How has your business coped with the pandemic?
The way shopping trends have changed has been incredible to me. More purchases are moving online, and we’re more conscious of what we’re purchasing and where it’s from. Also, in light of the BLM movement, more people want to support brands that have authenticity and integrity. It’s all creating an environment for this kind of brand to grow in scale, which might seem bad of me to say at this time, but when you have a business it is important to be optimistic, and I do believe that my product is enriching my customers’ lives.
How is The Renatural different from other companies in the wig industry?
The wig industry is made up of 60 per cent Black female consumers between the age of 16 to 65, so the question we’re getting a lot lately is, ‘is this business Black-owned?’ People are jaded by heavy monopolisation by Chinese companies. There are at least three or four billion-dollar conglomerates that dominate the wig market, and there are thousands of subsidiaries that have different profiles and act as if they’re separate from each other, but in fact they’re all part of one huge company. There’s also no feedback link with the customer, and that’s why there has been no innovation in the industry for over several decades.
In terms of our social media, we speak differently. We’re not assuming that you’re a caricature of a Black woman, and we’re not assuming that you’re buying a wig to hide the effects of an illness. Instead, our social media message is ‘you are a person who wears wigs, and we want you to be safe and healthy, and look good while doing it.
What’s your background in hair care?
I moved to the Irish countryside when I was 11. There was a new wave of immigrants because Ireland had just changed their immigration policies, but there weren’t many Black hairstylists. So my mum and her friends used to ask me for guidance on new hairstyles and how to work with hair. I built up my skills and developed them throughout my teens and student years.
When did you come up with The Wig Fix, and how long did you spend developing it?
I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the wig industry. There’s a type of research called ‘follow the things’; you pretend you’re a can of Coke, for example, and you go back to how you were conceptualised and where all your raw materials were from, you look at the the effect that the inventor or founder wanted you to have on the world, whether you’re ethical, your distribution, all the way to the consumer that purchases you and how you have an effect on their life. I wanted to conduct this research with wigs because I knew that it’s such an opaque industry.
Inevitably, I discovered a lot of white space. I wondered why that was the case, as so many people I know are heavily dependent on the products that come from this market. In the beauty market, you see something new every week, but the same innovation was not taking place in the wig market. My answer to that stemmed from identity politics, monopolisation and lack of feedback.
After my dissertation in 2016, I wrote down some ideas for products and manufacturing systems that could make the wig experience better for the customer, and that list included The Wig Fix.
Two years later, I went on holiday in Las Vegas. It was around 42 degrees and I was wearing a big, curly wig, with a velvet band across my head to keep my wig in place. The concept of the wig band was actually invented by the Ancient Egyptians; they used cotton bands to secure their wigs, but you can just imagine how that doesn’t work for today’s consumers. During the trip, my band felt really disgusting. There was so much going on: glue, bacteria, sweat. I had to take my wig off and wear my natural hair for the rest of the trip.
When I got home, I went back to my list and looked into developing The Wig Fix idea. It took around seven to eight months to develop. In that time, I talked to focus groups of men, women and children above the age of 12, from all backgrounds. There were Black women; people who had lost their hair through pregnancy, illness or chemotherapy; trans women and non-binary people - they were all happy to be involved. I wanted to patent my idea, but patents cost a lot of money and one major obstacle is that you can’t sell your product to raise money for the patent.
Why did you choose silicone as the material for The Wig Fix?
When I was researching materials, I was inspired by brands such as SiO and KNC Beauty, who exploit the benefits of silicone for skin protection and retaining the natural oils, moisture and plumpness of the skin. I also found that silicone has been used in the medical industry for decades to treat burns, skin irritation and scarring, and it’s excellent at gripping material by frictional adhesion.
There’s nothing like The Wig Fix on the market - were you met with any scepticism about its success when you launched?
It’s been over a year since we launched, and we’re only just starting to see a consensus about the product. When a customer receives a product and they’re not using it correctly, they assume that it doesn’t work; we’re trying to remedy that with in-depth customer service, plenty of information and influencer marketing to help spread the word. We also offer 1-on-1 video demonstrations to customers who are having issues with using The Wig Fix.
How does it feel knowing your product is used by the likes of Kehlani and Tokyo Stylez?
Kehlani was one of our first customers! She was tweeting about wig security, and I replied with some info about The Wig Fix. When I realised that she purchased it, I was so excited. It feels slightly surreal as these are people I’ve been following for a while, especially Tokyo, who’s so respected in this niche. I’ve also just received a notification that Kylie Jenner has liked one of our posts!
Have you ever had any dreaded ‘wig slip’ moments?
No, I’ve always been super cautious about keeping my wig in place - even the thought of it slipping just makes me cringe!
As a wig wearer, what is your relationship with your natural hair?
There are a lot of identity politics when it comes to Black hair, as well as Black hair in relation to wigs. I’ve had natural hair since I was a child, so my relationship with my natural hair is very good. But I also love the ease and flexibility of wigs.
I grew up with scalp psoriasis, so I had to get used to having a very sore scalp and losing hair. I was never really upset about it because there were so many hairstyles available to me - including wigs and weaves - so I could still do a lot with my hair.
Do you feel it’s important for Black entrepreneurs to take charge in an industry where the target customer base is mostly Black people?
The customer base in any industry always has such a unique insight of the product, service and company itself. That can be leveraged if the customer becomes an entrepreneur.
What is next for The Renatural?
The Wig Fix is just one product on the list of ideas that I wrote in frustration after my dissertation! There are many other ideas that we can move forward with in future; we’re currently developing a product which is in the trials stage. However, it’s also essential for us to keep improving our community and customer service.