Innovator Tracey Pickett built a thriving company by creating products to protect Black women’s hair from the elements.
Intimate knowledge of the trials Black women endure to protect their hair from the elements led serial entrepreneur and former corporate attorney Tracey Pickett to develop a coveted, game-changing product several years ago.
Today, Pickett is the CEO and inventor of Hairbrella — “The Rain Hat Reinvented.” She designed it to help safeguard hairdos from being ravaged by rain, humidity, snow, and other inclement conditions. Pickett refers to her brainstorm as “the world’s first satin-lined rain hat guaranteed to keep your hair dry, and style protected no matter the forecast.”
The rain hat, complete with a visor to also shield the faces of consumers, has been in demand, Pickett maintains, since “worldwide women spend over $80 billion and countless hours a year on their hair but lack the proper protection to keep it looking great.”
When the pandemic struck, Hairbrella created an extended visor shield after the entrepreneur received requests from women seeking extra protection. The move helped sales grow 700% that year, Pickett says, citing that her customer-obsessed firm quickly responds to identify and implement solutions to address consumers’ concerns. In fact, she says about 23% of her customers work in the healthcare industry, including nurses and dental hygienists, and a sizable number can be counted among mail carriers in the
Hairbrella currently offers nine distinct products, including rain hats, sleep caps and scrub caps for women, men and children.
After launching the Atlanta-based Hairbrella in 2016, Pickett says her firm produces seven-figure annual revenues. And the company’s sales continue to surge, fueled by the partnership it formed in 2017 with Amazon. She says this year, Hairbrella was launched in Amazon stores in Canada and the United Kingdom and expects to expand into Japan soon.
“Amazon really makes it easy for us to take what we’ve established here and then offer those same products to new networks. They give us education to market effectively,” she says.
“And because of that, we will be able to expand globally without truly having a lot of the headache that should usually come with that.”
Developing a thriving business by solving hairy challenges
Based on firsthand experience, the innovative entrepreneur knows about how inclement weather can wreak havoc on Black women’s hairstyles and professional appearance at critical moments. Pickett was inspired to create the product after a mishap as a University of Georgia Law School student racing to an important on-campus interview during a rainstorm.
“I didn’t have an umbrella. I just had a plastic bag, and I ran across campus. I remember feeling defeated when I got there because I looked a mess, and I really wanted to do well in this interview,” she recalls.
“So, I knew this was a problem that a lot of women deal with. And I felt like I wouldn’t step in the shower without a shower cap; why am I walking outside without something to fully insulate my hair from the rain.
In that moment, I said, ‘This is a problem I feel like I can solve.’”
That episode, along with encouragement from Sara Blakely, founder of the shapewear company Spanx, inspired Pickett to launch Hairbrella.
“I remember years ago watching her story on Oprah, how she went from just an idea, had $5,000 in savings, and grew that to a billion-dollar company.”
Pickett remembers “asking God for a sign” that she could get on a similar entrepreneurial path. It came when Blakely sat next to her at a hibachi restaurant in Atlanta. Pickett then shared her idea with her business idol.
“Sara looked at me and said, ‘I hear people pitch their ideas all the time. I feel really good about this one. You should definitely go for it.’ I knew that this was truly a journey that I was intended to take. She has continued to be a North Star for me,” Pickett says of the impromptu meeting.
Pickett initiated the development of Hairbrella after working in corporate and intellectual property law. She also was the founder and CEO of Eboticon, an emoji app.
“I knew this (Hairbrella) was the idea that I was intended to grow a team around and one that I wanted to give my full attention to.”
Pickett says one of her biggest startup obstacles was not knowing what it took to grow a business. So, she engaged in online research, identifying contractors on the internet and discovering how to design prototypes.
To finance the development of the venture, Pickett says she initially invested $75,000 of her own money and then secured additional funding from angel investors. To further propel growth, Collab Capital, a venture
fund started by financiers Jewel Solomon Burke, Barry Givens, and Justin Dawkins to provide access to capital for Black founders, invested $500,000 in 2020 to help expand the product line. Since Hairbrella’s inception, Pickett has raised more than $1 million in venture financing.
Leveraging relationships to sustain growth
Now, Hairbrella, the leader in the rain hat category on Amazon.com, aims to double down on its relationship with the online retailer. Pickett maintains a “big plus” of its association is gaining entrée to millions of customers.
“Amazon is very great about making sure that what they are offering on their platform is quality,” she says.
Moreover, Hairbrella’s participation in Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator (BBA), a $150 million commitment from Amazon that is dedicated to help build sustainable diversity and provide growth opportunities for Black-owned businesses, has paid off.
“The program has been great for us as we looked to expand our product offerings, refine our marketing strategy, and expand into international markets,” Pickett says.
So how does the company plan to leverage other business relationships to sustain growth? Pickett says the company’s next phase involves building up its product line through its first major, brick-and-mortar retail partnership with footwear and accessories firm Steve Madden to launch a capsule collection of rain hats next month. And the firm plans to begin selling a line of swim caps, ponchos, and sun hats this year and enter the B2B space by providing innovative hair coverings for the healthcare, food service, airline and delivery service industries.