By Chris Olsen
In the early 2000s, Audra Robinson worked in the marketing department for a national retailer. Often the only woman of color at the table, Audra quickly realized what the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach was about. It happened whenever the voices of Black females were missing from the conversation. When it came to fashion and hair care, women and girls of color were rarely considered or represented. The products available for Black hair and beauty were provided a tiny fraction of retail shelf space.
While Audra worked to elevate conversations about the importance of multicultural marketing within the organization, she also began dreaming about developing a line of hair and skin care products for Black girls. She wanted them to see themselves in the brands they use every day—to know they matter. In her spare time, Audra created a product brief. She continued plugging away in corporate America. She moved into a new role, this time as a marketing consultant for a big beauty brand. She helped coordinate focus groups for new products and in particular for a product formulated for curly hair. Audra soaked up every bit of information. She realized that developing an all-natural hair care line could be cost-prohibitive for a bootstrapping startup. So she decided she’d focus her own venture on skin care.
In 2013, five years after creating her first product brief, and while still working in a full-time marketing job, Audra was ready to introduce Rocky Robinson to the world. The line of personal care products—shower gel, lotion and lip balm—was created just for Black girls. But Audra’s vision for the brand extends beyond products. She’s on a mission to empower girls of color to change the future and command a seat the table. She created Rocky as a dynamic illustrated character that delivers customized tools, games and content that celebrate the brilliance, beauty and magic of Black and brown girls.
Audra rolled out the red carpet and hosted a Rocky Robinson launch party. Rocky appeared on social media for the first time. But just as Audra thought she was ready to take the leap into full-time entrepreneurship, the corporate world came calling again. She was recruited for a marketing position at a pharmaceutical company. A lifelong learner, Audra saw it as an opportunity to glean more insight about building successful partnerships between retailers and vendors. So she did just that. And she received national recognition for her work. Rocky Robinson remained her side hustle.
Then, six years later, when the division she worked for was sold, Audra decided that instead of using her superpowers to help make other brands successful, she’d focus on her own business. She invested in inventory and marketing. She entered and won a startup bootcamp and pitch competition. She went on to join a startup accelerator for entrepreneurs of color. Audra was finally ready to pursue her purpose and fully actualize her vision for Rocky Robinson.
Today, Rocky Robinson is not just a budding brand, it’s a growing movement dedicated to demonstrating the importance of representation. Research shows that when young people see only negative depictions of adults and kids they relate to, or when they don’t see themselves reflected in their favorite media and brands at all, they begin to feel unimportant or invisible. It influences what they think of themselves and what they think they’re capable of well into their adult years. Audra believes that every person of color deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential. “When you see yourself in the products and media you use, it’s empowering,” Audra says. “Rocky is opening doors so Black girls can see that the world is full of possibilities for them.”
Photo: Rocky Robinson
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.