'For Sisters Only' expo to turn spotlight on the world of black women @

March 12, 1993|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

What's wrong with this picture?

In a current mouthwash commercial, couples refuse to smooch until they've used the product. One couple is African-American. After using the mouthwash, the black man puckers his lips and tells a woman to plant one right on his "kisser."

"A brother wouldn't say that," says Eugene Morris, president of his own advertising company. "I'm over 50 years old and I have never heard a black man use the word 'kisser.' And, for the most part, blacks don't have to pucker up."

Mr. Morris -- an African-American -- chuckles when he says this but is serious when talking about targeting products to the black population.

"Advertising successfully to blacks means embracing values held by the black community," he says in a telephone conversation from the Chicago-based E. Morris Ltd. Co. Businesses, he says, must invite African-Americans to buy their products and services, and the advertising has to be seen by blacks as "relevant, realistic and positive."

This weekend, businesses and government agencies are trying to do just that at Baltimore's "For Sisters Only" expo.

It's a two-day event at Festival Hall for "women of color and their families," promoters say. "It's a little different from the usual expo," says Jean Ross, a V-103 disc jockey whose company is sponsoring the event.

"Most expos are basically focused on just getting you to spend your money," she says. "Although we will have about 100 businesses and vendors, there will also be seminars and workshops dealing with practical issues we feel women need to know."

Entertainment includes scheduled appearances by actors Danny Glover and Lonette McKee and singer Chuckie Booker. On the serious side, the seminars include "Sisters in Business," how to buy a house and relationships.

Julie Hindmarsh is one of several health professionals who will talk about how certain illnesses such as breast cancer affect women differently.

"Breast cancer occurs more often in white women than women of color," says Ms. Hindmarsh, a nurse with the Baltimore County Health Department. "But the mortality rate is higher for women of color. We are encouraging mammograms."

"For Sisters Only" is an event whose time has come, since an increasing number of businesses and individuals are focusing more attention on specific groups.

Nationally, African-Americans spend more than $200 billion a year in goods, according to the 1990 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

"With all of the money that we spend, we deserve a little attention," Ms. Ross says.

Ken Smikle, publisher of the nationally distributed Target Market News, says American companies spent $785 million last year to target blacks. It's a 4 percent increase from the previous year. "The rate of growth has steadily been going upward," Mr. Smikle says.

Cosmetics companies, like Revlon, have introduced makeup for

black women to take advantage of the roughly $600 million black cosmetics market that includes hair care and related styling products.

And large department stores have begun targeting the black community. J.C. Penney Co. has come out with a catalog, "Fashion Influences," which features Afrocentric fashions.

"Part of the reason why we introduced it is the magnitude of the market," explains Duncan Muir, a Penney's spokesman. "Another catalog] is coming out this spring," he says.

Spiegel plans to publish its Afrocentric catalog in the fall.

Recently, two new books "Work, Sister, Work," (Carol Publishing Co., 1993, $19.95) written by sisters Cydney and Leslie Shields, and "Jumping the Broom" (Henry Holt and Company, 1993, $27.50) by Harriette Cole were written expressly with black women in mind.

Cydney Shields says many of the tips in her book -- which is a black woman's primer to getting ahead in work -- are applicable to people of any color. "But black women are not apt to pick up a [career] book is not directed to them," she says.

Ms. Cole, a Baltimore native who now is a New York-based fashion editor for Essence magazine, says "Jumping the Broom," is for people who wish to add "Afrocentric touches" to traditional weddings.

"During the research, what became clear is that more African-American couples are looking for a way to add cultural touches to a traditional Westernized wedding," Ms. Cole says. Besides the usual tips, the book includes advice on choosing a ring with an African design.

But "a significant number" of businesses still choose not to target specific segments of the population, Mr. Morris says.

"I think they don't understand it. In some cases you got a lot of older white males making all of the decisions. But we are all basically the sum total of our experiences. We all relate to things in our own way."

The way a product or business is presented to people can make the difference in whether it is ignored, disdained or accepted, he says. "You might not respond to it at all or you might say, 'right on,' " says Mr. Morris.

FOR SISTERS ONLY'

When: Noon to 8 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday.

Where: Festival Hall, 1 W. Pratt St.

Admission: $5 for adults; children under 5 are free.

Call: (410) 653-2200.

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