Sunday, April 12, 2009
The right way to run a curl business
Well, the events of last week left me (and probably many of you) a little disappointed. There's nothing worse than realizing that someone you respected and admired is really not worthy of respect or admiration. So, rather than harping on how not to run a business and focusing on a company that disregards its clientele for the sake of ever-increasing profit margins, I thought it might be nice to give some time and attention to a company that's doing things right: Curl Junkie.
Talking to Marsha, owner of Curl Junkie, reaffirmed for me that it's possible to create quality products for curly hair, and respond to client inquiries and requests with respect and honesty. Marsha is passionate about curly hair and gets very involved in the formulation of her products -- she can tell you not only what's in them but why. She also maintains a terrific blog!
Jillipoo: When did you start Curl Junkie and why?
Curl Junkie Marsha: I got started with Curl Junkie officially in February 2006 after months of formulating and learning about formulating, and years of being a PJ (product junkie) and learning about ingredients. I cut off my relaxed hair in 2003 and had been trying everything as well as the different methods (CG, etc.) to take care of my hair and was pretty frustrated. When I was in cosmetology school, I also saw a lack of product selection for our curly haired clients and their dissatisfaction with what was out there. I was working at a salon in NYC when I was inspired to try developing my own products to work on my clients' hair as well as my own. I wasn't necessarily thinking of starting my own line, but as my clients asked for more product, I began to do more research into how to start.
J: What is your background in hair?
CJM: I have always been fascinated by hair and actually wanted to be a hairdresser since I was 11 years old. I can remember being into analyzing conditioners and reading ingredient labels and trying to decipher ingredients in my early high school years. After going to college and grad school and working in the business and education fields, I finally decided that what I really wanted to do was go to cosmetology school. I graduated in mid-2005 and got my license in Oct. 2005.
J: What is your business philosophy?
CJM: There are so many types of curly girls and therefore there should be as many options. My goal is a modest one and that is to make high quality products that are worthy enough to stay in my customers' permanent rotation, if not become their HG (holy grail) products! Everything else revolves around that goal, including trying to provide excellent customer service and listen to customer feedback to keep improving customer satisfaction.
J: How do you create products and how is that different than the way most companies create products?
CJM: I cannot speak 100% for how other companies create products, but I think that the bigger companies or folks with the money go to a chemist and ask that a certain product created. They then let the chemist create. This means they are in the hands of the chemist, and not all chemists are created equal! Not to mention the back and forth between getting the samples which may or may not be good, can take months and months, and have no guarantee of success. In my experience, I have found it better to do the product creation, since I can work more efficiently and quickly than doing it through a chemist who may not understand all the needs of my client base. This means many, many hours of formulating on paper and then actually formulating, then failing many, many, many times until finally it clicks and the final product is born!!! Nothing is more satisfying!
J: Most people really do not understand what "all natural" means and why it isn't necessarily better than using ingredients made in a lab. What are your thoughts on this subject?
CJM: I think that is because the term has been abused. I do not think that all "artificial" ingredients are bad, but you have to choose wisely. I always check the safety of the ingredient and the function, because sometimes there are not good substitutes for the natural and sometimes the synthetic just really performs better. I have found that many companies claiming to be "all natural" are not. They may use some natural ingredients, but they are mixed with plenty of synthetics. Again, that doesn't mean that the products aren't good or safe, but it is misleading.
J: I've noticed that your product line is constantly evolving. What does this mean?
CJM: I listen to and take customer feedback very seriously. If I get enough complaints or requests for a new product and I can do it, time and money-wise (since manufacturers are very costly!), I work on developing or improving product and I love to do it since I want my customers to be as happy as possible with the products.
J: Lots of curly girls avoid silicones like the plague. Do you think that's necessary?
CJM: I think that every head is different and a lot depends on your lifestyle and product selection. For example, I love to shampoo, but not with harsh SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) type shampoos, but gentle ones like (shameless plug alert) my Curl Assurance Gentle Cleansing shampoo. That means, for me, that I could use a product with any type of silicone if I wanted. What I have found however, is that my hair doesn't react well to most silicones and can only take some modified Dimethicones and Amodimethicone in small doses and occasionally. I have tried to formulate my products so that there are no silicones or at least very small amounts and yet function in a similar fashion (in terms of conditioning, detangling, etc.) It can be done, it just tends to be more costly! But, in the long run, I have found my hair responds better to my products and others like them. The silicone-based ones feel like a "quick fix." However, for people who want to use heat tools or have very damaged hair, silicones may help with ease of combing and heat protection. It is a very individual choice, so I would not make a blanket statement about silicones since they do work for some people.
J: Most beauty products today are sold as much on the basis of how they feel and smell as much as how they perform. "Fillers" in hair care products are very common yet not well understood. What are some examples of fillers and can they ever be harmful or are they just benign and help the product feel more appealing to users? Does Curl Junkie avoid these and if so, why?
CJM: I have come to understand that there are certain ingredients which can help lower the cost of a product, while achieving a similar function, but if you use too much of these ingredients, you lose the effectiveness of the product. This is why a lot of drugstore products are disappointing. The ingredient lists look similar to more expensive ones, but don't perform the same. That’s because, instead of using, say, 5% of the ingredient, they use 1% because it's cheaper. It's not that most of these "fillers" are bad, it's just that companies seem to use them to substitute out or use less of more effective, expensive ingredients. For example, Cetyl Alcohol is a thickener and can be used as a filler. I love fatty alcohols because they make the product feel luxurious and do have conditioning benefits, but if you use more of it so you can use less of, say, shea butter, because it's cheaper, then you are using it as a "filler." So when I formulate, I look to find the right balance that will achieve the goal I'm looking for, not to hit a certain cost. Then, I'll see what it prices out to be. For some large companies, they will say to a chemist, "Develop a new rinse-out conditioner for $2 per 8oz,” and then the chemist will work backwards to achieve that goal. They will think about the cheapest thickeners, conditioners, and emollients with little concern about safety and most concern about cost and then effectiveness. I think there are few unsafe fillers. To me, it seems to be more about cost vs. function/effectiveness.
J: Advertising messages tell us we can eliminate frizz. How realistic is that for curly-haired people?
CJM: It is realistic for some, not all. For me, my hair can be mostly frizz-free, but I have NEVER been all frizz free and that is because I have too many types of curl patterns in my hair (from 3c-4a) and that alone can cause frizz. I have seen some curly heads that can be, and are, 99% frizz-free, but they are rare and I don't think that is a completely realistic goal for most and quite frankly, I think it can look a bit fake! A little "frizz" gives character and body! I look for hair to be: 1) healthy, 2) moisturized, 3) as defined as possible. I don't mind crunch, since some of it is necessary for my hair to look how I want it to look. If I have some frizz, I don't mind as long as the first two goals are met, because then your hair will look good no matter what ... IMO!
J: What have you learned about curly hair since first starting Curl Junkie?
CJM: Wow ... A ton. In particular, just how many types of curly/kinky hair there are and why you can't please everyone's hair type. That's OK, though, since I believe there is room for everyone! Also, I've learned a lot about chemistry and the uses of different ingredients. For example, gels, or I should say, the ingredients which can be used to make them and their benefits and drawbacks, which was something I hated in the beginning because I didn't fully understand the chemistry and have now come to love! I love challenges!
Thanks so much, Marsha, for your time and insights. Curly girls take note: this is the kind of enterprise that deserves our patronage, not one that plays games with labeling and won't answer direct questions about ingredients...