For the latest instalment of Behind The Brand we speak to the super smart and talented Melissa Sinclair, creator of boutique natural hair brand Big Hair Beauty. We advise you to get comfortable and soak up the words of wisdom Melissa has to offer as she speaks candidly about all the learning curves she has encountered four years deep into her entrepreneurial journey. Enjoy!
What inspired you to create Big Hair Beauty?
My own journey with my hair, and meeting other women who were having similar experiences. When I first returned to natural I didn’t have a clue how to look after my hair, so the experience was an eye opener – but also really exciting and fulfilling when I started to understand my hair more and it started to flourish by me paying attention to it and looking after it! My inspiration came from the struggle of finding suitable haircare for curly and afro hair that was also easily and readily available in the UK, and that was made from truly natural ingredients to match my new healthier lifestyle. I had been making my own products for a while, whipping up things at home because I hated going into shops where people knew nothing about my hair, didn’t understand my needs, and treated me poorly in the process – but I hadn’t thought about doing it as a business. However, I spoke to so many women who had had the same experiences, it was crazy because there was this instant community that you became a part of – you’d go to places and get smiles and nods from other women with natural hair in the street, on the tube, everywhere, which often turned into conversations with strangers from something as simple as “Hey sis, your hair looks gorgeous.” Then before you knew it, you were swapping tips, tricks and routines.Essentially, I created Big Hair + Beauty for the women like me who felt like what we were looking for was missing.
How did your journey begin? Did you always have a clear vision of what you wanted to do?
The Big Hair journey began through my own personal journey. My diet was poor and I had a very stressful corporate job working really long hours, as a result my hair, skin and body had suffered really badly. My hair was shedding and breaking a lot, I had a texturiser at the time – as after relaxing my hair in my teens my hair was never the same and didn’t take very well to relaxers, so a texturiser and a blow out were a good substitute that had worked up until this point. It’s crazy to think of the things I did to my hair knowing that it just didn’t like how I was treating it, because as much as the texturiser was a better option, my hair definitely wasn’t a fan of that either. I eventually big chopped myself, because after sitting down to get my hair braided twice transitioning seemed like a really long process for me and didn’t match my lifestyle, so I started from scratch with a level 2/3.
My original vision was to create products made here in the UK with truly natural ingredients. My own personal journey wasn’t intended to be a ‘natural hair journey’. Honestly, I just wanted to be healthy, fell in love with my fro in all of it’s glory, and wanted haircare to match my lifestyle. I didn’t know it it would be permanent, if I’d texturise it when it grew back, or get locs. I just started fresh. Then I started to connect with other women on their journey, then on the flip side I noticed the negative differences between how people interacted with me and treated me with natural hair and the bigger my fro grew, the more it made me aware that this had to be more than hair. I had a clear vision of wanting to empower women with curly, kinky, coily, hair. Not only by providing a range of natural products that promote healthy hair, to give women the confidence to look and feel like they deserve, but I wanted to connect with and create space for women like me who were having similar experiences and navigating their own journey through wellness, self care and life in general – and hair was a very big part of that transition and personal growth. So, Big Hair + Beauty was born.
Did you face any challenges when you began your own business?
I’ve definitely experienced challenges, and continue too. It’s the nature of being in business, the challenge and dynamic of those challenges change – but they still exist. The beauty industry is a very competitive one. When we launched 4 years ago, after almost 2 years of planning, there wasn’t really a space for black haircare brands in the UK, so there were no doors to open. You had to create your own door – hence why a lot of the brands here were hand made, in house, going to local shows and growing organically. Now it’s one of the fastest growing niches and a huge market, so although it felt like we came to the party too early at the time – it was actually perfect timing as we’ve been lucky to see the industry grow from the inside out. However the challenges still exist, even more so now, as the bigger brands are emerging into this new sector for them and buying existing popular brands – which presents new challenges for smaller brands like ourselves as we grow.
I felt like a lot of doors were closed in my face in the beginning, and from speaking to other similar businesses it can still feel like that sometimes. I decided to live by ‘if it doesn’t open, it’s not your door’. As the saying goes, when opportunity doesn’t knock, build your own door. It all sounds cliché but it’s honestly what I live by, and exactly what I’m doing with the Big Hair + Beauty rebrand. We’ve had some amazing opportunities, but this is me building our own door because my lessons have showed me that this is how we create what we want to see in the world.
How would you describe the typical Big Hair Beauty customer?
Our customer base is so varied and beautiful! From the wellness yogi types who only use natural ingredients and natural products, to the curly, kinky, coily girls who want to achieve the best results for their hair and love that our products give them that (whether natural or not), to our older customer base (mums, aunties, fabulous grandma’s) who have used the likes of Ultra Sheen, Dax etc for years and are thrilled with the offering we have and how different their hair is, to the mummy and me duo’s or mums who need help and guidance with looking after their childrens hair and don’t know where to start. We also have some men with fabulous fros, and even a few with a low cut and big beard who use our 100% natural WHIP as a beard butter. The beauty of the Beauties (our customers) we connect with is that although they come from all walks of life – they have a common thread between them, wanting the best for their curls and fros (and the occasional beard), and in turn wanting the best for themselves.
You recently re-branded your products. What caused you to do so?
We’re 4 years old this month, so essentially it felt like time. I’ve had the urge to do it for a while, but it didn’t materialise – then everything started to align so I went for it. I wanted to create a visual aesthetic that matched the internal core values and lifestyle of the brand – because I felt like on the outside we didn’t look like the brand we were on the inside. The new brand look and feel really represents us, and we’ve had such good feedback from the focus groups pre-launch, to post launch feedback from customers and the public. The minimal apothecary style is really working for us. It’s clean, simple and transparent in visual design and language and just really aligns with who we are as a brand. We worked with an amazing branding designer, Abi Wright Designs, who is a curly girl too and she just got the brand and what we wanted to do with it.
What advice would you give to young women who harbour the desire to start a business but lack the confidence to really go for it?
We need you [women]! The industry you want to enter needs you! Even if they act like they don’t need you or you don’t feel like there’s space for you. Actually, especially if you don’t feel there’s space for you, create it. You don’t have to be the most confident person, or an extrovert, or have all your ships in order. Just start. Small steps are still progress. Change makers come in so many different forms, but what I’m seeing more and more is the people who had a small idea for a personal reason are the ones making huge changes because they just feel it. You’ve only got to read some of the founder stories to see where they started to know that it can be done. Read, read, and read. Research, research and research. And reach out to people who are creating and ask them how they got started. You’d be surprised how many people are happy to meet you for a coffee and a chat, or send you over an email over with some really helpful and valuable tips.
Finance seems to be a bit of a sensitive topic when it comes to boutique black businesses. What advice would you give to a budding indie black beauty business owner on how to create a thriving brand with limited resources?
It is a taboo, that’s why we’re always so shocked when we see a big brand filing for bankruptcy or just disappearing and we think ‘but they looked like the were doing so well!’ Money and finances in general are such a taboo, we’re not really taught about financial literacy generationally so it’s a difficult thing to navigate when entering the business world – but that’s another subject altogether.
I started with savings, then access to a government loan later. But the real resources that have helped Big Hair grow have been collaborating and exchanging with other start ups – both individuals and growing businesses. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and then identify where you need help and reach out to start ups or people in that area who can help. Ask them if they need help with anything and tell them about your strengths and what you’ve got to offer. We’re all in the same boat, and they’ve often got areas where they need help too – I’ve made some amazing friends this way too who are great sources of support as they get what you’re going through being an entrepreneur.
To find out more about Big Hair Beauty visit here.