Natural Hair is Big Business For Black Entrepreneurs

A lucrative industry for a new generation of hair care product suppliers

While Dellinger started her business focusing on the natural haircare market, sisters Titi and Miko Branch used $8,000 to open a two-chair salon in Brooklyn, New York, in 1997. By 2000, they, too, had noticed a change in their customers. “Women were tired of getting relaxers that were damaging to their hair,” Titi, 43, says.

“We had hands-on experience every day with women who were transitioning to natural haircare,” says Miko, 42. Frustrated by the lack of products for their customers and themselves, “we said we need to create our own product line,” Titi says. They launched the Miss Jessie’s line in 2004, named after their paternal grandmother, and started selling products in the salon and online. The Branch sisters capitalized on the Internet’s reach by showing before and after photos on their website, letting women see what Miss Jessie’s products could do for them. “We showed people the possibilities—what you could look like if you were to wear your hair natural,” says Miko. The company has enjoyed steady growth; revenues jumped 73% between 2009 and 2010. Today, their products are sold in retail chains such as Target and CVS, as well as salons.

Nikki Walton, founder of CurlyNikki.com

For those entering the natural haircare market, the Internet has probably been the most critical component in introducing products to consumers and driving sales. Blogs and websites started springing up, along with online forums and YouTube tutorials, where women would share best haircare practices and product reviews, says Nikki Walton, founder of CurlyNikki.com and author of Better Than Good Hair: The Curly Girl Guide to Healthy, Gorgeous Natural Hair! (Amistad; $14.99).

Bloggers such as Walton helped women identify the entrepreneurs who were selling natural haircare products. The forums “were actually driving the market space because brands were able to see real-time feedback,” Walton says. “We would say, ‘We don’t like this part of your product,’ and the brands that were really smart would reformulate their products.”

One of the greatest areas of growth in the haircare market has been that of “transitioning” products, those designed for women who are growing their hair out of their relaxed styles gradually rather than opting for “the big chop,” the term for cutting off all the chemically straightened hair at once. “When I first started, there wasn’t such a thing as transitioning,” says Lisa Price, 49, who founded Carol’s Daughter in 1993 and has grown it to a $50 million company whose products are sold in Macy’s and Sephora. “Somebody walked into a salon and they went from long hair to short hair.” Today, businesses such as Carol’s Daughter are creating transitioning products that women can use no matter where they are on the natural hair spectrum.

Price has capitalized on the natural haircare market by paying attention to customer e-mails, Facebook posts, and black haircare blogs to get to know her customers and their changing needs. The company also created the website TransitioningMovement.com to provide women with resources to help them move from relaxed to natural hair. Years ago, “a woman who decided to go natural was more or less a rebel,” recalls Price. “She needed to be marketed to in a different way because she wasn’t a mainstream woman. Now when people transition, it’s a much more mainstream conversation.”

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