For Nicole Rose, hair is heritage. The founder of Ella Dean, a natural haircare brand for textured tresses, was instilled with the ethos of hair as a means of individual and communal empowerment from an early age. Her great-grandparents founded Dean’s Beauty Salon & Barbershop in 1954, a family-owned Portland institution, while her mother is the author of Hair Dance!, an illustrated children’s book honoring the beauty of African-American hairstyles. Rose launched her haircare range in tribute to both her great-grandmother Mary “Rose” Dean, and her grandmother Gloria “Ella” Dean, who extended the business’ reach beyond the salon by teaching at a cosmetology school and becoming an often-cited expert in the haircare community. “I really look up to my grandmother for everything. I watched her as a young kid and seeing how she took the shop to a different level in the Black community, I am really grateful for that,” Rose comments.
Prior to her setting up Ella Dean, the marketing graduate had launched her own bath-bomb business, Rose Colored Essentials, back in 2019, but soon realized that haircare was her true calling. Turning the pandemic into a positive, the Rose completely self-funded her enterprise and refined her brand concept under the mentorship of Fluide co-founder Laura Kraber. “The pandemic was horrible, but it was also a blessing in disguise because it gave me a lot of time to come up with a plan for natural haircare,” she comments. “This brand is the perfect opportunity for me to showcase my skills and show people what I am passionate about, there’s so much history behind it.”
The brand has deeply personal roots for Rose, who has worn her hair natural since 2010. Altering textured hair has been a historical, social, and political matter throughout history, and witness increasing focus on this issue in recent years. A study found that one-third of Black women faced discrimination for wearing their hair in its natural state, while a Perception Institute report states that 1 in 5 feel social pressure to straighten their hair for professional environments, and 1 in 4 has trouble finding products that suit their hair needs. Naturalistas such as Rose are encouraging people to embrace their original texture. After years of chemical relaxers, a frustration at the lack of brands that catered to her hair type, and an increasing awareness around product ingredients, she saw a gap in the market for men and women like her who were simply searching for natural, and accessible, products.
Enter the Ella Dean range of hair oils, which targets concerns ranging from hair loss (Look, But Don’t Touch), scalp inflammation (No Time for Flakes), breakage (Honor Thy Crown), and eczema (So Long, Itch!). Instead of using traditional ingredients like coconut oil (which has been shown to actually dry out hair over time), the formulations harness the power of fruit and vegetable carrier oils like watermelon, pomegranate, and pumpkin seed. “I wanted to do something different, a haircare brand with products that are made with organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. My products aren’t gender-specific, anyone can use it,” she explains. The benefits of each formula elevate hair oils from finishing product to an essential building block of hair health. Rose also plans to expand the offerings to creams and conditioners.
Beyond the product itself, she sees Ella Dean as an opportunity to support consumers in wearing their natural hair with pride. “My great-grandmother would say, let’s get beautified. We want people to feel beautiful and empowered when they use Ella Dean. Your hair is who you are, it’s your identity,” she exclaims. “When I was growing up, natural hair wasn’t represented the way it is now. Just like our skin color comes in different shades, we have different hair textures. I believe it is important to teach young children that your hair is powerful, your true self, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Education and access further underlie the brand’s ethos, with plans for local stockist expansion and community workshops throughout the Pacific Northwest. “I want Ella Dean to be accessible to the Black community and people with textured hair. The goal is to get the brand into a local beauty supply store so people don’t have to go to mass-market retailers or online and wait days for shipping,” she explains. “As for workshops, I want them to be a space for people to talk about their hair, to teach them about different textures and ingredients, to create a community.” 60+ years after the founding of Dean’s Beauty Salon & Barbershop, Rose is not merely continuing her family legacy, but redefining it for future generations.