Back in April, I had the chance to meet a beautiful, young, smart, entrepreneur named Lauryn. She hails from Chicago but currently resides in DC where she serves her signature body and hair butters under her fairly new and growing business Hair to There. I met Lauryn at Broccoli Fest where we had a brief conversation about her business. The entire ordeal with her was a treat. Her smile and warm nature would make anyone stop and chat with her. She granted me the pleasure of having a sit-down with her to talk in depth about who she is, what her product is, and why it means so much to her.
Vanessa: Can you please tell us about yourself?
Lauryn: I’m originally from Chicago. I grew up and went to college there, at the University of Chicago. I found myself on the east coast about 6 years ago in 2009 in Baltimore doing work in the education sector. That was actually one of the first times I started thinking about hair. I had been natural for about 3 years at that point. I did a big chop and rocked a fro. I was working with young people in Baltimore, many of which were young women and I noticed there were many weaves, and sadly there wasn’t a lot of love for self. I was really happy to wear my hair natural to show young girls that you can do that and it’s beautiful. So I started thinking maybe I should make a product that people can use on their hair and does what it says it’s going to do. In terms of my “day job”, I am a film and video producer for a non-profit here in DC.
Vanessa: You mentioned that you wanted to create a product that works for people. How did you know it worked? Did you experiment with it yourself?
Lauryn: Yes. So I did my big chop and decided I was really going to take care of my hair and keep it healthy. Of course I went to Target and bought every single product. Keep in mind that this was 6 years ago when the natural hair product selection was very different, and much more limited than it is now. And to be honest, I wasn’t really happy with what was out there. Recently, I noticed my hair, my body, and my skin is very sensitive. It doesn’t respond well to alcohols, silicones, and all that kind of stuff. Knowing that as a product junkie left me with nothing that worked. I ended up with hair that was greasy yet dry. I experienced breakage. My hair didn’t shine and look the way I wanted it to. And I realized I could make something that works better than what I’m paying for. So I started mixing up different oils and butters. I really started researching the healing properties of Shea butter, and began to better understand the penetrative properties of coconut and almond oils and the nutritional benefits of avocado and all those things I always heard was good for us inside and out. Eventually, I started experimenting in my kitchen with my little mixture and finally stumbled upon a formula that really did work. What it does is it seals in the moisture in your hair and on your skin. When you have that base of moisturized hair and skin, you can do anything. The bottom line is that moist hair won’t break, it will be shiny, it will have body and it will do whatever you want it to do.
Vanessa: Can you tell us how Hair to There got started? What inspirited you to start the business?
Lauryn: A friend of mine bought me some Shea butter from a market in Baltimore and it got me started with what the substance is and how it works with other oils. From there, I was able to see the different qualities of Shea butter. I would give some to friends and family as Christmas gifts. I would put them in old Talenti (gelato) jars for them (laughs). And they would say to me, “you know, you should sell this.” I had friends with so many different types of hair from locs to color treated hair to very tight curls in one of my Jewish friends, which is a very different texture than mine. They all used the product in different ways (deep conditioner, daily styling product, body butter), and all of them found that the product is super versatile, pretty much anyone can use it and it actually worked! So last year, I took the leap. Two years before that I came up with the name Hair to There but unfortunately the URL was already taken and that’s why it’s “Your Hair to There” online, but it works. I started going from there and it’s all self-funded. It’s interesting to really start something and really invest your own resources into it. It gives you an extra level tenacity to really make it work.
Vanessa: So it’s been about a year?
Lauryn: It’s been about a year that I’ve been actually packaging it and selling it at different events in the area and also on online.
Vanessa: Is Shea butter the base butter that you use?
Lauryn: Yes, the base is Shea Butter. Each batch is made by hand so they each have some slight variations, but it’s all made with love.
Vanessa: Why do you find your product important for people to buy?
Lauryn: Two things. The first thing I tell people when I’m vending at an event or talking to someone about my company, is that everyone should make their own products. Everyone should feel empowered to know what’s in their products and to make their own mix. I know people are busy so I’m happy to do it for them. But everyone should be in their kitchens mixing up oils and butters, figuring out what things you can get at your local grocery store that works for you. You should be able to pronounce things that are in your product. It was really important for me to do my own research. I was at an event recently, and the creator of Heat Free Hair, Ngozi Opara, who is DC based, was giving her testimony and she said, “you have to know what you’re talking about. You have to know your product inside and out” and that’s exactly how I feel. I want to make sure I know where my Shea butter comes from, all of the different variations and types, how it’s processed, where its made, what its healing properties are. I want to know how coconut oil reacts to our hair and what it does to the hair shaft and what all of these wonderful natural butters and oils do when whipped together. I’m honored to be able to do that work and research for people. Being able to explain those things to people so they feel knowledgeable and empowered about their choices. They can take that information with them. I hope to have return customers all the time but my biggest goal is to make sure my customers, who are primarily women of color, and specifically black women, feel empowered about their bodies and the hair that grows out of their scalps and not feel like they have to put that into someone else’s hands. That’s what I find most rewarding about making and selling this product. I feel people can walk away from the conversation empowered. Another very important factor to me is affordability; I try to keep the price reasonable. Yes, the product is organic and all natural, but that shouldn’t break the bank.
Vanessa: This is great information. I didn’t know there were different types of Shea butter. I’ve seen inexpensive Shea butter at the dollar store with the mindset that it’s all the same.
Lauryn: When you think of Shea butter, think of an apple. They are the same type of fruit but they have very different characteristics. You may have genetically modified apples. You may have apples that have been exposed to different pesticides and fertilizers that have contributed to their growth. And there are different ways that apples are processed giving products such as applesauce, apple butter, etc. So Shea butter is the same. There are different types of nuts depending on what country it’s coming from and more importantly, you’re going to see a difference based on how the butter is extracted and how it’s processed. So you always want to have raw unrefined Shea butter. If it’s not raw or if its refined, that means it’s been processed and that diminishes all the healing properties. It sometimes also means that it’s been cut through with some sort of chemical to clean it or to make it uniform to get it to be one color or one particular scent. And quite frankly, you really don’t know what is going on during those processes. If you have raw unrefined Shea butter, it’s the butter as it was when it was extracted from the nut.
Vanessa: Interesting. I’ve seen Shea butter in different colors not really knowing what that mean.
Lauryn: Most of the color variation is from the processing but you will find different colors—again like apples—if they are coming from different places. People can label that anything because there isn’t a lot of regulation around this stuff. But an organic sticker is very difficult to get so if you find something with that organic sticker on it, you do know it is organic. You also want to make sure everything is fair trade. It might drive the price up but you want to make sure the people who are making it are earning a fair living wage.
Vanessa: Does your products come with a booklet to instruct customers how the ingredients work together for the particular jar you’ve made for them?
Lauryn: It doesn’t but you’ve given me a great idea! I’m so used to using the products that I know what it should and can be used for, but some people still ask questions like “is it a lotion, is it a hair cream, can I use it before I shampoo, can I use it on dry hair” and the answer is yes to all of those questions. I’ll begin to work on something like that.
Vanessa: And I’m a very practical person so if you tell me this is lotion just for the upper body, for example that’s all I’m using it for.
Lauryn: (Laughs) And that’s what we’re used to, very specific products for very specific uses. One thing I had to learn is I have no business purchasing a product that says, “curl defining” because I don’t really have curls. And that’s ok. If I want curls, I have to have some kind of straw set, flexi-rods, etc. And that’s absolutely fine. But there are a lot of products that might chemically or temporarily alter the state of your hair. I really believe products should do what they say they’re going to do. I don’t promise my product is going to make your hair grow 48 inches in 48 hours or make it a particular texture. But I will promise it will seal in moisture, which is water. Shea butter is not going to add moisture to your hair but it will seal it in!
Vanessa: Take us through your natural hair journey. Can you speak on the current natural hair community?
Lauryn: Well, I got my last relaxer in March of 2006. To be honest, relaxers never really did anything for my hair. People would joke, “oh you got a relaxer. I couldn’t tell. Your hair is just so THICK!” And my scalp was all torn up. I got scabs on my scalp and burns on my head and my hair wouldn’t grow past a certain point. I’d be like, is this where my genetic code tells my hair to stop growing, right at the top of my shoulders? So I was tired of spending all this money and time on my hair for subpar and mediocre results. And, again, this was in 2006 when natural hair really wasn’t that popular, especially in Chicago, but I decided I was just going to go natural anyway. At the time, for me, that meant going to the Egyptian salons to get my hair blown out. (I still wasn’t that comfortable wearing my hair out in its natural state.) That meant a lot of high heat. They did some cool steam treatments but it was still tough to balance out that heat. I did that for 2 or 3 years and I found that my hair still wasn’t growing and it was dry, damaged and breaking. I felt like I didn’t have a curl pattern and my natural hair didn’t look “natural”. Again, I was looking for curls that just simply didn’t even exist. I thought “this isn’t what natural is. Natural is when your hair coils and it goes down your back and you can wash and go”. Finally, I did a big chop in 2010 and decided I was really going to do it right this time! I would actually wear a scarf at night, I would use all the right products, and I would really take care of my hair this time! After that, my hair just grew in a way that I’ve never seen my hair grow before. I found YouTube and had a very typical journey. I started cutting out products and found what things were not appropriate for my hair. That was around the time I started mixing my own butters and oils and using it on myself. At that time, I still didn’t really understand what my hair really needed. Ironically, I was using my own Shea butter and found that my hair was still really greasy and really heavy even though I thought I was using what I was supposed to. But at that time, I was using Shea that wasn’t raw and leave-ins that were supposed to be water-based but had lots of alcohols, parabens and silicones. I wasn’t giving my hair the moisture it really, really needed. So I eliminated all that stuff and decided water is what is where its at and I needed something natural and pure to seal that in. That’s when I started doing more research with Shea and realized that ultra refined Shea Butter that I was using was pretty much no better than slathering Vaseline on my hair and that’s why it wasn’t doing what all the blogs said it should do. And in typical fashion, I found a lot of support from the online natural hair community. It took a long time for me to realize too that I should probably look for women who have hair texture like mine. I found there were a lot of styles I could do but it would look different. It was really about becoming comfortable with my hair and knowing that my hair won’t fall into coils around my face and that’s fine. That’s amazing. I love it.
Vanessa: You mentioned a very common misconception. I have locs and I found myself looking at other people’s locs. But locs are very unique. They come in many different facets and that’s all ok. That misconception of looking at the poster girl of natural hair has made many people want to move into that journey. And then they get discourage when their hair doesn’t look like that. Can you talk more about that misconception because you said you’re hair doesn’t curl and but that’s ok.
Lauryn: I had to learn that early on or else I would have kept looking for that product to do what I want it to. People want you to think there is only one texture of natural hair and if you’re hair doesn’t look like that, you’re doing it wrong. It’s simply not true. My timeline on Instagram is the best because every day I see all these little girls and women with full afros and twists and it’s all so beautiful. I wish all people could follow these people to see all the variations. I have a good friend named Shannon. Our hair texture and skin color are very different and people have thought and have even said that my skin tone would better “match” her texture of hair and vice versa. People would ask her if she’s got pieces in her hair and to me they would say “oh, you’re dad is Nigerian so that makes sense.” Even in my family, we all have different hair textures. It’s very important to do away with these misconceptions about texture and skin tone. As a person who is developing a product and selling it to women that look like me, I didn’t want to sell false dreams. A lot of products are selling you one type of texture of hair that is full of alcohols and silicones to make your hair a particular way as if our hair is supposed to be uniform and every hair needs to be in place. It’s just not right.
Vanessa: What is the most challenging and the most rewarding part of becoming a business owner?
Lauryn: The hardest part has been starting a business in DC. There are so many little obstacles you have to overcome especially when you don’t have a trust fund or a set of investors (laughs). My company is a start-up in a traditional sense. It’s a unique idea and it’s got a unique story. It’s carving out its own niche. It’s not tech-based, but I’m essentially using the same model by making this product to serve a need, testing it out and finding ways to make it better. Unfortunately, if you aren’t a tech-based start-up, you don’t have the same access to capital. Another challenge is I don’t have a manufacturing plant. I take pride in the fact that my products are hand-made and carefully whipped, but at some point as I grow I will have to find a way to bring my manufacturing process to scale. It’s been hard to get everything running. Every paycheck, I have to pull out funds to invest in the company. I found that was one of the aspects that people don’t talk about. You find these women who have founded amazing companies in their kitchen and now they’re in Target. But where did they get their packaging labels? How did they get a manufacturing plant? Where did you get the money for that? Do you have a rich uncle? (laughs). These questions aren’t really addressed. It is one of the things I’m really looking forward to finding out. I want people to feel empowered so if someone else comes behind me, I want to be able to tell them how it can be done. This has pushed me to be more open and ask those questions. It’s encouraging when you do cross things off the list and can say I did it with my own blood, sweat, and tears.
The most rewarding part is when I do an event and people leave comments on my social media accounts or give feedback if they’ve purchased via Square. I get so many positive comments. People have said I’m so nice and knowledgeable and they loved the product. The only negative complaint I’ve gotten is that the jar was not full. The product is double whipped and it was hot outside the day I was selling it so it appeared reduced. But I sent a new jar right away that was completely full. But people love the product. They like the story behind it. And that feels really good, and I am so excited to see where this can go. People already ask me how I got started and I love how this natural hair movement is opening up opportunities for people to feel empowered, men or women. Men can use my products too, some use it as a body butter or beard cream. We have fragrances that cater to men better and it won’t clog your pores.
Vanessa: What do you see for the future of Hair to There?
Lauryn: I have a lot of ideas. My background is in education and I love these kinds of conversations. I want to figure out how to synthesize that in a way that hasn’t been done before. There are great books about the science and politics of black or textured hair. I would love to find a unique way to put together everything I know in a way that’s compelling to people. A curriculum piece comes to mind. I also want to develop more than one product, just a simple product line. But it’s tough without all the resources. I don’t need 100,000 products. And the cool thing is that people can use my product along with their own regiments. I want to it to be sustainable and be something that will support my family and send my kids to college one day. It’s not a pet project. I definitely want it to have longevity. I’ve gotten great feedback from people everywhere I go, and that’s helped me to keep going and know that I’m doing something right. I also want to be more efficient in my production. We ship all over the country, not international yet. But it’s been running off the shelves. It’s great and I love that.
Vanessa: What is your definition of art?
Lauryn: One of my first conceptions of art came when I was little. We had just moved into our house and my mom said, “wow, we don’t have enough wall space.” What she meant by that is that there wasn’t enough space to hang art on the walls. Since then, wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always looked for lots of wall space so I can cover it with paintings. Art to me is something that fills a space. It can be a blank wall, a space in your gut, a place in your heart, time, etc. Art can be anything. It can be your hair, the clothes you wear, what you put on a canvas, music you create, it can really be anything.
Vanessa: Do you view your work and your trade as art?
Lauryn: I absolutely do. Moving to this part of the country was a huge moment for me and it was a time to define myself. I feel like I can kind of paint and sort of sing but this has really been a way to express myself. This has been my baby. Every time I make a jar from scratch, every time I’m pouring and mixing and carefully putting the labels on and making sure everything looks good, that’s art to me. You make something and you hand it to someone trusting that it’s going to work and that is a beautiful thing. I absolutely think of this as art for me and an extension of my creativity. The cool thing is, the foundation of being able to be expressive with your hair is having healthy hair. When I was little, I used to wear a big puff on top of my head and I hated it because it wasn’t falling down my back and freshly laid on my shoulders. Now, I can’t get enough of my big hair! The product itself helps me to be who I am. It’s the foundation of everything else about me that you see.
Vanessa: The empowerment that you want people to feel comes from you putting it in every jar. It’s given you a way to express yourself and you give that away to someone else with what you put into it. That’s beautiful. Who is your favorite artist and how has this person or thing always inspired you throughout your life?
Lauryn: I tend not to have many favorites, it’s more like if I like a song, I like a song. I may not like an entire genre of food but I like one dish. I tend to just like what I like. But there’s one picture from Norman Rockwell (The Problem We All Live With) of a little black girl (Ruby Bridges) in her little white dress. There are four police marshals around her. She’s walking and there’s the N word scribbled on the wall behind her, and a recently thrown tomato still sliding down the wall that just missed her. But what it is most compelling to me is that she is walking with so much pride. Her skin is beautiful. It contrasts so beautifully against her crisp, white dress. And she’s walking without her parents and she’s just so confident. I’ve got prints all over my apartment but that picture really sticks out to me. She’s walking with no fear and isn’t fazed at all by the terrible derogatory term, the circumstances of the world around her or the tomatoes being thrown at her.
Vanessa: What kind of things can we see coming up from you soon?
Lauryn: I plan to continue developing products for the line, and hope to engage previous customers in product testing those new items. I did a lot of events last year but this year, I’m taking some time to cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s. I will also launch an actual marketing campaign, which I haven’t done any of. I’ll be tightening up my website, and social media spaces. I am also working with a brand specialist to ensure I have a compelling and distinct look. I am so excited for what’s in store for Hair To There!