How A Kitchen Experiment And A $500 Investment Became A Multi-Million Dollar Business


Talk about making magic in the kitchen.

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 (her personal account, @CourtneyAdeleye) 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.

7min read

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.

A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization ( publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.