Their's was a fairytale story. Coming from humble beginnings in Queens, New York, Miko and Titi Branch never once took a loan nor investment from anyone, and now their brand, Miss Jessie's is firmly indented as one of the world leaders on the natural haircare map.
We spoke to Miko, Co-Founder and CEO of Miss Jessie's about the beginnings of the brand and how her and sister Titi were bestowed the entrepreneurial urge from within the very home they grew up in.
Miko remembers her grandmother Miss Jessie fondly - a steadfast in the kitchen, a comforting but stern presence in her and her twin sisters' lives, and a monumental piece of their entrepreneurial journey. A one-armed lady who taught the girls all they needed to know about life, business, and how to survive in the world once you've failed. She prepared them for their struggles, but also their rise to fame as the sisters who re-invented haircare for the African-American woman. “She was the first CEO we ever had contact with." she muses, “My grandmother rared our family from the kitchen table."
"All we had was an idea, all we had was each other" - Miko
Miko and her late sister Titis' father also trained the twins to be entrepreneurs. Between their father and their grandmother, the girls were quick to start their own business. Their first foray into entrepreneurship however did not go so well, and the business failed in 1999. Miko recalls her and sister "made some decisions that resulted in us losing our business." It was to be the first major setback that would ultimately pave the way for the multi-million dollar Miss Jessie's brand we know today.
It was while bathing her son one evening when Miko developed the idea for the haircare brand. Her then-straightened hair frizzed up upon contact with moisture and got Miko thinking about why she was muting her big natural curls. Why not embrace her unique hairstyle? With a likeminded and extremely capable sister, and their salon at the ready, Miss Jessie's begun.
When the conversation shifted to allowing your natural hairstyle, and embracing your roots, Miko wondered whether people would be hesitant to move away from straighteners and curlers. The fashionable thing was not to be au naturale, rather, was to be styled or pulled in one way or another, so your hair did not resemble its natural state. People actually wanted to wear their hair in its naturally curly, kinky or wavey state, but just didn't know how. “To my surprise" she says, “it created a conversation that was favourable. It took me no time to understand that this was our opportunity to get our business back."
“We learned how to mix things from scratch" - Miko
The sisters took to the kitchen and began working to find the best recipes, dedicating themselves to coming out with products that “perform and work." They were to become specialists in everything curly, kinky and wavey as their was nothing in this range at the time lining the shelves of CVS or Walgreens.
"It was Titi who cracked the nut" - Miko
"Titi stayed up later than me" Miko recalls. "And it was Titi that cracked the nut." Miko's sister was the one to come up with recipe for what is now called 'curly pudding,' and there they had it. Miss Jessie's, Miko believes, came "out of necessity," but it was the twins' drive to meet this necessity that produced this whirlwind journey they would embark on from the first 'curly pudding.'
From there, they began to put a premium on their services in their salon to come up with the capital needed to expand the brand. Not once did they receive an angel investment or a familial or friendly loan, building their business as they went.
Their ability to captivate - unrivalled; their marketability - seamless; and their devotion to the home-grown brand - personal.
By 2001, Miss Jessie's was launched and by 2004 they had become product innovators with the 'winning formulation' for Miss Jessie's, with the first of its products circulated on to supermarket shelves. The business has only gone from strength to strength since then. Titi tragically died in 2014, but Miko has continued to push the legacy and popularity of the brand, having penned a harper-collins bestseller Miss Jessie's: Creating a Successful Business from Scratch - Naturally, with her sister before she passed, and now has another book on the way.
The Miss Jessie's sisters grew their brand from the ground up, and on the back of hard work, grit, determination, and failure. Miko chimes that if there was anything she could tell aspiring female entrepreneurs, it would be "have no fear, and embrace your failures. They will become the stepping stones to your success."
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.