Diversity Woman Magazine

WIN 2017

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

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d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m W i n t e r 2 0 1 7 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N 19 We Mean Business > A corporate scare turns an employee into an entrepreneur By Sheon Wilson I t wasn't easy finding a natural hair section in stores when Mahisha Del- linger started CURLS in 2002. National retailers weren't offering much shelf space to products for customers with curly, wavy, and kinky hair who wear their natu- ral texture, rather than straightening it. "e choices in the ethnic aisle were mostly flat irons, Jheri curl juice [mois- turizer for chemically straightened hair], and oils that were too heavy," says Del- linger, who lives near her company head- quarters in Frisco, Texas. Elsewhere in the hair section were gels, hairsprays, and mousses that were too light to work with her CURLS's texture. companies that, like Dellinger's, were start- ed by African American female entrepre- neurs who couldn't find the right products for their textured hair and decided to create their own. ey helped define a new catego- ry of beauty products with a loyal following. Seeing CURLS's products on retail shelves gives Dellinger the thrill of own- ership and the satisfaction of being a pio- neer. Dozens of products from dozens of companies court the curly-hair audience now. Pantene, Dove, and other major brands are recognizing the potential of the natural hair market. "ese brands were not in this market space before they saw these small black girls' brands were coming in to make money that they didn't realize was out there," Dellinger says. Diversity Woman talked with Dellinger about how she started CURLS and what drives her success. Diversity Woman: When was that mo- ment you decided to strike out on your own? Mahisha Dellinger: After college I got a job at Intel and I thought that was MAHISHA DELLINGER Risk to Niche Seeing an unmet demand, Dellinger de- cided to perfect the homemade recipes she had been creating with organic ingredients in her kitchen. She tried her hair tonics on friends and family and hired a chemist. Her company made $86,000 in its first year, initially selling online and at hair salons. Five years later, when it took its first big leap and partnered with Target, CURLS had reached the $1 million in rev- enue threshold. CURLS has recorded dou- ble-digit growth in most years since then, the company says. In launching in 2002, Dellinger was in the vanguard of female entrepreneurs who created natural products for women who favored natural, textured hairstyles, as an alternative to relaxers, perms, and flat-ironed hair. CURLS's competition includes Carol's Daughter (bought by L'Oréal in 2014), Jane Carter Solution, and Miss Jessie's, CEO Woman

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