Nnenna Stella wasn’t shopping for a business opportunity, she just wanted to accessorize.
But after three days of searching online for a head wrap bearing an African print, she began to think less about buying and more about selling. “I figured that there were other women who wanted to wear them,” says the Brooklyn-based entrepreneur. “And if there wasn’t already a market for them, I could create one.”
That is what she set out to do with TheWrap.life, an online shopping site that she first conceived in the fall of 2013 and which went live in January 2014. Originally named Shopwraplife.com--which was the best website name she could scrounge up at the time, even though she knew it felt “clumsy”-- Stella was thrilled when, nine months later, "dot-life" (.life) domain extensions became available.
In fact, she didn't just change her company's URL--she used the availability of the new domain name to do much more. “As soon as I found out that 'dot-life' was an option, I transitioned the site and rebranded the business,” she says. “In two months, we doubled sales compared to our previous ten months.”
From the start, Stella believed that enticing women to buy the colorful head wraps, which can be intimidating to tie, would require selling not just a physical product, but also an opportunity to be part of a community.
“I knew I would have to make it a lifestyle,” she adds. “I would have to brand it in a way that would make women intrigued, or at least comfortable, wearing them.”
That sentiment is not only reflected in the TheWrap.life website name, but also in the way the head wraps come packaged--each one includes a printed insert that welcomes buyers to “a community of women expressing their individual style.”
Stella had been working as a server at a restaurant in Greenwich Village--a job she kept for the first year of TheWrap.life’s existence. By taking extra shifts she was able to save up $300, which she invested in buying fabric. “I don’t know where I got the guts to do this,” she says. Stella spent hours hunched over her computer researching e-commerce platforms and brainstorming ideas for every facet of her business.
Not that she was even sure the business was viable; discouraged that she couldn’t do everything she envisioned, she actually put the project aside for a short time. “I talked myself out of it for two months," she recalls. "It’s very scary to start something.”
Ultimately she decided that while the fear was undoubtedly “very real,” she was also using it as an excuse. “I had to start somewhere,” she says. “I had to get out of the gate and build it up.”
With head wraps ranging in price from $22 to $26, Stella used social media--especially Instagram, where she now has 70,000 followers and counting--to publicize the business. She also began posting video tutorials explaining different head wrap styles.
To date her customer base is primarily African-American women ages 18-44, both in the U.S. (top markets include Washington, DC, and Los Angeles) and overseas, in locales ranging from Iceland to Australia. By Stella’s estimate, she’s offered 300 different styles since she began, and she plans to introduce new ones at the rate of one every three weeks. “I have a lot of repeat customers who buy everything I release,” she says.
For now, all of The Wrap Life’s inventory is handmade in Stella’s apartment, where she has two employees who handle the sewing. “Entrepreneurship is the hardest thing I’ve done,” she says. “But it’s also very rewarding. I’ve never felt better.” She’s gotten great satisfaction, she says, from the e-mails she’s received from “women who were going through a hard time but felt better when they wore the head wraps. It makes me understand that this is much bigger than me.”
How much bigger, exactly? With the goal of doubling sales this year, Stella is now actively looking for a new production space.
However, she’s not making any plans to change TheWrap.life site. “It’s colorful and user-friendly,” she says. “And the 'dot-life' website name definitely makes it more noticeable.”
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