Known by the natural hair community as Naptural85 on YouTube, Whitney White co-founded Melanin Haircare with her sister, Taffeta, after years of repeated requests from her 1.2 million followers. The line debuted direct-to-consumer in 2019 with four SKUs priced from $17 to $20, including: African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo, Multi Use Softening Leave In Conditioner, Twist Elongating Style Cream, and Multi Use Pure Oil Blend. Since then, it has grown sales 124 percent year-over-year and in September 2020 rolled out to all Ulta Beauty doors and Here, CEW Beauty News spoke to Whitey about becoming a brand founder, growing her team and advice for entrepreneurs.

Beauty News: What made you decide to take the leap from influencer to brand founder?
Whitney White: It was an organic transition. I was sharing my homemade recipes and how to care for hair at home via my personal brand @Naptural85, I and found that many members of my community were either having trouble duplicating my recipes, finding the ingredients, or they just didn’t have the time to make the products from scratch. After a few years of consistent inquiries, I decided that starting Melanin Haircare would be an asset to my community so that I could provide to them the products they’ve been requesting, from a source that they trust, at an affordable price point that I would personally want to pay.

BN: Do you feel that you and your sister faced any specific challenges as Black female entrepreneurs?
WW: Our biggest challenge as Black female entrepreneurs was trying to explain the opportunity and our value to the banks we approached when needing loans. Because we are a niche community, we first had to explain to those in control of the lending, who were often not members of our community, our buying power and why it would be advantageous to work with us. We unfortunately hit many road blocks because lenders simply didn’t understand our positioning, or just weren’t interested in the niche.

BN: Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way?
WW: Melanin Haircare was a six year-long journey that my sister Taffeta and I took on completely alone, self-funded and self-taught. Neither of us had experience in how to best go about starting a hair care line and so there was of course a huge learning curve that we endured. With that being said, I do find value in our bootstraps efforts, as I feel that we gained a more realistic view of the industry having gone through all of our experiences.

BN: How do you reach your target audience?
WW: We have a broad target market, first of course being the natural hair community. We service all genders, hair types and ages. We do majority organic promotions through social media, mainly via our own pages and the @Naptural85 community. And, we’re always looking for different ways to partner with business in and outside of our immediate community.

BN: How many staff members do you employ?
WW: Currently there are seven employees on our team, five of which we hired this year. We are working on growing Melanin Haircare’s in-house team, so that Taffeta and I can take some of the work off of our plates and focus on the formulation of new signature, toxic-free products.

BN: Is the brand self-funded?
WW: Melanin Haircare is completely self-funded and 100 percent family owned. Funding is so important to the longevity of the brand, so we remain open-minded to what opportunities may be available to the company as far investing is concerned.

BN: What advice do you have for someone starting a brand?
WW: Don’t let the fear of failure paralyze you from starting. Start from where you are, embracing the possibility that mistakes will happen, and understand that in those mistakes you’ll learn valuable lessons that will help you evolve and grow. No business can avoid failing at some point, so it’s best to get through that learning curve while you’re still a new business that can pivot quickly.