With the explosion of the natural hair movement, sisters with kinks, coils and curls are enthusiastically embracing their roots. Finally, brands started by women of color are getting a piece of the Black hair care pie. These nurses, doctors, lawyers, businesswomen and mothers established multimillion-dollar enterprises either by bootstrapping their way to the top or by attracting investors. Keep reading to learn about money and power from 17 women who’ve launched beauty brands we know and love.
Who: Camille Verovic, M.D.
Founder & Co-Owner: GIRL+HAIR
New York City
Throughout her career, Verovic wore wigs, weaves and braids to keep her coarse 4C coils protected. “I struggled to maintain my own hair under the styles, resulting in all kinds of hair and scalp issues,” says Verovic, who is both a physician and a dermatology student. Through her company, Verovic teaches people how to “live their best anagen”—referring to the active phase of hair growth, which accounts for 80 percent of the hair on your head.
Being a Black doctor who is training to be a derm adds tremendous credibility to her company and helps her stand out from the pack. “Not only am I aware of the many hair and scalp issues that Black women have, I can also translate them into innovative products that soften the shaft while maintaining the style,” says Verovic, who recalls Bevy Smith advising her to follow her instincts. “Often, we doubt our idea, which is paralyzing! You can’t win if you don’t try.”
Often, we doubt our idea, which is paralyzing! You can’t win if you don’t try.
Who: Muhga Eltigani
Founder & CEO: NaturAll Club
After committing to a six-month journey of using only natural ingredients to make hair products, Muhga Eltigani launched her business in 2016. “The widespread use of toxic ingredients in beauty products for Black women never ceases to amaze me,” says Eltigani, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. “The beauty industry needs to wake up and start formulating products with the best interests of the clients in mind.”
Her smartest money move was staying lean over the past two years. Before receiving the first $1 million investment from the New Voices Fund, her company had practiced strong habits of stretching every dollar to get the most value. Says Eltigani: “We grew while remaining scrappy and agile as a team.”
Who: Lisa Price
Founder: Carol’s Daughter
New York City
Carol’s Daughter was one of the first brands in the beauty space to be for and about “her.” “We celebrate beauty from a place of ‘We don’t want to fix you, we want to help you,’ ” Price has said of the natural hair care movement that she helped launch in her Brooklyn basement. “My first sales took place at a church flea market in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn in May 1993.”
With encouragement from her mom, Price built the business organically until she took on her first investor. To keep her company’s finances in check, she views money as energy. “I am in charge of its flow, and it can do good and bad things,” she explains. “The key is to allow it to move and to move it in such a way that it flows back to the source.”
Who: Monique Rodriguez
Founder & CEO: Mielle Organics
Mielle Organics is one of the fastest-growing natural hair care outfits in the U.S. Rodriguez and her husband, Melvin, have moved the 2014 start-up from their garage to the shelves of more than 100,000 major retailers across 87 countries. When asked how Mielle Organics became what it is today, Rodriguez shares the old adage about it not being what you know but who you know.
Networking with key businesspeople helped to scale the company, she says. They helped her to fill her first order, and the business took off from there. The trained nurse’s goal is to “push the beauty industry by being the change we need with creativity, relatability and challenging women to embrace who they are,” she says.
Who: Ayo Ogun
Founder & CEO: Soultanicals Company
Ogun, a mom of six, including three girls with different hair textures, wanted products that allowed her daughters a painless experience. “My toxin-free vegan line enables customers to address natural hair textures through high-quality hair care products formulated with natural ingredients,” says Ogun. “What started out as a small, handmade business from my kitchen quickly morphed into a seven-figure company.”
To grow her business, she has a three-step rule: (1) Reinvest the majority of profits; (2) invest in business coaching; and (3) outsource tasks that leave her free to strategize effectively for the long haul. What’s next? She’s currently negotiating with one of the biggest retailers in the world for expansion into its stores in 2020. “Don’t ever be discouraged by an overcrowded marketplace,” she advises. “Be different and better.”
Who: Shelley Davis
On a trip to her homeland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2000, Davis learned the value of herbs and plant-based ingredients. “After losing my cosmetics case and not being able to find my usual styling products at the town store, I turned to a local who cooked up some roots and mixed in some aloe to wash and style her hair,” recalls Davis.
The results were astonishing—her curly hair was stronger, shinier and more beautiful than ever before. While working at a major television network, she used her downtime to take courses in cosmetic chemistry. Armed with her newfound knowledge and a degree in marketing from Syracuse University, she created an organic curl care line for wash-and-go hair. Her best advice for other boss babes: “Don’t be afraid to delegate.”
Who: Taliah Waajid
Founder & CEO: Taliah Waajid Natural Hair & Body
Having both a creative and analytical mind allowed Waajid to seamlessly transition from hairstylist to product manufacturer. The licensed cosmetologist has been doing natural styles, including braids and locs, since her teens and was already creating her own concoctions at home to care for her coils. “After much research and meeting with several chemists and hair care product formulators, I finally met with one who understood that I did not want a product that would straighten curly/ kinky hair,” she says. “I wanted one that would enhance curls.” Now the company, which began by selling to individual customers, is expanding into salons and retailers. Waajid keeps an open mind about every business setting because, she says, “I am always looking to learn more.”
Who: Courtney Adeleye
Founder & CEO: The Mane Choice
Who says your career journey has to be fixed? Adeleye’s initial background was in science. It’s hard to believe that in just six years the former registered nurse turned a $500 investment into a business that generated $100 million by leveraging her science know-how to develop products infused with vitamins and nutrients.
After she shared her own natural hair videos on YouTube, fans begged her to bottle her recipe for deep conditioner. Reticent at first, Adeleye eventually began selling her now wildly popular products. For beauty bosses ready to make the next move, Adeleye says: “Just do it! Make the call, schedule the meeting, wear the bold lip. Bossing up is about doing what needs to be done every day.”
Don’t follow anyone else’s dream but your own
Who: Jamyla Bennu
Founder: Oyin Handmade
Like many highly texturized naturalistas, Bennu, a Spelman grad, was often in search of moisture-rich products to make her tresses shine. She decided to find her own solution. “While working as a freelance web designer and content creator in 2003, I created a website to share my hair and body treats with the online natural hair community,” she recalls.
What makes the self-described blerd a hair boss is her business model. “Pivoting away from mass distribution toward an independent retailer model over the past year allows my company to bring quality handmade products directly to consumers,” says Bennu. “We also self-manufacture, which is rare in the beauty industry, and that allows us to be nimble.” What advice does she have for other entrepreneurial sisters? “Run the race you want to win and don’t follow anyone else’s dream but your own.”
Who: Chris-Tia Donaldson
Founder & CEO: Thank God It’s Natural
As a professional woman of color, Donaldson wanted to embrace her natural hair without having to relax it, so she wore protective wigs for the first two years of her career as a lawyer. She later wrote a book, Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide for Caring for Natural Hair, which offered women the information and resources they needed to go natural.
Today, TGIN products are carried in more than 10,000 stores. Donaldson’s smartest money move: “Not taking on investors or quitting my day job at Oracle while I was building the company,” she says. “I worked my side hustle while slinging shampoo out of the trunk of my car, and I’m still 100 percent owner of the business.”
Who: Ellen Rucker Sellers & Ione Rucker Jamison
Founders & Co-Owners: Rucker Roots
Waxhaw, North Carolina
Sellers and Jamison are disrupting the hair care industry with products made from organic root vegetables. “We want women to love their natural hair and have the products available to care for it in the best fashion,” says Sellers. With her background in chiropractic medicine and Jamison’s experience as an educator, the two siblings merged their talents with a third sister to launch the brand and create a family legacy.
Having recently positioned their line in Target and Sally Beauty stores, they are on their way to widespread success. These rising stars carry compassion to each meeting. “It allows you to not only be a nurturing individual but also a successful philanthropist and businesswoman,” says Jamison.
We want women to love their natural hair
—ELLEN RUCKER SELLERS & IONE RUCKER JAMISON
Who: Jasmine Lawrence
Founder: EDEN BodyWorks
New York City
After experiencing a chemical burn that left her with bald spots at age 11, Lawrence researched remedies, to no avail. “I started my company after attending a Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship [NFTE] SmallBiz Camp a couple of years later because I wanted others to have affordable natural hair and body care products,” says Lawrence, now 28.
Her basement became her lab. “Bootstrapping my company with my allowance” was one of her first smart money moves says the engineer, who also serves as a technical program manager at Facebook. When asked what’s in her career tool kit, she says, “Empathy. It helps me create better products for customers and build strong relationships with strategic partners.”
Who: Janell Stephens
Founder & CEO: Camille Rose Naturals
The one thing that Stephens still carries to every business meeting is a notepad. “I need to be able to jot down ideas that come to me whenever,” says the founder of the line of hair, bath and body products that includes natural ingredients and is vegan-based. Stephens started the company in 2010, paying homage to her grandmother, the original “mixtress” and maker of natural, homemade elixirs.
As the company plans to grow beyond the beauty category, Stephens reminds other entrepreneurs of color that no one can tell our story better than we can. “We have been programmed to believe that only larger companies can be the voice of beauty,” she says. “Yet our brand has proved that we have control over where and with whom we spend our dollars.” That gives Black women real power, she adds, and it means our voices are being heard.
Who: Nancy Twine
Founder & CEO: Briogeo
New York City
Twine is the youngest AfricanAmerican woman to launch a product line at Sephora. Her company did $35 million in retail sales in 2018 and is on track to do $60 million this year. What’s more, Briogeo’s naturally derived products are free of sulfates, phthalates, parabens, DEA and artificial dyes. Twine’s start in the beauty biz evolved out of mixing products with her mom and grandmother.
While naysayers were telling her she would never be able to make her best-selling items without silicones, she did her own research and partnered with chemists, telling them what was needed to get the formulation just right. “Don’t just boss up because everyone else is doing it,” advises Twine. “Do some soul-searching to make sure your passion and your purpose are aligned.”
Who: Miko Branch
Cofounder & CEO: Miss Jessie’s
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Branch and her late sister, Titi, both professional hairstylists, started the company in 1997 after Miko noticed that bath time with her son made it impossible to keep her curly hair straightened. At the time a majority of products on the market were devoted to straight styling. Products supporting naturally curly hair styling and maintenance were very limited. “Recognizing this void, we created Miss Jessie’s—with no investors, partners or business loans,” says Branch.
Miss Jessie’s was one of the very first major hair care lines to hit Target stores. “You have to be grown to be the boss!” quips Branch about the award-winning company, which caters exclusively to a diverse spectrum of hair types. “Keep the negative out and positive energy in as you grow,” she adds. “Follow your gut.”