Channel 4 News reported that black women in the UK spend six times more on haircare products than white women. But what is the beauty buying experience like for black women, who are essentially, the jewels in crown of this burgeoning beauty industry?
Sanmi Ogunmola and Tommy Williams (who made it into the Forbes List – ’30 under 30′) met in Nigeria while working for a fashion and beauty internet startup company. It was challenging for customers navigating the fragmented beauty industry in Nigeria and upon return to the UK, the duo noticed similar challenges here. Flash forward and the e-commerce beauty platform All Shades Covered (ASC), was created, with the aim of providing women of colour (WOC) a seamless and efficient customer experience.
Photo credit: Forbes / ASC
What was the trigger for the inception of ASC?
Both of us have sisters and we’re aware of the effort and time black women spend on sourcing hair products, finding a salon to do their hair and the amount of time spent getting their hair done. Using our e-commerce backgrounds, we saw an opportunity to improve this experience.
When did ASC launch?
We spent months doing research and speaking to people, then had a soft launch of the website in October 2016, where we invited some people to buy hair extensions from the site. We also had some organic traffic generated via word of mouth.
“Coming from an investment banking background, my family were a bit unsure about me moving into hair and beauty, especially when I moved to Nigeria, as I’m not Nigerian.” Now they can see that ASC has become a reality, they’re a lot more at ease.” – Tommy
How did you choose the name, ‘All Shades Covered’?
It’s quite direct and describes whom we aim to cater for. Black and mixed-raced women come in all different shades and tend to receive an inferior level of service when it comes to their beauty needs – which we want to change. This doesn’t stop women of other races from buying our products if they also cater to their needs.
Has there ever been any confusion over what ASC means?
It’s quite funny actually, when we first started some people thought we are a gossip site because of the ‘shade’ / ‘throwing shade’ term. Others thought we sold make up and nude tights. However, when you visit the website it’s very clear that we provide hair extensions and products, so people are catching on.
How does ASC help the avid beauty consumer?
As well as selling hair products and extensions, we can also guarantee the quality of the hair as we know where it comes from. We deliver hair extension purchases within 3 working days, so that customers can get their hair done within that same week. We’re starting with hair products and will branch out into other beauty products, providing customers with a holistic beauty experience.
How did you decide what types of hair extensions to sell?
We did some market research and sent out a survey but the responses were quite varied, from customers preferring straight to lose curl extensions and everything in between! So, we started off with 3 style textures – curly, body wave and straight at 12 -24 inches.
“Selling hair extensions and products for natural hair aren’t mutually exclusive. Some natural hair women use extensions and wigs as a form of protective styling.” – Tommy
How do you ensure the quality of the hair extensions you sell?
We have partners on the ground in China who quality check the hair on various parameters such as, hair shedding rates and strength before and after washing. The hair isn’t Chinese hair, it’s just that the processing factories we work with in China have been able to streamline the hair production process while maintaining quality.
With your focus on hair extensions, do you feel ASC alienates a section of its current target market – black women who have gone natural?
We have hair care products suitable for women with natural hair and those who wear extensions and/or have relaxed hair, so we cater for all segments of our target market. We’re fully aware of the natural hair movement, but also acknowledge, that hair extensions account for a significant proportion of the market and hair style choices of many black women. We also have a blog with tips on how to look after natural hair and maintaining hair extensions /weaves.
How do two men provide tips on looking after natural hair and hair extensions?
Our team is made up of predominately women and we’re about to take two of them on a permanent basis. Some have natural hair, others wear hair extensions – they’re active on social media, passionate and knowledgeable about hair and beauty. We get a lot of advice from them.
Photo credit: ASC
Do you sell any UK haircare brands?
Yes, we do and we’ve recently added some to the site.
Is the ASC customer base only in Europe?
Currently Europe is our biggest market (especially Italy and France), but we’ve also seen some organic customer growth in parts of Africa, including Nigeria, Sierra Leone and South Africa. Expanding into Africa is also key goal for us in the future.
“Because the industry is so fragmented we have ASC hair reps – hair stylists selling our hair extensions to their clients, after which they receive a commission.” – Sanmi
As a new business in a crowded market are you worried about competition?
We like competition, it’s motivation! We’ve done our research and focus on providing the best customer experience. We’re aware of the competition but that doesn’t deter us from our own plans.
Any exciting developments?
Dyed hair extensions and kinky hair! We’ve had a few requests on these, so we’re listening to our customers.
What does the future hold for ASC?
We want to be a renowned beauty brand online and on the high streets.
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