When Miss Jessie’s debuted in 2004 it became a pioneer for the natural hair movement with high-quality, efficacious products designed for curly hair. Launched by two sisters, Miko and the late Titi Branch, the line began as a result of necessity when the duo found themselves having to cocktail several different products to achieve transformative results for their salon clients.

“As a stylist, I wanted to make sure that my clients could maintain their hair,” said Miko. “We came up with our own products by mixing up formulas in our kitchen. We weren’t formally trained, but we just knew that our concoction actually worked in our salon and helped us make good on our promise to style curly hair while also providing products customers could take home and maintain the style.”

The sisters reached out to a chemist to help solidify their formula before debuting the brand’s hero sku, Curly Pudding ($16), a creamy, purple-hued styler designed to elongate shrunken curls. The line quickly developed a cult following thanks to its accessibility, affordability and word of mouth.

“Women just started talking online,” recalled Miko. “Before social media, people gravitated to chat rooms for information, and once we got our website running, we posted before and after photos, which would result in someone coming to the salon to get their hair done. This helped us get more before and after photos, and conversations continued online – that was the formula for spreading the word.”

The brand now boasts 23 skus of styling creams, moisturizers, shampoos and deep conditioning treatments, 17 of which are available in large mass retailers such as Target, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS as well as beaty supply stores and salons. To date, Miss Jessie’s remains a 100 percent Black women-owned business and has never taken on investors. Miko declined to share sales figures, but said the company continues to grow YOY. Here, she spoke to CEW Beauty News about staying competitive in the natural hair care market, how educating consumers helped the brand during the pandemic and her biggest challenge.

Beauty News: When you started, the brand was considered a trailblazer in the market. How do you keep up with competitors?
Miko Branch: In the early days we put a lot of effort into the before-and-after photos. Nowadays given that we have so many competitors, it’s challenging but we still feel they haven’t been able to crack that nut on the authenticity piece where the customer trusts and looks for direction from the owners. Titi and I decided early on we were going to get in front our product and let our customer know who we are and that we have hair like them. We think that relationship and desire to be up close and personal with them meant and still means a lot. We don’t do huge advertisements or pay people to say wonderful things about us, we are really letting the product speak for itself.

BN: How has the brand been impacted by the pandemic?
MB: The relationship and training Miss Jessie’s had with our customers early on really stood out during the pandemic. When we started, my sister and I decided we would do the unthinkable and share salon secrets with our customers so that they would know how to do their own hair. We decided not to hold our customer hostage with information. So, by the time the pandemic hit, our customer had already been trained on how to get acquainted with her hair, select the best products and style it. Luckily, our main mass retailer partners were considered to be essential businesses, so if customers still wanted to go into the stores to get products they still could.

BN: Talk about your target audience.
MB: It’s primarily women, but we have male users, as well as children. Titi and I had extremely tight curls and there weren’t any products on the market for this so we really focused on solutions for that hair type because we realized this customer had no idea she had curly hair and how to style it. As we’ve evolved, we’ve added products for waves and different textures, such as our Jelly Soft Curls and Pillow Soft Curls, so there’s something for everyone. It’s truly a multicultural brand.

BN: What has been you biggest challenge?
MB: The passing of my sister in 2014 was huge, both because of the relationship I had with her, but also as a small business. Staying in business during that turmoil was difficult but I pushed through. I continue being very hands on at the company as CEO. No one is running the business for me. I have a staff of 15 and everyone wears multiple hats and has an entrepreneurial spirit. Every day that I wake up I’m amazed, proud and excited to work on the brand.

BN: What’s next for the brand?
MB: We are focusing on the skus people know and love and want more of. In 2017, we launched our Honey Curls line, which we’re extended to include a new styler, Honey Harmless which will launch on January 18. It’s a honey-infused and sulfate free shampoo that is designed to moisturize, cleanse and detangle while removing dirt and product build up from textured and chemically treated hair.

I’m also in the process of working on a new styler I’m really excited about. It will be somewhere between a cream and a gel. I’m still in the formulation stage, but I’m expecting it to be ready by the end of 2021.

BN: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
MB: Titi and I didn’t have any formal training and we didn’t have mentors. I would recommend just do it – that’s how we gained wisdom and experience. I don’t think I could have gained the understanding of my business if we didn’t just take the chance. Also, failures are inevitable and that’s where all the lessons are.