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."
Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.
Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.
I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!
My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.
And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.
Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.
It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."
Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.