Debra Shigley first developed a deep interest in the beauty needs of Black women back when she was an undergraduate at Harvard University and she and best friend Jennifer Hyman (now CEO and founder of Rent the Runway) were roommates. They wrote a story for the school newspaper, The Crimson, that was about beauty standards at Harvard. Shigley remembers people of different ethnic groups not feeling they were represented in what was considered the ideal beauty at Harvard. “Then one of the subjects for the story said something I will never forget to this day,” Shigley recalls. “She said that beauty was not an objective thing and that it was socially constructed. “‘Could you imagine a world where women were rushing to the salon to get their hair teased up into afros in the same quantity that women, who are Black, are getting their hair straightened?’”
“We have an entire beauty industry that is not geared toward women of color,” Shigley adds. Yet, she says, a higher percentage of women have wavy to curly hair than straight hair. This population that spends so much more time at the salon and on products is not being considered in the beauty aisle and in the hair care market, according to Shigley. So with the recently launched Colour, an on-demand on-location hair styling experience app, Shigley wants to make sure more Black women feel included. Colour aims to deliver salon fresh hair to clients without having to go to the salon for $200 unlimited appointments or $65 for one-off appointments.
Ebony.com spoke with Shigley about Black hair care issues and how Colour aims to alleviate some of them.
EBONY.COM: What let you know that other women also needed this service?
Debra Shigley: As a beauty editor for many years, I just thought if I have this need a lot of other women have this need. We did surveys with other women and at one point I stopped women on the street to talk to them about hair drama; what issues they had with their hair or with hair salons in terms of what were their pain points. And it became more and more apparent, as every African-American woman on the street had a story to tell, even with some traumatic experiences in relation to finding a salon that could do her hair.
It was an idea I had way before the dry bars. When I had my first national beauty appearance on the view and I was up in New York, my first question was what was I going to do with my hair. As a woman of color, you may have your own trusted hairstylist but it’s often uncomfortable to think about how you move around the world with the need of getting your hair done and not knowing where to go. As a professional woman I should be able to go from Atlanta to New York and not be worried about whether there would be someone who could do my hair.
Then there was the experience of having to look really put together for work, but then having to sneak and run to the salon because otherwise we’re spending all day Saturday at the salon when everyone else is going. And I said, there just has to be a better way.
EBONY.COM: How did you prepare yourself to launch this business?
DS: For a while we lived in Mexico City, and when I was there I knew I wanted to launch Colour, so I went to beauty school. And I took my stylist, who is now our head of education, down there to teach some classes, because what I learned was that not everyone knows how to style Black hair. It’s taught, but because it’s not their target clientele, a lot of people are not keyed in on how to really do it. We wanted to look at creating a model that was scalable and replicable so that stylists of all colors could do Black hair. So I gathered up all of my classmates and we got all of the Black women I knew to be our models. Most of the hair in Mexico City is straight hair and many had never seen afro textured hair. So we tested out our method of straight drying to section out the hair and get closer to the root, and we were successful in terms of how many students quickly caught on to it. We want to open a door to this knowledge of Black hair care.
EBONY.COM: What are some other frustrations that Black women have about hair care?
DS: There’s the limited amount of time that women have against the perceived time it takes to manage it and make it look the way they want it to look. What we’re seeing with the women who are paying for the unlimited plan, is how much they are experimenting with their hair. For instance, women who were pressed and curled all of their lives, now wanting to try Goddess Braids. These are professional women in their 30s who a lot of them have gone natural in recent years. If we make it seamless for them, they are experimenting because if they have busy lives and kids they don’t have time to watch all those amazing YouTube videos that can help them make their hair look good.
EBONY.COM: How does one become a stylist with Colour?
DS: It starts with an audition. We’ve recruited through open call and word of mouth in our first city. You can be an expert in blow drying or braiding and come on board. We grade on various different things in terms of technical and method, along with professionalism and neatness. Then there’s an interview process that’s a competency based interview, because we want people who are really passionate about client service. We want people who are going to go 110% to make it perfect before they leave. We also do a background check using the same service that a lot of the startups in this gig economy space use.
And while we have a Colour methodology, it’s not etched in stone there is some variation, but everyone does go through our training that includes our proprietary method of drying hair. We have tips and techniques for brushing and we want to include round brushing, as well as different braiding and twisting techniques. We also want to build a sense of community because so many stylists are there on their own just renting booths. Part of our mission is we want stylists to lift them up and help them get to where they want to in their career.
With us, they work on a commission that is competitive in the space. While we are not the first to do this, we are the first to be a by-women-of-color for-women-of-color app. But the model is similar to Uber, so it’s according to appointments and 18% gratuity.
EBONY.COM: How does it work for the customer?
DS: You go through the look book and pick your style, and then you can pick your date and time. We do take requests for stylists but we can’t always guarantee you’ll get that stylist because we’re more geared toward the time slot that the customer wants. Our clients get to experiment with different stylists and different looks. We find that the most popular appointment is 7:30 a.m. before they go to work and they don’t have to worry about someone watching their kids. In the app you can take a photo of yourself so that the team can see which stylist might be a good fit, so essentially we’re concierging at this stage. We’ve been in beta for a while, but have only officially launched for two weeks and are currently invite only with a wait list.
EBONY.COM: What are your expansion plans?
DS: We plan to scale around the country. The next cities we’re looking at are Washington, DC; Chicago; and maybe Baltimore and, of course, New York. We want to be in 21 cities nationally and internationally and we are starting in Atlanta to get it right here first and then scale.
Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of technology and everything else since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences. Follow her on Twitter @lynneluvah.