The Groundbreakers: The executives behind key changes at influential companies
Esi Eggleston Bracey
President, USA; CEO, North America Personal Care – Unilever
Esi Eggleston Bracey’s career in beauty and personal care spans over 28 years. She became president of Unilever USA, Unilever’s largest market in both beauty and personal care, in July.
Since joining Unilever in 2018, Eggleston Bracey has championed the CROWN Act legislation to end hair discrimination in the work place. Advocacy efforts sponsored by Dove have led to the act being passed into law in 19 states, with 10 of those seeing laws passed this year. The act has also passed in the House twice at the national level, with current efforts focused on getting it passed in the Senate.
Which categories have been the strongest sources of growth for the North American beauty and personal care markets this year?
“We’ve unlocked more growth in the U.S. than we have since I joined Unilever. So it’s been great and unprecedented. And we’ve become a bigger part of Unilever because of it: Nineteen percent of Unilever’s [business] comes from the U.S., which I’m really proud of. And we’ve unlocked that growth in our personal care categories. Our Shea Moisture portfolio just continues to grow, and Dove is the company’s biggest brand, [valued at] 5 billion euros.”
What’s driven Dove’s growth this year?
“Dove is magic to me, because it is a beautiful example of what it looks like when you meet people’s needs deeply. That’s been through many of the body wash and beauty bar soap products and innovations we’ve launched; you’ve probably seen the Body Love launch, which has been impactful. But we’ve also done that through deodorants, where we’ve offered a new level of care, both in antiperspirant protection and care for your skin. And then we have our Dove Zero aluminum-free collection that just continues to grow.
With Dove, we recognize that it’s more than just products. We continue to champion the CROWN Act. And we’ve recently launched The Real Cost of Beauty [campaign], centered on [challenging] the narrow and Eurocentric standards of beauty [driving] body discrimination and appearance discrimination. We continue to make an impact there. And then we continue to offer biodegradable products that make an impact and minimize our footprint on the planet.”
What are your goals around the CROWN Act?
“We’re not going to stop until race-based hair discrimination is eradicated nationwide. To do that [requires] a combination of federal legislation and state-based and municipal-based legislation. Even when there’s federal legislation, you want state coverage. There are 20 million Americans that now have protection from hair discrimination. There are still many Americans who don’t.
The other area of focus is continuing to drive awareness, because most people, when you talk to them and you ask them, ‘Is race-based hair discrimination OK?’ They say, ‘Absolutely not. That doesn’t exist, does it?’ The breakthrough is in educating and sharing with people that it exists.”
Unilever has been active this year in the wellness supplements space, acquiring a majority stake in Nutrafol and funding Perelel through Unilever Ventures. What kind of growth potential does Unilever see in supplements?
“We really see wellness as a lifestyle. We’ve seen a decisive movement toward Americans and people in the world wanting to live well. It is a big bet for us. And we think this is a sustained movement toward well-being that we can address with our core brands and new brands in our portfolio.”
In beauty and personal care, what are Unilever’s main areas of focus for R&D?
“We want to make sure we’re delighting and delivering superiority against the full totality of people’s needs and, in particular, needs that are unmet and underserved. We are very committed to what we call ‘overserving the underserved,’ and those are people who are historically underrepresented. One of our focus areas has been creating the Polycultural Consumer Center of Excellence at our U.S. R&D hub, Trumbull. It’s about delivering a more diverse, inclusive product experience for underrepresented people. Those are often people of color, and people with melanin skin and textured hair. The investment in that has helped us create breakthrough innovation in those spaces. Shea Moisture has been able to do [a lot] by understanding hair texture, [and] we recently launched Mele, which is a skin-care brand for melanin skin. You’ll see more from us in that space.”
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