Two Women, One Startup And The Struggles Of Black Hair In A Pandemic

Since COVID-19, two college students had to rethink their startup, Remane, and how to best help clients reclaim their natural hair.

By Rolando Hernandez, NPR Next Generation Radio ProjectJanuary 15, 2021 2:41 pm, , ,

This story comes from NPR’s Next Generation Radio project:

Ariel Lee and D’azhane Cook wanted to change the conversation around Black natural hair.

During a class at the University of Texas at Austin, the two connected on lifelong struggles with their hair — not knowing what products worked for them, the lack of knowledge and advice from their families, the stigmas of “natural hair.” Those struggles made them feel people of color often can’t express who they are or be their fullest self.

Ariel Lee works on the business plan for Remane at Capital Factory, a co-working space in downtown Austin on Feb. 1, 2020.

Frustrated, the two came up with an idea: data-driven hair care.

Their connection to hair and identity birthed their startup, called Remane. Their business categorizes products by their benefits and uses biological markers to determine what works best, such as, does this product work well for people with coarse hair or fine hair?

“We really wanted to create a product that would help men and women like us develop a better relationship with their hair” Lee said. “We thought we could do that through creating clear regimens that would help them stay more consistent with their hair.”

In the Black community, hair is a way for people to showcase their identity and express themselves. However, natural hair has been politicized in the workplace, classroom and the military. Lee and Cook see their business as a way to combat that.

When they first launched, their original business model helped customers make a connection with their hair. Clients would fill out an assessment to pinpoint their hair porosity, what kind of hair they have and hair density in order to figure out products they needed. Then, Remane would create a regime and provide products right to their door. Their idea was a success.

Not only did they win their first pitch competition at UT-Austin, but their startup was inducted into Target’s Incubator Accelerator program. The pair, who graduated in 2020, also won a techstar’s Blackstone Launchpad fellowship. But these victories happened pre-COVID.

“I remember when we were in the beginning of the pandemic when literally everything changed,” Lee said.

With COVID-19, issues began popping up with their supply chain in China. The two had invested a lot of work collaborating with merchants, creating custom labels, but tariffs and political tensions put Remane’s basic service on hold.

“When the pandemic hit our packaged goods, our supply chain for it completely disappeared,” Lee said. “It was either we needed to pivot—or we no longer exist as a company.”

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