During a rare, unexpected visit to YouTube searching for information on how to properly wash her kinky, coarse natural hair, Delali Kpodzo discovered a platform for Black women that would change the face of video tutorials. A one-stop shop for everything you need to know on Black hair, beauty and even wellness, We Are Onyx is becoming a leader in anchoring Black women to understand and own their unique beauty. Read Delali’s story of how she went from a frustrated natural girl to a Black beauty CEO.
EBONY: Your company is very unique in that you offer tutorials as well as a monthly option to sample products for women of color. Can you tell me how the company got started?
Delali Kpodzo: So the back-story came out of a hair emergency about a year ago, which was the result of realizing that I didn’t really know how to take care of my hair. I used to wear braids a lot, and it was time to get them re-done. So I made an appointment to get my hair washed and conditioned and all that jazz on Saturday, and then get it re-braided on Sunday. So I decided to take it out on Friday. Then, that Saturday morning I’m getting into the car, and I get a call from the hair salon that my stylist has a flat and she’s not coming. She was the only Black stylist at this salon.
I called all of my girlfriends like, “Where do you go, and who do you know?” Of course, Saturday morning at 10 a.m. is not the time when you think you’re going to get a hair appointment. I have very thick, coarse, kinky hair, and if it even sees water, it shrinks down to like an inch! So I decided to just do my own hair. But I felt I should at least get some kind of preparation. So I went online.
At the time it was really awkward to type in, “How to wash natural hair.” Eventually I found a video of this young woman on YouTube. Her laptop is facing the shower, her camera is on, and she’s making this video about how to wash natural hair in sections. So I watched her, and it was amazing. She was using all these terms that I had never heard of. So I stared to search those terms in YouTube and then everything opened up. I saw all the tutorials, everything that was going on. I had no idea that girls were doing this online. There are so many of us going through it, and each one of these women took it upon themselves to try and share the little information that they had. I thought that was incredible.
EBONY: So how did this inspire the birth of We Are Onyx?
DK: I had thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a place where Black women could go to learn how to manage hair in a quick and concise manner?” I had been telling my boyfriend about this and he was like, “Hey, why don’t you tell Myriam?,” who is my friend and had an MBA and business background. YouTube is great, but it’s almost like there’s a deluge of information. It’s too much and it’s disorganized.
So I’m driving with Myriam one day, and I just spit it out there. We get to this red light, and she slams on the brakes. She whips around and looks at me and says, “I have an amazing business idea and a model to go with this, but if I tell you about it, we have to do it together.” And that’s where Onyx came from.
EBONY: How did it blossom to beauty and nutrition?
DK: We Are Onyx really blossomed into a much larger concept. It’s really a one-stop beauty destination for Black women, and we cover topics on hair and skin, but we also cover nutrition and self-esteem and fitness. We have so many questions about our beauty, and we’ve been trained to believe that our beauty is complicated, and it really isn’t.
EBONY: I see on the site that you can kind of create your own monthly box of goodies for a nominal payment. This is such a cool concept.
DK: Yes, so the idea is that you go to the site for the first time and you take what is called a “true beauty” profile. You tell us a little bit about your beauty: what your skin tone is, what your hair texture is. And then eventually you tell us how you’re wearing your hair: is it natural, is it pressed, is it relaxed, is it in a weave? We want to know everything about your beauty. Then, you’re directed to a host of videos by individuals who look like you. The idea is that you’re learning to manage your beauty by watching a woman who actually looks like you manage her beauty. You’re really getting one-to-one, direct information.
EBONY: Why did you feel women of color needed a company like yours?
DK: The whole idea is that women of color buy a lot of beauty products. We buy twice as many beauty products as any other woman in the market. We’re 8 percent of the population, but we represent 35 percent of the beauty spending in the States, which is unbelievable. It would be great if you didn’t have to commit to buying a full-size product before you have a chance to try it and figure out whether it actually works for you. So that’s what we allow you to do: we allow you to sample any product that you see on the site, and then if you do really love that product, you can buy the full size in the store.
EBONY: Can you break down, logistically, how you built your brand?
DK: I was working a full-time job at the time as an assistant in the film finance department at the major talent agency, CAA. Then I left CAA and went to work for an exceptionally well-known producer. So he actually inspired me a lot because he was somebody who also built a business and built his brand. I was very much inspired by that. I was working that full-time job, plus weekends, plus extra hours—and also I was taking some time to work on Onyx.
Miriam and I (and a couple of interns) would sit down every night at her house and just work until midnight, coming up with idea. I loved beauty, but you still have to be educated to some degree about things and understand what’s going on. There was a lot of research. There was a lot of understanding population moves and where Black people were living. There was a lot of understanding where the major brands were located versus where the demand is. There was a lot of market research. Afterwards, we were able to put together a business plan.
The whole idea was to say, what is the problem that YouTube is resolving? What is the problem that Birch Box is resolving? What is the problem that Sephora is resolving? How can we pull those three problems into a resolution in one space for Black women?
EBONY: And we need that information.
DK: Exactly. We were trying to build a place where you can find information about any question that you may have like: where and how do I get those products? Even for me today, I still have to drive to a Black neighborhood to find my foundation. I can’t just go to the CVS and find my color! So we were also trying to resolve the issue of product inaccessibility, being that you can hear about a product, but how do you find it? Even finding it through the Internet can be really challenging.
EBONY: You’ve already expanded We Are Onyx to an extent that really touches on everything a woman of color needs to know for optimal beauty and wellness. What would you like to see happen in the future?
DK: I mean, for us, the sky is kind of the limit. We’re the hyper-perfectionists that are never satisfied! We want to create a space where a woman’s going to find everything she’s ever been looking for regarding her beauty. We want to expand into lifestyle and products for kids as well. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked by parents, once they learn what I do, “Oh, what should I be putting in my daughter’s hair?” We’d love to give parents the opportunity to get involved and learn their children’s hair. We would love to be able to reach every Black woman in North America; go to Brazil, France, and even London. Black women are all over the world, struggling with the same issues.
EBONY: I love that Black women are becoming a driving force in the beauty biz and making money as CEOs and entrepreneurs.
DK: Exactly! We’ve all gone through that; we were all little girls once who felt awkward and different, but we don’t have to carry it around with us anymore. It’s about embracing your true beauty and and loving it. It’s about really loving yourself. That is never trendy, that is just fact. That is the way that life should be.
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Associate Beauty and Style Editor, Digital