleus of a company’s mission, every business that’s developed follows suit.
Says Bloom: “If we’re able to accomplish anything with A-Frame, we’d like to change the way that people do business and point out the fallacy of the impossibility of building a diverse company.”
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