June 15, 2010
Mix and Match
As biracial women, Wendi Levy and Kim Etheredge couldn’t find haircare products for their curly hair texture. “[At the time] there really was not a product on the market for our specific hair type–combination hair,â€ says Etheredge.
Tired of mixing and matching products, the two friends in 2004 launched MIXED CHICKS, a Canoga Park, California, company that serves up haircare products for multicultural women and men. And with the number of bi- and multiracial people in the United States at 6.5 million and growing, MIXED CHICKS is ready to serve them and others. Their products are currently sold in nearly 1,000 beauty supply stores and salons in the U.S. and abroad, and the company grossed $3.5 million in revenues in 2009. With an all-natural children’s line coming out at the end of the summer, MIXED CHICKS stands poised to double that amount in 2010.
But the road was rough initially. When Levy, 41, and Etheredge, 39, started the company, both still worked full time as a teacher and public relations executive, respectively. Levy worked with Etheredge’s sister, who introduced the two. Both biracial (Etheredge’s mother is Irish and her father is black American; Levy’s mother is black American and her father is Jewish), the two became friends, and eventually the business venture was born. Their day jobs funded the business, giving them a budget of about $10,000 to spend on product ingredients, laboratory time, and marketing materials. But when it was time to purchase product packaging, their funds came up short.
“We had a specific bottle that we liked,â€ says Etheredge. “Most bottles are usually round or oval. We liked this square bottle. It just wasn’t something that you saw on the shelves every day.â€ However, that uniqueness made the bottles more difficult to find. There were manufacturers that had extra round bottles to sell in small denominations, but when it came to the less common square bottle, “most companies didn’t want to deal with you unless you were going to order 50,000 units,â€ Levy recalls. With no real budget (“We were winging it,â€ says Etheredge), they could afford only about 1,500 bottles for their initial run. As a result, manufacturer after manufacturer turned down their request.
Frustrated and faced with the prospect of packaging their products in a way that didn’t convey the image they wanted, the duo came up with a last-ditch plea: Let the manufacturer fill MIXED CHICKS bottles when it fulfilled other large orders. Although forcing MIXED CHICKS to package products on somebody else’s schedule, the move allowed the duo to create a more visually appealing product on their limited budget. Eventually, a manufacturer said yes,Â and MIXED CHICKS got its upgraded packaging without the upgraded price.
As the company grew, Levy and Etheredge took it on full time and were clear about their target audience. “Some people gave us negative feedback, thinking we were trying to separate ourselves,â€ says Levy. But they didn’t see it that way. As Etheredge asserts, “We are providing unity.â€
Word about the products spread among the multicultural community. The company’s turning point came when a number of biracial celebrities, such as actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Halle Berry, started mentioning the products in media interviews, unsolicited. Levy says the recognition helped significantly. Revenues doubled from 2008 to 2009–the year Berry announced her affinity for MIXED CHICKS products. “When they gave a shout out in different magazines, [the business] stopped inching along.â€
The company, now with three full-time employees, invested more than $10,000 in 2008 to have a custom mold created, which put production control in MIXED CHICKS’ hands. Unlike before, Levy says, “We don’t have to wait for somebody else’s timetable.â€