Entrepreneur’s Hair Products Empower Black Women

In 2012 Vivian Kaye was a wedding. But she had a problem. The climate in Toronto, Canada, was brutal on her hair.

“Black women used to put chemicals in their hair,” she told me. “But in the early 2010s, a lot of people were tired of this crap. However, our hair is not suited to the cold North American environment. It strips moisture, making it dry and brittle.”

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Kaye’s solution was hair extensions, which were straightforward and appealing. Fast forward to 2021, and KinkyCurlyYaki, Kaye’s company, sells hair extensions, wigs, and more — all to empower Black women with confidence and beauty.

She and I recently discussed the business, ecommerce, and her process for producing new products. Our whole sound dialog, below, is followed by a transcript that has been edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your organization.

Vivian Kaye: KinkyCurlyYaki is a superior, textured-hair-extensions brand for Black women. I started the business in 2012 because I had a problem to solve. I was a wedding decorator right now. I had a style to protect my hair. Here in Toronto, a protective style is generally wigs, weaves, and braids.

Anytime you see Oprah or Serena Williams or even Beyoncé in public, they’re typically wearing a protective style, as do many Black women. It’s simpler for us to manage daily. Additionally, there’s societal pressure on what women need to look like, especially Black women, which prompts women to wear their hair straight.

Black women used to put chemicals in their hair. But in the early 2010s, a lot of people were tired of this crap. We stopped doing this. We started wearing our hair. However, our hair is not suited to the cold North American environment. It strips moisture, making it dry and brittle.

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I began looking for textured hair extensions. But I could not find something that looked like my hair instead of, say, 32 inches of blonde weave à la Nicki Minaj, the singer and actress.

So I enrolled the thought in the back of my head as, again, I was operating a flourishing service-based enterprise. It was not online. Then I did my research — Facebook groups, forums.

I found a solution to my problem. I started wearing it. I went into a media event, and another Black woman pulled me aside and said,”Hey girl, who does your hair? Who’s your hairdresser? What’s your regimen to get your hair to look like this?” I just looked at her and said, like, “Girl, this is a weave.” She explained,”I’d find that.”

I thought there’s got to be other women who would get it also. At the down period of my wedding business, in December 2012, I began KinkyCurlyYaki. I received my first order right away, and the company took off.

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Bandholz: This was your first ecommerce company, right?

Kaye: Yes. I dabbled in it . In my wedding business, I provided rhinestone rings to wrap napkins and centerpieces.

Bandholz: So you began KinkyCurlyYaki.

Kaye: Yes. I knew nothing about ecommerce and building a new. I knew that I had the solution to a frequent problem, which, again, was finding a protective natural hairstyle. I didn’t really care about hair extensions. I cared about being convinced to appear on the planet. I was in Facebook groups and haircare forums. That’s the way I grew my audience, although at the time I didn’t realize it.

I was just being myself. I didn’t tell anyone about my company. I had been using influencer marketing before it was called that. I knew another girl who wore kinky textured hair extensions. I sent her my product, asking for her opinion. She then took pictures and posted a video on YouTube, describing her experience. But she did not reveal who I was. Right now, attaching a new to hair extensions wasn’t done. So I pioneered the marketplace.

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Bandholz: Our stories are alike. Before Beardbrand, there wasn’t much beard maintenance. Can you use other advertising channels apart from influencers?

Kaye: No, that was it. It was natural and influencer marketing. I hit my first million back in 2016 without commercials or even email. Even though I am definitely using email now.

I didn’t know back then that I had struck a million dollars in earnings. I wasn’t keeping track of it. I wasn’t in the business to make money. I just wanted to address my issue, which also helped other Black women.

The business has evolved. I hired my first employee in December 2016. Before then, I was doing everything myself, from packaging the customer orders to answering emails to doing the social media. All of it.

Our organization is still in Toronto, but it aims American customers. That’s where most Black women and men live in North America. So we aim Americans. I run in U.S. dollars from Canada.

Bandholz: So that you send orders from Canada into the U.S.

Kaye: After I started, we used Canada Post. But we now use the U.S. Postal Service for more affordable prices. I live in Hamilton, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Toronto and 45 minutes away from Niagara Falls, New York. We publish our labels through USPS. A courier picks up our packages three times weekly and pushes them across the border.

Bandholz: Can you pay for cross-border customs or duties?

Kaye: after we import inventory into Canada we cover duties and taxes, but not when we ship to the U.S.

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Bandholz: You’ve continued to produce goods.

Kaye: Yes. For inspiration, we listen to what people do online, especially on YouTube. Black women are really creative when it comes to their hair. By means of example, during the pandemic, with everyone working remotely, we didn’t go to the hairdresser because those shops were closed. So a lot of us started wearing wigs and easy protective styling. Among the goods that came out of this was headbands sewed into wigs to put them on immediately. We left a headband wig flip it around, and you’re ready to jump onto this Zoom call.

Bandholz: How can listeners associate with you?

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