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GoodHair Wants to Be the Drybar of Natural Hair

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"Smile, you have good hair!" A stickered greeting, one of the first spotted while swiping a quick glance in the mirror before adjusting my cape. I make a vague attempt not to appear nervous; its late morning on a Saturday and I’ve arrived early for an appointment to the NYC pop-up salon, GoodHair. The first of its kind, the concept of GoodHair plays it simple — get in, get washed, then expertly styled in two hours or less. Many have compared the GoodHair experience to the wildly popular Drybar. Founder and CEO Folake Oguntebi proudly vows to turn this project into the first national salon chain to specialize in naturally textured hair.

With nervousness put aside, and a complimentary beverage in hand, my seven day twist-out is carefully evaluated by Creative Director and Senior Educational Advisor, Angela C. Stevens, known to some as Angela Styles on WETV’s LA Hair. Instantly I’m put at ease with compliments about how healthy my hair looks. I rarely frequent the salon, if only twice a year for the often-overdue trim — so having my ego is stroked is a plus. I’m in good hands.

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The GoodHair therapist team With Oguntebi and Angela C. Stevens. Image: GoodHair

A few things are assessed before the nitty-gritty is introduced. My hair therapist and I first decide on style: today I’m in a "Bohemian Goodness" sort of mood, a French braid-like style that is part of the salon’s curated menu. And with other cheeky names like, "Up to Good," and "Crazy Sexy Good," the idea is clearly to entice women to think outside the box.

Could I use a trim? After Angela and I both agree to a few snips, frayed edges are quickly cut away. And I instantly think, YES! I want this. In fact, it’s what we all deserve, if not secretly long for — the ease of allowing our hair to be expertly cared for without fret. I’m reminded that there are things, a certain beautified brand of TLC if you will, that only a professional can expertly offer.

Lest we forgot the perks and joy of salon primping, GoodHair is swift to remind. Oguntebi, whose parents are both entrepreneurs, talks openly about possible future product line launches, motherhood, and the often-daunting task black women face when finding a trusted salon. The safe space that’s created during these weekend rituals is the only place "salon gab" can happen, a lost art that appeared to be fading in some black communities — thanks in part to the rise of the natural hair evolution.

But let’s consider the relationship between stylist and client: yes, it is personal. Actually, more than just personal, it’s a bond more like an unwritten but binding contract, one many women try to keep at any cost — making the new venture GoodHair all the more fascinating. Over the years many have trekked and salon-hopped to keep their stylists, yet women with textured hair have seemingly had to hike much further when it comes to finding that special connection.

Without a doubt, the gamut is ready for a salon where both stylist and product are specially designed for the curly needs of a growing community. So what’s the catch? Thankfully, there’s none to find. With transparent pricing set at a reasonable $65 per service, the only stumbling block appears to be the name.

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Image: GoodHair

"We’re aware of the historically negative connotation of the term ‘good hair’ in the Black community, and we are deliberate to challenge and redefine its meaning," explains Oguntebi. "To us, all hair — whether it’s natural or chemically treated and regardless of its texture or style — is ‘good hair’ so long as it is well-maintained and in good health."

After raising over $17,000 of their $15,000 initial goal, the hope is to launch officially in 2016. Product sponsors range from cult favorite Karen’s Body Beautiful and Oyin Handmade to other black-owned brands, Original Moxie and Briogeo, both of which have seen significant growth within the past year thanks in part to new partnerships with Sephora.

We sat down with Oguntebi to talk further about lessons learned, plus the ins and outs of launching a business in what some might consider a crowded market.

What's been the most surprising lesson thus far about running a salon?

This may sound mundane, but one very surprising lesson learned is how challenging the booking aspect of running a salon is. Going into this I assumed technology would make booking almost a non-issue, but there are so many details to be considered — it requires significant human oversight. I’m definitely more empathetic to salons that haven’t figured this out yet (although that empathy only goes so far; as a consumer, I still need to be able to get in and out). It’s really tough balancing the widely varying needs of customers in terms of services required and availability; wanting to deliver services at an affordable price point; and the requirements for running a (mostly) seamless operation. Not to mention the human effect — clients running late, stylists need breaks, etc. I think there are lessons we can draw from the restaurant industry, as well as other quick service businesses in the beauty industry (e.g., waxing, nail salons) and look forward to incorporating these lessons into our own operations.

What are some of the businesses current challenges?

One of the biggest challenges is recruiting stylists with the diverse skill set that we require — well-versed in a wide range of hair textures, superior customer service skills — along with being a great cultural fit with GoodHair. Beauty schools have a strong bias towards providing services on straightened hair — even to the point of teaching their students to suggest that a woman with natural hair receive a relaxer if she comes in for a service. There are lots of phenomenal stylists out there, but many are working on their own thing or are just difficult to find. We were able to recruit a top-notch team led by first-class hair educator, Angela Stevens (GoodHair’s Senior Creative Advisor and regular on WETV’s LA Hair) for the pop-up, but building a pipeline of talent is a challenge we face as we think about next steps beyond this first operational phase.

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Original Moxie products. Image: GoodHair

Do you plan on raising funds through another campaign in the future?

While we’re open to it and were thrilled by the outcome of our first crowdfunding campaign, we intend to focus our efforts on pursuing investment from angel investors for our next round.

What have you learned from clients during the course of this experience that you feel will better shape the future of the business?

Our clients are really yearning for a better salon experience that’s catered to their needs, for healthy hair care and education. The clients we've serviced are very interested in understanding their hair, products, and maintenance. One of the big lesson from the pop up the importance of educating our stylists on how to explain product choices and even key ingredients and how they work on various hair types. The GoodHair customer wants education about their hair, not just a cute new style, and that starts with the stylist really being comfortable leading the conversation.

Any advice for black women considering becoming entrepreneurs in the beauty industry?

This applies to entrepreneurs in any industry, but I have been struck by the power and strength of relationships in this industry. It’s one thing to have a great idea, but success in the beauty industry, particularly when targeting black women and the natural hair community, requires trust and credibility, both of which are strengthened through relationships with the existing players and influencers. So my advice for black women considering becoming entrepreneurs in the beauty industry is to take time to develop and nurture relationships with fellow entrepreneurs and influencers in the space.

So, tell us what's next for GoodHair and its team!

Post pop-up, we’ll need to spend time assessing the results of the pop-up, to figure out what worked and where our opportunity areas are. Another pop-up is a possibility to keep the momentum we built through this first one going. Ideally we will launch our first brick and mortar location in 2016 — in order to do so we are also going to begin active investor outreach. Starting a salon chain isn’t cheap, especially given our plans to integrate technology into the GoodHair experience.