5 Min ReadBusiness 13 August 2019
Founder of The Mane Choice, Courtney Adeleye, is no stranger to a bad hair day. As a woman of color, the societal preconceived notion of having straight-laced hair is something she always faced. Rather than following the flat-ironed status quo, Adeleye wanted to embrace her authenticity, which in her case, meant her natural locks. In order to shift the perception of wearing-and rocking-a natural hair style, Adeleye started a YouTube channel and would eventually develop a brand from her kitchen that would go on to grace the shelves of some of the world's biggest retailers.
Before she became a beauty vlogger and industry powerhouse, Adeleye was an undergrad at the University of Michigan studying nursing. While sitting in the science classroom, this future entrepreneur dreamt of having waist-length hair, but found it a difficult pursuit due to her naturally curly strands. Despite setting a goal for herself to achieve the look of her dreams, Adeleye reports that she could not find any product on the market that would make it a reality. And so, she started experimenting; with every ingredient she could think of to restore, grow and maintain a long-haired look. Eventually, Adeleye found a remedy in a handmade conditioner that she whipped up on her own kitchen through hours of research, trial, and error.
It was after discovering a formula that finally worked, that a new journey began, and it started with vlogging. Still relatively uncharted territory in 2010, YouTube gave Adeleye a new platform to share her secret with the world. Using her still unnamed product, which would go on to become her brand's best-selling Green Tea & Carrot Deep Strengthening & Restorative Mask Treatment, she uploaded videos herself transitioning from relaxed hair to natural hair and her journey to achieving waist-length hair. To her surprise, Adeleye struck a nerve. Young women from around the world began following and chiming in, forming a community of over 100,000 hair lovers.
“Sometimes it can be expected to be more straight-laced in corporate or more formal business environments," she says. “Often, women with textured hair feel the need to straighten their hair in such settings because it has been the norm to conform for so long. My brand was inspired by my desire to find the kind of products I wanted to see on the market."
After seeing the white space, first hand, Adeleye, in 2013, decided to go into business for herself using $500 of her own personal savings and kept reinvesting her money. She began by choosing a business name. Next, she purchased the domain, and finally called upon her niece to help create the logo. When she was just beginning, Adeleye's family members helped her bottle her the deep conditioner, attaching the labels by hand. She then uploaded her first handmade conditioner product online. A first sale was then made. One sale became two, then three, and so on. Adeleye was extremely cautious with my spending, and didn't touch the profits for the first year.
“The Mane Choice grew from a home-based hobby into a multi-million dollar business."
Fusing her desire to merge beauty, health, and science, her now ample line of more than 90 hair treatments, styles and even vitamins, are formulated with a medley of essential nutrients, such as biotin and vitamins A, B, C, D, E and more. She has developed a comprehensive array of products, that range from cleansers to conditioners, stylers, moisturizers, treatments, supplements, and accessories, all of which cater to a multi-cultural demographic. Found in over 20,000 retail locations, including Walmart, Target, Sally Beauty Supply and more, her business is now worth multiple millions. Even though the YouTube channel has since ceased to be her main conversation channel, Adeleye now communicates with half a million fans over the social media waves.
Talking about why her business was a success, Adeleye claims, “Aside from having subscribers that believed in me before I even started, I sought to fill the needs of the consumer and wanted to give them exactly what they wanted, all while being tangible and responsive to their needs, says Adeleye.
She adds that her social media audience is an organic one: “My whole team and I are incredibly responsive. Personally, I don't vlog on YouTube much anymore, but I am consistently on Instagram engaging with my social network."
Today, The Mane Choice is shipping worldwide via a dynamic e-commerce platform and is sold in brick-and-mortar stores. The company has successfully developed a comprehensive array of products that can cater to a multi-cultural demographic. Their products range from $9.99 to $25.99. And above all, they have multiple retailers in addition to their products performing well above industry average at all of them.
“My subscribers saw how my hair was thriving and wanted to know which product [the handmade deep conditioner] attributed to my successful hair growth. I offered to share the recipe, and even posted it. Most weren't interested in making it. They wanted me to make it and sell it to them. After so many requests, I realized that there was a demand. That's where it all started."
Although The Mane Choice's top consumer is African-American women, Adeleye reports that women of all ethnicities shop the brand, depending on hair needs rather than ethnicity. For her, a multicultural brand is about its ethos, and not its demographic.
“Being that we are a multicultural brand, we offer nutritional supplements and healthy hair care products for people of all ethnicities, with all hair types and textures."
And it's not just consumers who have celebrated Adeleye's accomplishments. The industry is equally excited about her unique collection, and the spirited founder has received multiple consumer choice awards like 2017 Stevie Silver Winner for Women in Business, 2017 CurlBOX Award and the Fall 2017 Beauty O-Ward by O Magazine.
“There can be the expectation for the CEO of a company, who happens to be black, to conform to a certain standard of beauty and style," says Adeleye. “Fortunately, I never let that shake me."
Looking to the future Adeleye is focused on continuing to work to be the best, the hardest working, and the most knowledgeable. Focusing on her strengths and abilities, she has this advice for young entrepreneurs; “Never become so busy making a life that you forget to live," she says. “Work hard, but learn to enjoy the process, salute your accomplishments, and work harder to improve on your misfortunes rather than dwelling on them."
Adeleye also reminds us that sometimes on the path to greatness we can be our own worst enemies, which can sabotage our dreams. “Doubt from others, not myself, can often try to negatively impact how you view your success and what you're striving towards."
In the next five years she plans to expand into the global market, adding more product, and above all -- continuing to offer the best, hottest, and most differentiated products on the market.
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I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.