How does one go from growing up in a rough neighborhood—crime, drugs, gangs—to founding one of the pioneering natural haircare brands in the $2.5 billion African American haircare market? Over the past 15 years, Mahisha Dellinger has built CURLS from formulas she was making in her garage to more than 40 products sold at drug and beauty supply stores nationally.
“My background wasn’t one that most would want to be born into,” Dellinger admits. “But now I feel like it helped build and mold this strong person that has the most amount of grit, determination, perseverance, resistance.” Here she shares what else it takes to achieve her kind of stratospheric success:
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN
“I didn’t just leave my job in corporate America and go and do CURLS. I did both … for too long. I had a full-time income that went home to the family, and then with CURLS, every cent was reinvested back into the business.” Before making the leap, Dellinger advises: “Know where you’re going. Have a strategy. Make sure you know the market in and out.”
The jump to retail is “a scary world. It can take the shirt off your back if it doesn’t work. We were one of the original four brands that the buyer brought in to test this natural hair market,” Dellinger says of her initial test run at 105 Target stores. “We were underground back then; we weren’t on shelves yet. It was a small start though, and it was smart.”
“You have to continue to evolve or you will dissolve. You have to innovate or you will evaporate. I continue to think ahead: What’s coming next? And it’s a gamble because you may develop or deliver something that isn’t well received. But it’s one of those things you have to do, staying ahead of the curve. You don’t want to see a flat line—ever.”