This Black-Owned Extension Model Desires to Change into the Apple of Hair Care
From braids to wigs, Black girls’s hair styling selections are dynamic and complicated. The second wave of the pure hair motion has seen Black girls embracing their curls and coils, with textured hair more and more celebrated in mainstream media. Whereas this has meant many Black girls are extra comfy carrying their pure hair, protecting types nonetheless play a major position in our hair care journey.
For Tendai Moyo (27) and Ugo Agbai (25), this actuality impressed the creation of their hair extension model Ruka. Moyo and Agbai say they’ve “got down to revolutionize the hair trade for Black girls by science-led, community-driven hair options.” They at present provide ethically sourced human hair bundles, ponytails, clip-ins, and wigs in 10 textures.
Having solely launched in 2021, Ruka has already left its mark on the Black British hair scene, changing into the go-to model for the likes of King Richard’s Demi Singleton and British Olympic athlete Dina Asher-Smith.
After talking with Tendai and Ugo, it was clear why the model has been so profitable: Ruka has helped restore Black girls’s belief in an trade that has traditionally uncared for their hair care wants. Forward, the Ruka founders talk about their entrepreneurial journey and their expertise elevating $2.5 million in funding.
How did your consulting profession put together you for entrepreneurship?
Tendai Moyo: Consulting corporations [like Bain & Co] aren’t as massive as funding banks and auditing corporations, which permits them to spend money on their individuals. It additionally teaches you tips on how to interact in groups and work together with your purchasers. That has performed an enormous position in creating our personal factor as a result of it gave us an understanding of how companies work.
Ugo Agbai: In a consultancy, investing in individuals from a private and profession improvement side is a should. In any other case, there isn’t any progress. Studying that firsthand has helped us determine what we would like for our crew. Having the ability to construction problem-solving, break down questions, and construct a muscle for creating options feels like an apparent factor as a result of all of us resolve issues day-after-day. However, when the enterprise is actually fixing individuals’s issues, there’s an artwork and a components to it, which has been fairly useful to study.
How have you ever made certain you make investments extra in your crew at Ruka?
UA: One of many first issues is agreeing everyone seems to be human and that they need to have plans far past Ruka. I loved consulting as a result of individuals would ask, “What’s your life plan?” The flawed reply was, “Keep right here till I die.” We have now constructed a crew as enthusiastic about Ruka as they’re about their profession improvement. Having wholesome conversations like which means individuals can put their all into the work they do with out feeling prefer it’s taking from the plans they’ve for themselves.
Tendai, Ugo got here on board after a pitching spherical the place an investor instructed you that you simply wanted a co-founder. Why was she the primary individual you considered when this concept was introduced?
TM: After the pitching spherical, the primary individual I messaged was Ugo. We have all the time been individuals who considerably belief one another. So when Ian Hogarth, our first angel investor, steered I wanted to have a co-founder, the primary individual I considered was Ugo. She had already been serving to me develop the pitch decks, and I stated, “Why do not you cease working one and a half jobs, go away McKinsey and are available and work with me?”
Many Black individuals need to begin a enterprise, however haven’t got the community to assist them notice their concepts. How have been you capable of navigate the challenges of ranging from scratch?
TM: We each graduated in 2018 and began engaged on a enterprise referred to as Strome. Attempting to fundraise was an uphill battle. We pitched to white males who requested why individuals nonetheless wanted to be empowered in 2018, and we had no thought tips on how to reply that query.
Shortly earlier than leaving Bain in September 2020, I seen individuals have been crowdfunding. However the issue with that’s you typically must over-commit and provides to individuals to make it to the highest of the webpage. For me, it was about validating the curiosity individuals already had in a crowdfund, however not on a crowdfunding platform. We raised $29K (£27K) in three weeks and have since raised $2.5mil in funding by different sources. This made us notice there are Black girls who’re keen to place cash in the direction of discovering an answer on this area.
After we launched, individuals have been additionally in an area the place they needed to coach themselves. It was quickly after the tragedy of George Floyd, and folks needed to do the work. The largest problem was chatting with Black buyers as a result of they’d already skilled this product and have been leaning towards the default response, “Why am I going to purchase extensions from you versus occurring Amazon or AliExpress?”
It was about proving the issues we did, like our digital expertise, have been utterly completely different from what they’d skilled earlier than. We additionally concerned our neighborhood in our decision-making. Black girls have many opinions on what wants to enhance on this area, however nobody asks them, “What do you wish to be modified?”
Constructing neighborhood has been an enormous a part of your model. Why was it essential to have that on the core of your enterprise?
UA: We would like individuals to really feel like they’re a part of the HQ as a result of everyone seems to be invested in making an attempt to resolve this downside. We needed to leverage the present neighborhood and produce them into the Ruka story. From day one, we launched a co-creator program the place individuals have a say in what the merchandise appear like. That is essential in an trade that has been owned by individuals who do not appear like us or care to listen to our voices authentically.
Relating to the celebrities you’ve gotten supporting your model, have you ever deliberately reached out to them, or has it been purely natural?
TM: To start with, our engagement was organically pushed. The great thing about co-creators is that in addition they create content material on our behalf. We have began taking part in round with paid advertising, however that may all the time be gas to an engine we have already got. While you step away from true storytelling and depend on paying individuals to purchase your product, you get into an area that does not really feel true to the present communities.
We wish to be an enabler that educates and creates merchandise that work. We do not wish to be one other model that takes cash from Black girls. That is one of many causes we decreased our costs by 10-20% on most of our merchandise. There’s numerous intentionality on our half for saving Black girls cash, and what that boils right down to is how we market our merchandise. We’re in an area the place there hasn’t been numerous belief, and we’re bringing integrity again into the market.
Your Hair Fragrance is the primary product you launched with. Why was it essential to have one other department of merchandise as a substitute of simply specializing in hair extensions?
TM: We’re “gentle life” babes at coronary heart. Within the hair area, we’ve not been allowed to be that. We find yourself having to compromise on merchandise that make us really feel particular and opulent for performance. We’re coming into an area that honors Black girls’s rituals whereas giving them one thing that actually works. The Hair Fragrance sits proper in the course of that. We provide a product that does not dry out your hair and works in your pure hair and extensions. All the pieces from the heavy glass to the tropical scent has this “gentle life” essence.
UA: We function largely within the styling area, however many individuals seek advice from us as a hair care model as a result of we’re saying you need not compromise on the care of your hair for the sake of styling it. There was numerous discourse on Twitter round “If I do not like my hair, am I anti-Black?” For me, it is analogous to being plus dimension as a result of structurally, society is fatphobic. If I wish to exit and discover an outfit, I can not discover one thing I wish to put on that fits my physique at a bigger dimension. Instantly, I’m instructed my physique does not make sense, and I ought to goal for no matter else. It is the identical with Black hair. The shortage of options tells us that caring for our hair is troublesome, not possible, and difficult. If we will construct a model that removes that compromise, hopefully, we will begin to have the choice of not having to compromise between caring for our hair and looking out good.
What’s subsequent for Ruka?
TM: We have now an unbelievable analysis and improvement crew—Sam Grisa from Dyson, Yolanda Grunewald from Phillips Kingsley, and our in-house trichologist Afope Atoyebi. They have been capable of assist us work towards changing into the Apple of hair care. No firm on this area covers the total suite of hair wants. You’ve corporations that make instruments, corporations that do the moist merchandise, and people who do extensions. With Apple, every thing is interconnected—you turn your telephone on, and it tells you every thing it is advisable do. All the pieces we’re doing feeds into that simplicity and connectivity.
Moreover, we’re popping out with a gel that’s good in your hair. A lot of the components utilized in current gels do not improve your hair; they dry it out. Our gel will in the end assist many Black girls and make it simpler to make use of our merchandise.