How Women of Color Are Taking the Hair Business Into Their Own Hands
I style my own hair now, but years ago I went to extremes to ensure it was done. I planned my life around my stylist’s schedule, because a good black hair pro can be so hard to find. For Jennifer Lambert, taking drastic measures has meant traveling to another state. “I'm certainly not the only black woman who has left my hometown to go to school, and just waited to get anything done to my hair until every couple of months, when I went back,” she says. The one time she didn’t, disaster ensued. “I had a formal event coming up, and my hair was scraggly and embarrassing. There was this random salon that was across the street from my dorm, and I was like, ‘I’ll go in and get a trim. How bad could it be?’ A non-black woman, who was not at all familiar with my texture did my hair. She gave me a poufy, triangular haircut that was a hot mess. It looked like a Dora the Explorer bob.”
Bad experiences like this are partly what led Lambert, who trained as a lawyer, and her business partner, Jihan Thompson, a former magazine editor, to create Swivel, an app that makes it easy to find appointments with stylists (for a salon or at-home appointment) who are great with textured hair. The duo, who both hail from Washington D.C., met in the fourth grade and have been friends for 22 years. It was during a girls’ night at Thompson’s Brooklyn apartment (she’s since moved to Chicago with her husband) that the idea to “solve a problem that’s as old as time,” as Lambert puts it, came to them.
Marrying tech and beauty isn’t a new concept, but most of the existing hair service apps don’t include a diverse enough range of options, nor provide the right information to help a woman with a relaxer or an afro decide if a stylist is right for her. Swivel allows salon and home styling seekers to search its directory by specific hair texture and the type of look desired. A user can read reviews and see ratings of not only the stylist’s skills, but also the overall vibe of the salon, so she knows what to expect before she books. The app is a must-download for women who are new in town, need a stylist, and want to avoid a disappointing trial and error process. It’s also appealing to those who don’t want to rely on just one stylist to meet all of their needs.
For now, Swivel only covers New York City, but the co-founders have plans to expand nationwide. “The goal is to have a community of stylists and salons that can do black women's hair really well. We want [to recommend] places where even if the salon isn’t servicing a ton of African-American clients, the stylist won’t make you feel like you’re something weird and different. That’s the most important thing,” says Thompson.
While Swivel is on a quest to make the search for a stylist less painful, Lux Beauty Club, is tackling another common hair complaint—the cost. Co-founder Victoria Flores, a former Wall Street executive affectionately describes the company as a cross between “Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club.” Created with her long-time friend, Leslie Wilson-Namad, the goal of the service is to make high-quality human hair extensions accessible and affordable for a multi-cultural range of women. “My business partner and I have been wearing hair extensions since birth,” jokes Flores, who grew up in El Paso, Texas and now resides in New York City. After years of spending an obscene amount of money to get our hair done, we said enough is enough. There has to be a better way.”
The two began researching their options and traveled to countries like China and India to source hair for themselves. Getting their own hair at wholesale prices prevented them from being overcharged by stylist who typically lump the cost of the hair and the installation together, without disclosing what the hair actually cost. Soon they were selling hair to their friends, and eventually they began a direct-to-consumer weave and extensions business in 2012. Three years later, the idea for Lux Beauty Club was born when they realized how consistently many women re-ordered hair.
The subscription-based service, which also sells hair tools and haircare products, gives women the option of joining the club and receiving a 30 percent discount, or they can choose to make a one-time purchase. Customers can easily personalize their shopping carts and set their own rate of frequency for their products. “You may only want adhesive remover every six months, but the hair you want every eight weeks,” Flores explains. There are no membership fees for the service and subscribers can cancel anytime. For shoppers looking for someone to install a weave or extensions, Lux Beauty Club has joined forces with Priv, an on-demand beauty and wellness app featuring pros that will come to clients’ homes.