On Friday 13th June, we caught up with the creator of ‘Big Hair Beauty’ hair products, Melissa! We discussed how her fantastic range came about, the struggles she faced when she was first setting up her business as well as the secret ingredients in her amazingly hydrating products. We see big things coming for this British Entrepreneur, so without further ado, we introduce to you Melissa!
Davina: Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been natural for?
Melissa: I’ve been natural for about three and a half years, it’ll be four years this year!
Davina: What made you want to go natural in the first place?
Melissa: It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it wasn’t based on anything other than my hair not being in a good condition. I went from relaxing my hair to texturising and blow drying it to make it straight – is that what they call texlaxed now? My hair was just in really bad condition so I just wanted to start again. When I started again I decided I don’t really want to relax it any more. It wasn’t a conscious thing like ‘I want to be natural’ it just felt like I had to as my hair did not like being relaxed, and the texturiser wasn’t much better.
Well I braided it twice, and I just couldn’t deal with the braids, especially pulling them out. So the second time I just cut the braids out, started again, and thats when my learning started. I didn’t know anything before, I just knew I wanted to use natural products because I adopted a whole healthier lifestyle; I went travelling and I came back really fit and eating really clean foods, so I just became really conscious about ingredients in general. I wanted to know what was in the products I used, and when I started reading what was in them… lets say it was scary.
Davina: So was that what made you want to start your own hairline?
No, I didn’t plan on starting my own hairline, I just wanted products that were natural. Because I couldn’t find them and when I did they had a big price tag, I just started making stuff and watching YouTube videos. Then people started saying “look how fast your hair is growing, its really healthy. What are you using?” And I told them “I’m making them!”
When you’re natural, you get other people who are natural stopping you and speaking to you. So through talking to more people, I realised that they were in the same position where they couldn’t get the products that they wanted. Finally, a friend of mine said “why don’t you look at creating your own business?” – and it kind of went from there!
Davina: So where were you working before, prior to making the hair products?
Melissa: Well I’m a Quantity Surveyor by trade, so that’s something completely different! Again, I never thought ‘let me leave work and start my own haircare range’ – it was just really an organic growth. There was a need, and I fulfilled the need for myself and then realised that other people had a need so I just went about exploring that from there.
Gloria: That’s amazing!
Davina: So how long have you been making the Big Hair range for?
Melissa: Well, I have been working on it for just over two years. Once I started, I knew that I wanted to do it properly by going down the manufacturing route to ensure everything was made to the same high standard. Just my luck that the year I was going to launch my products was the year the EU (European Union) decided to change its regulations for the first time since the 70s! That meant that some of the ingredients that we were using and the quantities we were using them in needed to be adjusted. So I decided to follow the new EU regulations and redo everything. I had to hire an independent chemist who went through everything and looked at what we could use and in what amounts, and developed the four key product range.
Gloria: Do you reckon that’s been one of your biggest struggles?
The whole manufacturing business is a struggle, because most of the time they don’t want to help new businesses or small businesses – not even help, they just don’t want the business. They prefer regular business from regular customers who they know are going to do well, so they don’t really want to delve into new markets that they aren’t used. Thats because natural hair care for non-European hair doesn’t have a big market in the UK, especially two years ago, so nobody was interested in taking it on. So that was the biggest struggle – getting a manufacturer to say “yes.” Even after they’ve said yes, its still chasing them and begging them to take your business even when you have raised the funds and the money is there. They just didn’t want to know.
Davina: Has it become easier now?
Melissa: I think it has become easier now, because there is move in the market generally. What happened when the legislation changed was we saw the lack of availability on the market, as the brands that weren’t to the standard fell away as they had to redo their products to the current standard. So I think that opened up a new door, and we also saw more UK brands creating products for our hair and the bigger brands started catering for us too. The recession also meant that they were now taking on small and new business, so that’s how I was able to secure a manufacturer.
Davina: Would you say your products are exclusively for natural or ‘black’ hair, would you say your products are for everyone?
Melissa: Definitely not! I’ve got European customers, Asian customers… I have customers that have relaxed hair. I even have customers that buy the products to use on their wigs! My products are just for people who want healthy hair. However, our products are made with the naturally curly and afro hair market in mind as moisture and retaining moisture is essential to our hair, and that’s what we focus on to promote healthy hair. The products were made with that market in mind, because they would find it more beneficial due to the fact that their hair needs the moisture. If our hair type doesn’t receive moisture it effects the hair type greatly, whereas if someone has relaxed hair and its dry, there are things that they can do so you would never know. With curly hair, if your hair is dry or in a bad state, it is instantly visible. So it is directed at that market so it can appeal to them, because they know they can get the mostbenefits.
That being said, I feel that we shouldn’t have to go to specialist shops; we should be able to go to the supermarket and pick up our hair stuff the same way everyone else does. I really want to be part of that change so the whole reason why I did it to the EU standard was so that I could do that. Not everyone is fortunate to live in a multicultural city like London. Not everyone has the hair shop on the high street to buy their products; some people have to leave where they live to buy products, whereas what I’ve worked about doing is creating a product that isn’t just for curly, natural, non-European hair, that way it is more likely to be stocked in a wide variety of places and its going to be accessible to the people that need it.
Gloria: Do you feel like you took extra care so that the few lines you have brought out can cater to all different hair types?
Melissa: Definitely. I use some of the research we collected after doing the focus groups and previous market research to decide what products we used for the initial range. Also with the branding, we wanted to make sure that the branding wouldn’t exclude other people, so people would be able to look at it on a shop shelf and pick it up. Even within our community we type hair; I don’t do typing as even if hair looks the same it can behave so differently. But if a product looks like its for type 4, then someone with type 3 hair will assume that they can’t use it and vice versa. This isn’t really true – we use and adapt products according to our hair type.
Through speaking to different people, we found most people would look at it and think ‘Oh, it’s an organic hair product’ rather than a specialist product for natural hair, which is brilliant as we want it to reach as many people as possible.
Davina: I think the name in itself is really good. How did you come up with the name ‘Big Hair Beauty’?
Melissa: I came up with a few before, then it literally came organically. I thought of it, then I found the domain and the domain was available! I just knew I didn’t want it to be called ‘natural hair…’ anything, because I always thought of the bigger picture. Hair needs moisture regardless of what type of hair it is, so I didn’t want to exclude anyone. Anyone can have big hair! Whether your hair is straight or whether your hair is curly… it doesn’t matter who you are, anyone can have Big Hair – if that’s what you want. My focus is health over length and I tend to cut mine every year because I like short hair, but maybe next year I’ll have Big Hair.
Davina: Is there anything in particular that you completely avoid when making your hair products?
Melissa: Well we don’t use silicones, synthetic polymers or any parabens, we don’t use any SLS’s (Sodium Lauryl Sulfates) and we also don’t use the new ingredients coming on the market that are replacing the old stuff. There are plenty of new ingredients that don’t have the same names as the SLS’s people avoid, but they still have the same chemical compounds, making them the same things just with different names! We just don’t use things that aren’t beneficial to the hair! The whole point of the brand and the range is to create products that are beneficial to the hair. Silicones don’t moisturise the hair because moisture can’t penetrate it – synthetic polymers are exactly the same. They’re all for look and feel but they do nothing for the hair.
Davina: So what ingredients do you use for adding moisture that aren’t just superficial but rather they really penetrate the hair?
Melissa: Meadowfoam seed oil. It’s an amazing oil; in the industry they call it a miracle oil. I hate the word, because I am not selling a miracle – you have to put effort into it if you want your hair to be healthy – but meadowfoam seed oil is one of the most penetrative oils. What it does it enters the hair shaft then reduces the water loss through the hair, so using it over time prevents moisture from escaping from your hair. Thats our secret ingredient in our leave in!
Gloria: So what are the current products you have in your range?
Melissa: Firstly, we’ve got the SLS free shampoo then the deep conditioning hair treatment which contains Rhassoul clay in, making it act as a dual product, as its a cleanser and a moisturiser. What a lot of people find is, when they use Rhassoul clay by itself, after a few uses they find that their hair starts to become slightly dry. Because it is such a powerful cleanser and it draws all of the toxins away, it can dry out your hair after several uses. So what we did is, we found a balance where we could add moisturising ingredients to the same product and use the clay as a dual product. So we put banana in it, avocado oil, cocoa butter and glycerin which acts as a humectant – basically drawing moisture back in as the Rhassoul draws all of the toxins out. We sat down with the chemist so we could get it just right, allowing it to do the right amount of cleansing and moisturising. That product saves you buying two or three products, as it does both in one treatment.
Next we have the leave-in that includes the meadowfoam seed oil and finally our 100% natural avocado whipped butter.
Gloria: I’m so excited to try this, I absolutely love avocado!
Melissa: Same! What we found is shea butter has amazing benefits but it leaves build up on the hair and it’s very heavy, which is why we decided to replace the shea butter with the avocado butter while still using shea oil, so we could still get the benefits. We whipped the avocado with shea and sweet almond oil and the result is a really smooth, light texture and you don’t need a lot at all!
Davina: So your products are quite economical because you don’t have to use much?
Melissa: Definitely, especially the butter. That lasts absolutely ages.
Davina: Well thank you for giving us these samples to try, we are really looking forward to trying out your range for ourselves!
Melissa: You’re welcome, I’m really looking forward to hearing what you both think! You both have got amazing hair and I’m hoping your hair likes it! I don’t use anything else but my own products in my hair, as all of the products we develop are only tested by people – myself, friends and family and then we have focus groups. We love giving our products to real people and getting real feedback. So if you guys want to test future products, we would love to have you testing them!
Gloria: Yes! We would love that! Thank you so much for meeting us for this interview!
Melissa: It was my pleasure!