This Is How Karen Mitchell Turned A Side Hustle Into One Of The Top Hair Extension Companies Around
If you search #HumanHairExtensions on Instagram you’re bound to come across True Indian Hair within a few scrolls. The hair care line, owned by True Hair Company is a force in the beauty industry. But long before the Instagram craze, the brand made its mark, appearing on the manes of top celebrities (celebrity stylist Yusef consistently uses True Indian Hair for Rihanna, so you know it’s good!) around the country.
Now, in its 13th year in business with three retail stores currently in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, the brand is positioned more than ever before to take over the hair extension industry. Here, its founder, Karen Mitchell tells us how she made it happen and explains her next move.
Having the funding to start a (hair) company can be a challenge. How did you raise money? How did you start your business?
At first, finding the funding to start True Indian Hair seemed like an impossible task. I had just been laid off from my job and I had filed for bankruptcy a year prior. I felt my best option at that point was to start a hair business that I was already selling on the side as a side-hustle. With bankruptcy on my record and no job, I was not a candidate for a bank loan. I decided to cash in my 401k. I figured I was a 31-year-old single woman with no kids so I had time to plan for retirement in the future. I also swallowed my pride and called friends and family to help contribute to the start of my business. With about $20,000 savings, the $24,00 I got from my 401k and about $3,500 gifted from friends and family and a loan of $3,000 from my oldest brother, I was able to rent a store and officially start my business.
More from ESSENCE
Has starting your own business been everything you expected?
The first year of my business was not easy. I started with no business plan; just a dream and determination to succeed. I didn’t know where to turn for support so I did everything on my own and in doing so, I made some mistakes that slowed me down. Today with three successful stores and an online business with company sales in the millions, I can happily say that owning my own has exceeded my expectations.
What does having a Black-owned business mean to you?
Having a thriving Black-owned business meant that I was a part of the progress in my community. I felt beyond proud to open my first business in the community I resided in. I was not just supporting myself but I was providing jobs for others. The word “boss” wasn’t just bragging rights; it was a right of passage as a provider and a supporter. I’m super proud to be in that position as the owner of a Black business.
What is the beauty industry missing these days?
The hair industry is missing originality. It’s saturated with so many sellers copying each other to the point the customer can’t tell the difference. The brands all look the same, are packaged the same, and speak the same language. There’s nothing that separates them. [Thankfully] I have stayed true to my brand of luxury hair extensions and that has kept me above the fray.
Do you have plans to expand your business?
I currently have three retail stores in New York (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens) as well as our online boutique. I plan on expanding to New Jersey in 2018 with our fourth brick and mortar. I’m also pondering locations in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The demand for quality luxury hair is growing and as long as this demand exists for our products, opening new stores will always be considered.
What separates your business from competitors?
There are hundreds of hair stores, but finding quality hair retailers can be hard. The hair market is saturated with the lower grade bundle deals easily accessible through foreign hair vendors online. We are separated by years of proven product and selling only the best quality hair extensions. Quality will always be in demand.
Have you partnered with any celebrities?
We haven’t, but many celebrities have worn our hair, including Serena Williams, Taraji P. Henson, Niecey Nash, Ashanti and, of course, Rihanna. We are the go to for most New York-based celebrity stylists. What would your top piece of advice be to someone who is thinking of starting his or her own beauty business?
Brick and mortars are difficult today. I would advise them to do the research on the funding required to execute the opening of the business and a demography research on their target audience. Location is key for brick and mortar.
YouTube beauty and hair gurus are on the rise—what does this mean for the future of your business?
Accepting the era of social media and YouTube was a hard pill to swallow, but its [impact] cannot be denied. Companies like us must use social media as an important marketing tool for growth and survival. Growth is about movement and positive changes.
Share 4 of your beauty must-haves.