Black women entrepreneurs are launching a hair revolution

The writer is the author of ‘The Reset: Ideas to Change How We Work and Live’

My hair was my first form of self-expression, but while I was working at a company, the styles I could wear seemed more limited. So when I left in 2018, my hair became even more of a creative outlet and I never looked back.

For many black women, working from home has instilled freedom and flexibility in how they style their hair. Video meetings provided a shield against co-worker feedback and pressure to conform to white standards of “professionalism”.

However, buying black hair care can be fraught with negative experiences and until recently there has been little innovation in black hair extensions, despite the fact that the global market for wigs and extensions was valued at $2.4 billion in 2020. This problem is being solved by a new wave of black female entrepreneurs creating products to meet the needs of millions of underserved consumers.

In 2019, when the fashion influencer Freddie Harrel launched RadSwan, a direct-to-consumer (D2C) beauty brand that manufactures premium synthetic afro hair extensions and wigs, she has become one of the few black women to collect as much as £1.5m of female investors, including BBG Ventures and Women Founders Fund.

A year later, Varaidzo Tendai Moyo, a graduate of the London School of Economics and a former management consultant at Bain, launched Ruka Hair. Moyo wanted a solution to his lingering frustration trying to find curly hair extensions. she secured $2.24 million in early-stage venture capital funding to build the hair equivalent of Rihanna’s Fenty beauty brand.

These women revolutionized the hair extension market – but why did it take the VC world so long to embrace this opportunity? Historically, little capital has flowed to black female founders, especially in the hair and beauty industries. It is well documented that the venture capital funding gap continues to disadvantage women entrepreneurs.

According to Nicole Crentsil, founder of Black Girl Fest and angel funder for Ada Ventures who invested in Ruka Hair, some of the reasons for the lack of investment are misconceptions about the market and a lack of information about who women are. blacks as a group of consumers.

“It’s the lack of understanding of market size, opportunities and market scalability,” says Crentsil.

She adds that some of the questions many black founders face from VCs when it comes to the hair industry include, “Are you going to see repeat purchases? Do black women buy hair as many times as you say?

“When you talk to black investors who understand that we ‘get it’, it’s a lot easier for black founders to increase their investments and grow their businesses,” Crentsil says.

Crentsil was convinced by Ruka Hair’s idea as soon as Moyo told him about the product: “Hair extensions that actually match your hair type. I thought why weren’t there products created that helped me as a consumer make better decisions about my buying habits? »

Rebundle, a St Louis-based D2C hair startup, announced it has raised $1.4 million to manufacture banana fiber extensions. It’s a unique solution that tackles two problems: itchy scalp and plastic waste. It’s exciting to see this innovation and – as a conscious consumer who likes to experiment with different hairstyles – it makes a lot of business sense.

What’s even more encouraging is that these beauty brands don’t just focus on the product, but aim to revamp and improve the shopping experience. Black women spend six times more than their white counterparts on beauty, but that’s not reflected in what’s available to buy.

These D2C brands are a game-changer for black women who are either stuck with a bad high street experience or settle for extensions from Amazon that don’t match natural textures or fit poorly.

Injecting a curated, personalized, and community-driven approach to the shopping experience is overdue. But this welcome change also means that black women can finally choose from a range of durable and affordable hair extension brands.

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