Regina Gwynn and Octavia Pickett-Blakely are bringing ethnic hair care to the forefront of on-demand, tech-based styling companies with TresseNoire.
Last summer, in New York City, Gwynn and Pickett-Blakely, hosted the Cocoa Beauty Lounge at Knotel Bryant. Existing clients, bloggers and influencers and the media were treated to complimentary make-up application and hairstyles by licensed TressNoire cosmetologists.
Gywnn and Pickett-Blakely, both dressed in all black (the quintessential color for cosmetologists), mingled with the women who showed up for a complimentary beat.
In October 2014, Gwynn and Pickett-Blakely founded the one of the first beauty tech service for black women, TresseNoire. Technology-based beauty companies offering on-demand and on-location stylists are a burgeoning trend. Some of the most recognizable are Glamsquad, Vensette and Priv.
Ethnic hair care is a $5 billion dollar industry according to Gywnn. She says that TresseNoire is an opportunity for investors and techies to become involved in a business in a market that is untapped and underserved.
Although TresseNoire only has certified and hand-picked stylists that pass a rigorous background check in New York City and Philadelphia, consumers are requesting their services in London and South Africa.
“Even when there are so many beauty-booking apps out there, not one of them addresses the unique styling needs of women of color,” Gynn, who is a former executive of the fashion retail sector, says.
Consumers can go online or download the TresseNoire app to book an appointment, but women looking for a relaxer will not find that service as an option.
TresseNoire is following the natural hair movement.
Between 2013 and 2015, anti-frizz products for the Black hair care market increased 26 percent and the sale of relaxers fell 18 percent. The trends speak for themselves and Regina Gwynn is optimistic about the strength of her business.
The salon however, is an integral part in African American culture. Some women go to the salon on a weekly basis to get their hair done, and while at the salon for hours on end, women foster relationships with one another. It’s important to recognize that TresseNoire is not trying to compete with brick and mortar salons.
“This is a different paradigm,” Pickett-Blakely, a trained physician with a focus on nutrition, says. “We want to offer TresseNoire as an option, so there are certain times where you need to go to a salon, and there are other times where you can’t get in. We want to offer that as an alternative.”
On the sixth floor of Knotel Bryant, 1 room was organized for makeup application and the other for hair. The women who were styled by TresseNoire had positive things to say about their experience at the Cocoa Beauty Lounge. Charell Star says she is a consistent TresseNoir customer. At the lounge, she asked the styles to put some curls in her hair. She says last October was the first time she tried TresseNoir was for her wedding, and the stylists went to the wedding venue. She and her bridesmaids looked fabulous. Since then, she has used them again.
“I asked my stylist to do my hair for my wedding, and she said she wasn’t good with up-dos, so I wanted someone who could do that,” Star says. “Now I use them whenever I need to be styled for FashionWeek, and it’s also nice to have them come to your house.”
Pickett-Blakely and Gwynn have had myriad challenges like finding the right developer, platform and building the demand and supply side from an untapped marketplace.
“Our customer base is not being talked to right now and getting by and with maybe going to a dry bar every now and again, and being un-fulfilled,” Gwynn says. “They’re creating a story that creates conversion for us.”
TresseNoire cosmetologists have styled Soledad O’Brien, Nikki Taylor and Michaela Angela Davis, among others. The long-term vision, beyond staying relevant and innovating, is expanding to other markets.