The natural hair movement is in full swing. It isn’t just about looks, it’s a revolution.
For decades, black and mixed heritage women have been under pressure to straighten their natural curls, especially in the workplace*. But now they’re saying ‘no’ to European beauty standards and professional pressures around straight hair. They’re embracing their hair in all forms, whether natural, relaxed or in protective styles like twists, locs and braids.
The movement has been powered by a wave of disruptive businesses with new products designed specifically for afro hair, such as Afrocenchix’s natural oils. ‘Finally, businesses have woken up to and engaged with black people’s needs’, explains Andrew Pearce, Head of Accenture’s African Caribbean Network.
But, as any revolutionary will tell you, knowledge is power. While the products are there, there’s still a need for women to be better educated about which products best suit and look after their natural hair.
Luckily, Michelle is an entrepreneur with a bright idea that won’t just help fuel the natural hair movement and educate women on hair care, it’ll help keep them safe from harmful, toxic products.
“I realised there was a huge gap in the market for a mainstream afro hair platform that sells and provides information on products made with naturally curly hair in mind.”
Michelle, who is just starting out her career as an Accenture analyst, has grown up in a world where buying haircare products for her curly hair has proved to be a minefield. ‘My passions really come from my experience, my struggles and my journey learning about my own hair’, she explains. ‘A lot of girls have grown up with chemically relaxed hair, their mothers might have always straightened their hair, and in some cases, they didn’t know about the natural texture of their hair until they become older. Now, with the natural hair movement, there are lots of products out there, but just because it’s there it doesn’t mean it’ll work for your curls. I want to give them that information and guidance around the products so that they can navigate their natural hair’.
At worst, the lack of information about products can prove dangerous for women. ‘There’s a real threat that some products could be toxic to use because the market isn’t monitored thoroughly enough’, Michelle explains. Relaxers and leave-in conditioners with unsafe levels of toxic chemicals have slipped through the net and made it to market, with the most harmful toxins simply not listed on the label. There have been studies showing that the chemicals** are linked to cancer, asthma and fertility issues.
Now Michelle is helping bridge the gap between these newer, safer products and the consumers. ‘I realised there was a huge gap in the market for a mainstream afro hair platform that sells and provides information on products made with naturally curly hair in mind. Think of Curry’s, but for afro hair products. Customers won’t just be buying a product, they’ll be able to find out exactly what’s in them and get all the guidance they need to learn exactly what works for their curls’. This platform has the potential to change the afro haircare experience for good.
“Because I have an entrepreneurial mindset, I can better understand my clients, where they’re coming from and what they need. I have genuine empathy for them.”
That’s the idea sorted. But that’s the easy part. Now Michelle has to get the business off the ground. This is a daunting prospect for anyone, but thanks to her experience and knowledge gained at Accenture, she’s feeling confident moving forward. ‘Just from working with my clients, I’ve learnt how to think critically and navigate the market, which has helped me in my side business. It’s invaluable as an entrepreneur because it expands my way of thinking’. And the client benefits too. ‘Because I have an entrepreneurial mindset, I can better understand my clients, where they’re coming from and what they need. I have genuine empathy for them’.
In recognising the importance for this type of mindset, Michelle decided to take entrepreneurship at Accenture one step further. She recently cofounded the Accenture Entrepreneurs Network alongside Francesca, another analyst. The network acts as a hotspot of innovation, where ideas are cross-pollinated and knowledge pools tapped into. This is especially important to entrepreneurs who are just starting out, like Michelle. ‘When you build a business, you’re exposed to so much that you haven’t had experience with before, like branding and finances. The network is a goldmine of knowledge where you can connect with people and learn from them’.
The network truly is the best of both worlds. The members benefit from sharing knowledge, the business benefits from a more entrepreneurial mindset and clients benefits from more empathetic conversations with consultants. ‘The Entrepreneurs Network is bringing entrepreneurs together and feeding ideas back into the business. It’s disruptive and exciting,’ says Andrew Pearce. ‘Who knows what these entrepreneurs will think of next?’.
As for Michelle, she is currently in full swing with testing and development, 2020 has big things ahead for her.
*Reference source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-39195836
**Reference source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118301518 and https://www.vibe.com/2018/05/toxic-chemicals-black-hair-products
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