Textured hair has been finally getting the recognition it deserves in recent years. From a $150 million acquisition of Curlsmith to 65% of the global consumer population having textured hair, plus women with textured hair spending on average 78% more on products than their straight-haired counterparts, the market growth opportunities are clear as day. But rewind two decades, and matters looked very different.
A former marketing manager at Intel, Mahisha Dellinger founded Curls in 2002 in a quest to create dependable natural products for the textured hair market using certified organic and fair trade–supplied ingredients. A multitasking beauty mogul, Dellinger also mentored the next generation of businesswomen on her OWN show, Mind Your Business with Mahisha, launched in 2018. The company received a minority investment from marketer and manufacturer Beauty By Imagination last year, while also launching the Black Women Making Millions Academy: Mastering the Business, the Money & the Mindset initiative, a free training and resource program for Black female entrepreneurs.
BeautyMatter caught up with Dellinger amidst Curls’ landmark anniversary to reflect on two decades of business innovation, her keys to success, and her plans for the company’s next chapter.
Congratulations on 20 years of Curls! What has been the biggest revelation since the founding of your brand?
Hands down, my biggest revelation since founding Curls was the importance of hiring people smarter than me. Sounds simple, but this simple notion can make a world of difference in the success of one’s business.
How have you seen the textured haircare sector evolve since then? What are your thoughts on the increasing number of women embracing their natural hair texture as opposed to using weaves, wigs, or relaxing treatments?
The textured category has evolved into a plethora of amazing founder-based brands that authentically and intrinsically understand the needs of the textured woman. The natural movement is just that: a movement and not a trend. However, with that said, Mintel reported that in 2019, 70% percent of Black women have worn a weave or wig in the past six months. By 2024 that number is expected to grow. There is room for both.
What was the biggest challenge in setting up the company?
Getting funding to launch my business, and a lack of access to the information and resources needed to be a successful entrepreneur, was a major challenge when I started. Despite having exceptional personal credit, I could not get a business loan. I had to use my own funds and started smaller than I’d hoped. Hands down, I know without a doubt that my grit, determination, and perseverance kept me moving forward. I have a pretty strong will to get it down. My motto was “Not if, but when!”
Where is there still room for improvement in this haircare category and why do you think it was overlooked for such a long time?
The one area that the natural haircare category can grow and improve in is hair color and hair color care. We have been so focused on deep conditioning and moisturizing our curls that we have neglected those two aspects.
What inspired you to set up the Black Women Making Millions Academy and what has the reception been like?
Did you know that African American, female-owned businesses are on the rise, up 300%...but only 4% make it to the million-dollar mark? We must bridge that gap! The last 12 months I’ve dedicated myself to taking eight businesses to the next level. At the conclusion of the taping of my show on OWN, I realized that I needed to turn this into an opportunity for all to learn. And just like that, Black Women Making Millions Academy was born.
What would be your words of advice to other entrepreneurs looking to set up a haircare company?
Create a path to success…this must include a robust marketing plan and business plan. I always say, failing to plan is planning to fail. Don’t go it alone. Get a mentor ASAP—you’ll be surprised how much easier decision making is when you have a soundboard to bounce ideas off and an experienced guide.
What are the biggest hurdles in the current industry climate for keeping a company thriving amidst so much competition?
First, the lack of innovation. Secondly, a lack of authentic connection to the consumer. Without those two, you will not thrive in a competitive market.
What are your plans for the future, both for Curls and the academy?
Curls is expanding into tools, accessories, wig, weave, and extensions care, and much more. We are expanding in other beauty categories to service the entire woman. Black Women Making Millions Academy is on a mission to help 25,000 businesses by this time next year with our investment of $450 million in resources through our partnership with Beauty by Imagination.
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