A Natural Progression

Realizing its niche, an ethnic haircare company curls its focus to include others

Mahisha Dellinger is on a mission to prove natural is normal. As president and founder of CURLS L.L.C., an Elk Grove, California-based haircare company, Dellinger says she found her niche providing products that promote the natural texture of curly tresses. Offering cleansers, moisturizers, conditioners, and styling products made with certified organic ingredients for women, children, and babies, the company grossed revenues of $3 million last year and its list of clients continues to grow with celebrities such as R&B singer Ashanti. But Dellinger admits there were some kinks along the way.

Competing with the well-established ethnic haircare elite was tough for the Sacramento native. “Starting off as an unknown brand we received a lot of ‘no thanks’ from salons that we wanted to partner with,” says the 36-year-old. But, the newcomer brought with her new perspectives on caring for naturally curly hair as well as a modern approach. She started a grassroots campaign online by posting news of her upcoming line to message boards, chat rooms, and other online communities where frustrated women from all over the world logged on to share their haircare woes. “We started accepting orders before the company even launched,” says Dellinger, who says CURLS was born in 2003 out of sheer necessity. At the time, Dellinger, who is black with Creole roots, says the haircare products she came across were either for straightening hair or they contained synthetic oils that weighed it down. Eventually the wife and mother of three began experimenting with homemade “concoctions.”

The former Intel marketing manager invested $50,000 of her own money, the bulk of which went toward hiring a cosmetic chemist who helped her create the products made from natural and organic ingredients such as green tea extract, soy protein, and pomegranate seed oil. “Natural and organic ingredients in hair products means your hair won’t just look good, but will keep healthy in the long term,” says Dellinger. Initially, the products were sold via e-commerce and solely targeted ethnic women. And although she was told to “expect to be in the red” during her first two years in business, CURLS saw gross revenues of $86,000 in its first year.

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