Founder and CEO of The Doux, Maya Smith, a licensed cosmetologist, hair care educator and veteran hairstylist with more than 27 years’ experience behind the chair, built her brand from the ground up, achieving nationwide distribution while still retaining a grassroots, community-driven brand purpose. Here, Maya talks to CEW Beauty News about The Doux’s point of difference in the textured hair space, how her salon experience shaped her view on the hair care market, and why the brand’s origins is forever front of mind.

When The Doux launched in JCPenney last November, it was a full circle moment for founder Maya Smith who began her career working as a stylist at the department store.

“I was the only stylist of color at the time, and also the only stylist equipped to educate and style people’s hair like mine. To see our products in JCPenney today and enjoy how the textured hair category as a whole has expanded to serve people with a variety of hair textures is really a big deal for me personally, and a huge victory for the category,” said Maya.

In addition to JCPenney, the self-described ‘sucka-free hair care’ brand is also available at Target, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Sally Beauty, and other mass retailers nationwide. “I always like to say that The Doux is a professional brand that happens to be sold in your big box retailer and drugstore. We are the friendly brand; we have the home girl energy. While the brand comes from a set of professional expertise, we are also very fun and personable and real, much more relatable and accessible to the people who actually use the products,” she said.

The Doux (as in, hair ‘do’, as well as meaning ‘sweet’ or ‘cool’ in French) was, in fact, approached by several distributors early on in the brand’s life, but Maya resisted the temptation to scale the brand, preferring to focus on perfecting her brand and serving her community. “When I could see that we had an opportunity to be where our girl was, I took it much more seriously,” she said.

That move has paid off. The Doux has quadrupled sales over the past four years, and has sold more than half a million units of the number one bestselling hero product, Mousse Def Texture Foam. Le Doux also grew approximately 200 percent in 2021.

Maya began working as a hairstylist while still in high school, specializing in clients who were transitioning from relaxed to natural hair. “At the time, there wasn’t a natural hair care category in retail, mass or professional (people who weren’t chemically straightening their hair). There were only a few emerging brands formulated for people who wore their hair curly, but they tended to be too heavy if you wanted to wear your hair straight, and vice versa. So, I worked with a group of chemists to develop water-based solutions that would create the moisture and the hydration that hair needs, but also rinse freely without leaving buildup,” she said.

Maya opened her first salon in 2008 (in Germany, where she was stationed at the time), and launched her brand in 2012, taking advantage of her clientele as her very own focus group. “The Doux is an extension of my experience behind the chair. The products were developed for my clients who wanted to use the same combination of products that I was using, so they could get the same results. My confidence really came from my community. It came from the people who let me try products on their hair, collect data and check in with them, and address the needs.”

Maya subsequently opened her second salon and relaunched The Doux in 2015. “The great thing about being a stylist by trade is that I have been able to finance all my creative projects with the job that I was doing,” she said. “The Doux is a grassroots, completely Black-owned and operated brand.”

The Doux’s point of difference, Maya said, stems from an understanding of hair care from the perspective of a cosmetologist, based in fact and science, as opposed to whimsy and claims. “We don’t tell a lot of marketing stories. We spend more time helping the consumer understand how her hair works so that she can get the best from any product that she chooses”.

While Covid presented immense challenges for the brand, it also inspired Maya to step out more visibly as the brand founder and speak directly to consumers, supported by more modules and visuals on social media explaining hair care.

Looking to the future, Maya plans on digging her roots even deeper in The Doux’s origins in order to nurture the brand’s relationship with its textured-hair clients and continue to educate them about caring for natural hair textures. “The way that the brand started never really leaves me. Bringing them along on this journey with us is really important when you start off as a grassroots brand. I absolutely want to expand into more spaces and innovate more formulas, but I don’t want to be one of those brands that is big and blows up in the space and forgets about the people who brought them there.”