With a background in trichology, Rachael also spends her time writing myth busting blogs about afro hair and running Hair Care 101 workshops to educate our community and promote good afro-hair practices.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and start your own business?
Afrocenchix began when Joycelyn and I met at the University of Birmingham in 2008. She was studying sociology, I was studying Law and we bonded over our frustrations about afro hair products that just didn’t work.
Our quest to find the perfect safe, effective products finally ended when we created our own. We wanted to make sure that what we made was kind to people and the planet. I was especially keen on creating products which were gentle enough for children as my eczema is easily triggered!
Afrocenchix is based in London and develops expertly researched and carefully created products in partnership with formulations and cosmetics scientists. We’re proud to be the first British brand specifically for afro hair available in major retailer now we have partnered with Whole Foods Market and Holland & Barrett. We’ve sold over 28,000 bottles and we’re just getting started.
What has been the highlight of your journey?
We have so many favourite moments over the last 10 years! Pitching to Gary Vee, Diddy, Ashton Kutcher and Kirsten Green, launching in Whole Foods and Holland Barrett, raising investment, which allowed us to hire a permanent team and getting our filling and labelling machines — before this, we were labelling our products by hand!
We’ve been honoured to win a bunch of awards from our inception till now. In 2010, we won an award for ‘Ethical and Sustainable Business Innovation’ from the University of Birmingham which encouraged us to take the idea more seriously. I studied for a year at the Institute of Trichologists and we expanded our range to include more carefully researched products.
Demand grew and we began to sell in shops, then in 2015, we won the Bright Ideas Award from UCL (where I was doing my MSc) which helped our business expand in new directions.
In 2018 we were voted BBFA BEST NATURAL HAIR BRAND 2018, raised funding from Angel investors and saw funds from our WeWork Global Creator Award and Backstage Capital added to the round in early 2019.
If I’m only allowed one… it would be our last team social before lockdown! Not a glamorous moment, but a great memory. I feel so fortunate to work with such a fantastic team and it was great to eat thai food and play games together before the apocalypse began!
Were there any systematic challenges you faced in starting your venture?
Running a business is hard. Running a business as two young, Black women in the face of oppression, inequality and anti-Blackness is maddening. We had years of rejection from wholesalers saying black women’s needs are “too niche” or buyers/investors telling us that Black customers can’t spend at our price points.
One buyer in a store that carries 14 shampoos for blonde hair told us they “already have something for Black hair.” The product they had was a chemical straightener.
The way that the beauty industry treats Black women as an afterthought is symbolic of larger problems. Economic empowerment of marginalised communities leads to social change so it was great to be voted BBFA BEST NATURAL HAIR BRAND 2018 & to launch the first product for afro hair in Whole Foods UK the same year.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs facing similar barriers to those you faced?
Don’t let other people’s bigotry stop your brilliance! There will always be people who don’t want you to succeed. Ignore them and focus on those who are cheering you on. We deal with racist trolls on social media (and real life) on a regular basis but we spend far more time with our wonderful community and brilliant allies. If you work hard and focus on your goals, most barriers can (eventually) be overcome.
How have you had to adapt to the current Covid-Climate?
We switched our approach to offering free support and education. We don’t believe that being selfish ever pays off. The pandemic makes it tempting to close down and only focus on looking after yourself. We resisted that and looked for ways to support our community.
We’ve helped doctors, nurses and other key workers that reached out for advice on how to care for their hair when they need to stay safe by washing it after every shift. We’ve had small business owners and sole traders tell us that their sales and bookings have increased since we featured them in our newsletter and across our platforms. We’ve had parents send us heartfelt thanks because their children finally like how they look and love their hair. For these reasons, we’re proud that we’ve kept going.
If you could change one thing by tomorrow, what would it be?
Tough question! In many ways the world is in the best place it’s ever been — education levels globally are the highest in history, hunger is at its lowest and many dangerous diseases are being eradicated. Oppressed groups are slowly achieving equality and leveraging technology to bring much needed attention to inequity and injustice in the world. There’s work to be done but things are better than Twitter makes it seem! It’s hard
to choose what to solve out of the major issues of our time: global warming; child poverty; violence towards women; the refugee crisis; and the structural violence and systemic racism that allows police brutality to cause so much harm to Black and indigenous communities don’t have easy solutions.
If I could only change one thing it would be to educate everyone on the 5 key issues above so that humans could waste less time bickering over whether or not issues exist, and more time actually working together to save our planet and make it a better place for all people to live in peace and freedom.