Orion Brown, Creator of BlackTravelBox®, Is Changing Self-Care for Travelers of Color

UPDATED: March 6, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 6, 2024
Orion Brown founder of the BlackTravelBox standing in front of a squid mural

Orion Brown was on a trip to Japan, looking at photos of herself in front of stunning backdrops when she realized something was off—and it wasn’t the scenery. It was her hair. She had miscalculated the extent of the humidity, and her tiny travel bottle of conditioner wasn’t cutting it when it came to taming her tresses.

This experience, and many others throughout her life’s travels, made her wonder why finding appropriate beauty and self-care products when traveling as a Black woman was so difficult. 

Each trip she took, she had to meticulously plan for the right products in the right amounts because, chances were, she wouldn’t be able to find products that worked for her skin and hair texture in hotels or shops.

“I’m not an alien,” Brown says. “There’s no reason that… I shouldn’t be able to go to a Ritz-Carlton and still not be able to use the products.”

With a corporate background and an MBA, Denver-based Orion Brown wanted to dream up a solution to this problem. She had led brand and marketing at the likes of Kraft, Hasbro and Oracle—and her eclectic experience in internal consulting, project management, process improvement and consumer packaged goods helped give her the tools to strike out on her own as an entrepreneur. She wanted to develop a travel-specific beauty and personal care brand that women of color could rely on when visiting different places—and she did that in 2017 with the idea for BlackTravelBox®, TSA-compliant luxury hair and skin care products, including shampoo, conditioner, body balm, lip balm and hair balm, for travelers of color.

Travel can be so, so powerful,” she says. “It’s my self-care outlet…. It gives that feeling of connectedness and really helps me to see that the world is a lot bigger than what’s in front of my nose. And it provides a lot of gratitude… that I get to be on a planet that is beautiful; I get to interact with humans I’ve never met before…. I can just be me.”

Orion Brown launches BlackTravelBox

After securing funding and working to build out the brand’s infrastructure, Brown originally planned to launch BlackTravelBox in April 2020. Of course, the pandemic had different plans, which quickly became apparent in March of that year. She saw two choices in front of her: pivot away from the brand’s travel niche and make part of the concept relevant to consumers, or lean into her purpose and find ways to make the travel-focused product relevant despite the circumstances.

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“I went for the latter because I really do believe that, as a brand and business, it has legs,” she says. “And being the consumer and being a part of that group, I know it needs to exist. So, I made the decision to lean into that we’re about travel… I wasn’t about to tell people to go on vacation; I’m not going to contribute to an already-disproportionate set of negative outcomes for the community. But I did say, ‘This is what we are.’ So, it became all about sharing content and about the missing of travel and connecting with community.”

In true entrepreneur fashion, Brown indeed pivoted for her launch but stayed true to herself and, in doing so, built community. BlackTravelBox gained 10,000 Instagram followers during a time when people were connecting online and commiserating about the fact that they missed seeing the world. She went live on the app every Wednesday for two years straight, interviewing up to 90 people about their travel experiences and beauty. She also created a staycation collection of candles to fuel nostalgia. Her goal was to double down on her brand positioning and drive localized relevance that would create demand when people could travel again. And when people of color began to book trips again, that’s exactly what happened.

Brand inclusivity in action

Brown’s company is revolutionary because it is the first of its kind for Black travelers. There are beauty and self-care products on shelves for people of color, but none that were specifically formulated to make travel easier for a population that often gets overlooked in this space. With pioneering a concept comes its own set of challenges.

Everything has to be inclusive,” she says. “We have to think about the different permutations of hair and skin and make sure everyone can use everything…. There is not a single brand out there that is solely for out-of-home use and convenience. When I don’t have access to the accoutrement of my bathroom, how do I make this product work?”

Brown decided she would simplify BlackTravelBox’s shampoo and conditioner into solid bars, which didn’t exist much in the American marketplace. All of the brand’s products are also eco-friendly, cruelty-free and made with clean ingredients, unlike hotel lotions that often have fillers.

“Our body balm replaces the dusty lotion that comes in hotels,” she says. “When they make [hotel lotion], they put different things [in it to] make it feel creamier than it is…. Those are essentially powders, so when the liquid evaporates and you put that on skin that has any kind of melanin in it, you end up with Casper the Friendly Ghost. When my skin is dry, it looks dusty, and when my skin is moisturized, it looks dusty…. 

“There’s tons of great feedback on the products themselves, but I think, conceptually, everybody wants to be seen,” she says. “And you’ve got a consumer who spends nine times more than any other ethnicity on beauty and personal care, and they ’re still being ignored. So when they’re seen, that’s a bond you can’t break.”

Revolutionizing the future of travel for people of color

Right now, BlackTravelBox is sold online and at Macy’s and shipped within the U.S. Eventually, Brown hopes to expand distribution to Europe. She’s currently focused on getting the products into hotels, which will allow travelers to sample them and will build exposure for the company. She has an upcoming collaboration with a startup and is in talks with Hyatt about partnering with them, too. Her products are available at Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, and she’s looking to expand to more spa retail experiences.

“I can reach 200,000 new people a year just on hotels,” she says. “At the end of the day, I want us to be the No. 1 out-of-home personal care brand and beyond.”

BlackTravelBox is already helping thousands of travelers of color feel seen and cared for, and Brown is just getting started.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of SUCCESS Magazine. Photo courtesy of Orion Brown/The BlackTravelBox®