The next wave of modernization in the textured hair market

Shortly after Tendai Moyo and Ugo Agbai founded their hair extensions startup Ruka, Serena Williams called.

Lorraine Dublin, Williams’ stylist, has struggled to find quality hair extensions in the short term that match the tennis star’s specific hair texture, Moyo said. Williams sported one of Ruka’s ponytails during her Wimbledon match earlier this year.

It was a coup for the direct-to-consumer digital brand, which launched in January and sold a range of hair extensions and wigs to cover the full range of different hair textures across the curly, frizzy and curly spectrum.

“Because of this variety of textures, we call ourselves the Fenty Beauty of hair extensions,” Moyo said. “If you look at hair extensions, they used to be mostly Eurocentric textures… what we pride ourselves on is the texture adjustment.”

An endorsement from one of the world’s most famous athletes was just the beginning. Ruka, who has raised £1.7million ($1.9million) in funding so far, saw its six-week pop-up at London’s Stratford Westfield shopping center extended to three months. Actresses Keke Palmer and Gabrielle Union and British runner Dina Asher-Smith have also signed up to the brand. It most recently snagged a counter in Selfridges’ beauty hall, due to open on October 13, and is on track to hit £1.6million in sales by the end of the year.

“When it comes to underserved markets and communities, we know that innovation is key.” said Nicole Crentsil, a Ghanaian-British entrepreneur and angel investor at Ruka, who added, “What really drew me to Ruka was her desire to innovate in a very tired and very drab space, in an almost Glossier-like one Mindset from: Why don’t we try to create products that actually work for black women?”

Ruka is among a surge of new brands disrupting a stagnant wigs and extensions space where fragmented supply chains and distribution, and a lack of affordable, high-quality ethical products make for a sluggish shopping experience. London-based Ruka is backed by US-based labels like Radswan, Parfait and Upgrade, which aim to leverage technology to create brands that cater specifically to black women and textured hair types.

moment of opportunity

Over the past two decades, natural hair movement and safety concerns associated with chemical products have prompted a growing number of women to swap at-home chemical relaxers for products that allow them to wear their hair naturally. According to Mintel, US sales of chemical relaxants have plummeted about 40 percent over the past decade, with many turning to protective styles like wigs and extensions as a non-harmful styling solution.

It’s difficult to accurately gauge the size of the wigs and hair extensions market given its opaque supply chain and fragmented, mostly offline distribution network, experts say, but Mintel forecasts that black consumers in the US will spend $1.9 billion annually by 2025 dollars will be spent on hair products, up from $1.7 billion in 2020.

These emerging hair extension brands remain a small niche in a massive multi-billion dollar market. Big beauty brands, mostly run by white men, have historically been slow to release products aimed at women of color.

Major beauty companies have increased their investments in the textured hair care category in recent years, but much of that spending has focused on “wet” hair products like shampoos, conditioners, and styling products, as opposed to “dry” hair extensions and wigs. Beauty giants like Unilever and L’Oréal took care of textured hair by buying hair care brands like SheaMoisture and Carol’s Daughter respectively.

However, the innovation and investment opportunities in the area of ​​structured extensions and wigs remain largely untapped. Often products are sold through boutiques or local salons that do not have an online presence. Black suppliers rarely own the supply chain.

“It’s only recently that you’ve seen this influx of women and Black women who are really trying to renovate this [extensions] space,” said Simone Kendle, co-founder and CMO of Dallas, Texas-based wig startup Parfait, which was founded in 2020 and launched in April of this year.

The broader category of hair extensions is receiving increasing attention from the biggest players in the beauty industry. Last year, LVMH-backed private equity firm L Catterton acquired a majority stake in Big Industry Group, a beauty company specializing in the hair extensions category and belonging to direct-to-consumer brands such as Halocouture, Beauty Works, His portfolio includes Luxy and Glam Seamless. Fashion blogger Freddie Harrel’s New York-based start-up Radswan, which sells synthetic wigs, clip-ins and accessories for afro-textured hair, was founded as part of the L’Oréal-backed beauty startup accelerator program Founders Factory.

These brands have also become more sophisticated thanks to technological innovations that support product development.

Parfait, for example, uses AI and machine learning to create direct-to-consumer, bespoke wigs for shoppers. With just four customer-uploaded selfies on its website, Parfait can understand a buyer’s head circumference to create a custom cap and tip tint that matches their skin tone, said co-founder and CEO Isoken Igbinedion, adding that most wigs are within will arrive week of purchase. To add a human touch, stylists are available to advise on orders and offer buyers free advice.

Parfait raised $5 million in seed funding and counted Williams, rapper Chamillionaire, and former Beats by Dre executive Omar Johnson among its investors. It’s also launching a B2B division of the brand to help hairdressers serve their customers with better-fitting wigs more easily.

“We’re in a time where technology is really making people’s lives a lot easier on a day-to-day basis… but we see little attention being paid to solving problems for marginalized communities,” Igbinedion said. “This issue is deeply felt by black women, particularly in the beauty industry.”

Marketing to the masses

For Ruka, the partnership with Selfridges marks the first lasting foray into brick-and-mortar retail. It will be a marketing boon for the brand, which will enjoy prime real estate in the department store’s beauty hall. Selfridges will also benefit significantly from the partnership as the company seeks to better align its offering with a wider range of hair types and textures.

“Selfridges’ black and textured hair offering has been a big focus for the beauty buying team this year,” said beauty buying manager Emeline Ancelot. While the store has recently launched textured hair brands like Bread, Dizziak and Afrocenchix, Ruka will be the store’s first dry hair brand aimed at black customers.

“The industry is seeing a wave of brands emerging in this space and we know we’ve only just scratched the surface as a company,” she added.

Ruka’s Moyo also wanted the brand to embrace accessibility and functionality, including a series of tutorials and guides on their website. At the Selfridges counter, one-to-one consultations will bring that educational element to life, she said.

“We really focused on treating everyone like they’re starting from scratch when it comes to hair,” she said.

The brand plans to experiment with more pop-ups in cities like Manchester or Bristol in the future. In the longer term, Moyo wants to expand in Africa, where the brand already sees demand for its products. Meanwhile, Ruka’s synthetic hair options are slated to launch by the end of the year.

“People really want to invest in a hair brand that is based on innovation and not just on the classic [branding] Facelift,” said Moyo.

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