For fledgling beauty brand founders, Courtney Adeleye’s story is an aspirational one.
Adeleye, a former nurse from Detroit, founded the natural line for textured hair from her home in 2013. She had spent the past year documenting the process of weaning off relaxers and growing out her natural texture, and followers requested that she sell the homemade products she was concocting using natural ingredients. She invested $500 of her own money to produce a small run of one product, and because of her existing following, quickly grew to $25 million in just four years, without Adeleye taking on a single investment.
Adeleye shared advice for other founders just starting out.
For Adeleye, social media was key to her success. “Early on, I went to this natural [products] show, and everyone there knew me and everything about my personal life; they knew I was a nurse, they knew my husband was a doctor,” Adeleye told the crowd. “It goes to show the power of circulation and being authentic. If you start something you may not be sure where’s it going to go, but if you are authentic about what you do, it makes everything easier.”
A magazine feature early in the brand’s life drove the above point home — The Mane Choice was the only small indie brand pictured with five other products, all from big companies. “I remember opening up the magazine and seeing my product pumped by hand,” Adeleye said. “Trust what you have to offer — the only thing big companies can’t do is be you.”
Adeleye noted that “staying true” to her vision was key. An early hire critiqued her use of metallic labeling, telling her the look had fallen out of fashion in the beauty industry. “I said, ‘OK, good — that’s why I’m going to use them,'” Adeleye said. She added that “not everyone will see your vision.” Even Adeleye’s own mother, who had started relaxing Adeleye’s hair at a young age, didn’t understand Adeleye’s inclination to grow her natural hair in the first place. “Not everyone will see your vision in the beginning, and that’s OK. You can’t get upset when someone else can’t see it,” Adeleye said. “Once it starts popping, they eventually will. And lo and behold, my mother wears her hair natural now.”
She also spoke about surrounding herself with people who motivate her, advising the crowd that “energy is everything.” Adeleye said: “Align yourself with the right people. Have you been around some people and you feel drained and tired afterward? The more you try to elevate, people will attach themselves to you and start draining. You can’t have people in your circle [whose] energy is not aligned with your DNA.”