As a beauty enthusiast, I am always interested in hearing how successful people in the beauty industry “made it.” Well, Amber Magazine held a networking/panel event featuring the two co-founders of Miss Jessie’s the other day and I was blessed that my friend Kimberlee, alerted me about the event. When I first went natural in the Summer of 2008, I was obsessed with all things natural hair. I was on forums, read every natural hair blog imaginable, and stalked hair gurus on youtube. My friend who was natural all her life twisted my hair (my first ever natural twist out) with Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme, and I was hooked ever since. I never knew my natural hair could feel so soft and the smell divine at the same time.
Thus, Miss Jessie’s was the first brand on my radar as a natural and I learned what my hair could and could not do by trying the brand’s different products. I will always be a fan and baby buttercreme will always be on my shelf.
Fast forward to July 12th 2012, and I feel as if I have come full circle. I got the amazing opportunity to hear first hand their experience of starting their line. Because I knew they were sharing gems of knowledge, I took notes (Thank God for my iphone). Check out my brief synopsis below (I refer to the sisters collectively as Miss Jessies and all questions were asked by the moderator, veteran beauty blogger, Shake Your Beauty):
On the decision to make a product and not a chain of salons ?
-The sisters felt they could reach more people with a product.
– They decided to come out with a product line addressing curly hair at a time when there were no other products addressing curly hair.
On the Sisters being models for the company:
-It was important for their consumers to see who was behind the brand.
On money to start up their business:
– The sisters never took out a loan to start their salon which fed eventually into starting their product line.
– They sacrificed fun/ young adult life in order to save money.
On The Competition:
-It’s healthy for women to have options.
– They consider themself game changers (rightfully so); companies were not naming hair products after food items before Miss Jessie’s
– Feels great to be influential.
– There is space for everyone especially since the market has grown to embrace natural hair.
On sacrificing certain things to be successful:
-Both sisters mentioned love, and motherhood (Mikko does have a son) as entities which had to be sacrificed somewhat for the common goal of Miss Jessie’s.
Top advice for anyone wanting to follow in their shoes:
-Have a desire to educate your customer.
-Mikko emphasized the “place of real.” Always trust your voice/instinct which might not necessarily match “business school talk” or corporate talk
On things that contributed to their success:
- Marketed products to the woman doing her hair at home
-Their website fostered a community and DIY spirit: (i.e. before and after pics on their site, which I used avidly during my newly-natural phase!)
-The sisters kept their brand focused on texture not color (in respect to race)
On Overcoming Challenges:
-When the product hit “mass” level (i.e. being sold in Target), corporate players wanted to typecast Miss Jessie’s products in the “ethnic section.” However, the sisters felt there was important messaging that ocurrs when products are placed in those sections and that label wasn’t true to their brand and ultimately it wouldn’t uplift women who were buying their products. So the result was, a lot of money was left on the table.
-The sisters had a personal falling out over litigation with the brand, but were able to reconcile for the good of Miss Jessie’s and sisterhood.
The bad news is I wish there was more time to pick their brains and ask more questions about their story, but there simply was not enough time. The good news is that the sister’s are in talks for a possibly book about their story ( which is really compelling). I would definitely buy the book when it comes out. There’s nothing more inspiring that two black women from Brooklyn (woot woot!) sharing their story. I hope this was helpful to somebody. If you could be there what you ask the sisters? What would you have asked?
Let me know