For meeting the massive demand to bring hair color inside women's homes.
Amy Errett passed on Dollar Shave Club as a venture capitalist. After seeing it explode, she thought, ‘What is the equivalent gap in at-home beauty for women?’--something they already wanted to do but that wasn’t that hard to learn. Errett settled on hair color, and created a hair dye without things like ammonia and parabens. She named the product Madison Reed after her daughter and launched the company in 2013. It makes its hair color in Lombardy, Italy—one of the hardest-hit regions of the pandemic. At the same time, demand skyrocketed. Without hair salons, people were forced to take their hair color into their own hands--or leave their screen off on Zoom. In May 2020, she says, “We were selling a box of hair color every five seconds.” They had to make free hand sanitizer for the Italian government to get permission to continue to export product. “And so it was just four o'clock in the morning calls, every single morning for six, seven months,” she says. While meeting demand, Errett took care of her people, retraining 100 employees in physical stores in the U.S. for customer service rather than letting them go. The company added mental health benefit TalkSpace and telehealth services and offered online teachers for employees' kids in September 2020 to try to mitigate challenges presented by the pandemic, from post traumatic stress to losing daycare. “Those were easy decisions to make," Errett says. "You can't decide that when things get tough, it's not expedient to help people.”--Gabrielle Bienasz
Dying your hair is either a big expense at a salon or a gamble at home, and Amy Errett is tackling this problem head on. After starting her career in investment banking, she saw her entrepreneurial opportunity when her wife asked her to pick up a box of hair dye. Errett was shocked at the ingredients that would be going onto her loved one’s head. In 2014, her Madison Reed began direct-to-consumer sales of hair dye made without ammonia and parabens, and she helped users match their color with online augmented reality tools. Two years ago, the San Francisco-based company branched out from online sales to a network of color bars where customers can pay a stylist about $60 to help with the application, half the cost of a typical salon. (The dye costs $26.50 a bottle.) Madison Reed products are also for sale in all of beauty retailer Ulta’s stores. The company has raised $121 million in fundraising to date from investors including Norwest Venture Partners and Danny Meyer of Shake Shack and will have a dozen color bars in New York, California, and Texas by the end of the year. Next up: color bar franchises. Errett expects at least 500 to open within four years. She says: “I’m hell bent on changing this industry, not just having the best product.” --Anna Meyer
For doing whatever it takes to keep her products in stock.
Ashley Harris knew there was something wrong with her baby. She and her son both got eczema, a condition she’d never had, a few weeks after he was born. Despite her pediatrician’s insistence it was normal, she had a feeling, and got a range of expansive diagnostic tests. One revealed she and her son had a severe imbalance in their gut microbiomes that led to eczema. Her experience led her to found LoveBug Probiotics in 2014 to deliver prenatal and early childhood probiotics for parents and educate them about the importance of gut health. When a baby is born vaginally, the mother passes on her gut microbiome--the foundation of the immune system and other aspects of health. When Harris had her baby, she was on a powerful line of antibiotics to fight the group B strep, a common condition in pregnant women. It killed the strep--along with the healthy bacteria in her gut, and thus in her son’s. The doctors told her to take a probiotic and give one to her son, “and I had a new baby,” she says. He slept and ate better (and Harris finally got some sleep too). During Covid-19, with the drive to support the immune system and health in general (especially, as Harris says, when people have less money to see doctors or lose their health care), demand for DTC health probiotics like hers has soared. To get it done, Harris has done it all—from hand-packing products in her warehouses to making last-minute changes to products. “Our biggest challenge has been staying in stock,” says Harris.--Gabrielle Bienasz
Ciara Imani May
For redesigning braiding hair with only natural plant-based ingredients.
Braids itch. That’s what drove consumers to buy out Rebundle’s banana fiber-based braiding hair in less than a month in January 2021. Founder and CEO Ciara Imani May had struggled with itchiness while wearing her own braids and looked for a more sustainable—and less painful—solution. After a year and a half in development and about $136,000 in funding, the St. Louis-based company made a cleaner product available to customers. Rebundle’s braids are biodegradable and plant-based and have fewer than 10 ingredients, which are listed in the product’s description. By contrast, May says she had to get a lab analysis to figure out what was in regular, plastic-based braids. It doesn’t help that the leading ingredient in popular braiding hair brands is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), “potentially toxic” when in plastic used in children’s baby bottles or teething rings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “PVC does not belong on our heads,” May says. Overall, she says, her company has started something new in an old industry, and she’s proud to be part of the natural hair movement--where Black women use products that are less toxic for their hair. “There would be no demand without us,” May says. “Why don't we have any ownership, and why is there not an experience created around us in our products?” Good questions, which May is tackling with Rebundle.--Gabrielle Bienasz
For finding a way to keep the cameras rolling.
Nutopia makes really big documentaries. Jane Root helms the London-based production company and previously led massive television operations, at Discover Channel and BBC2. Founded in 2008, Nutopia is responsible for enormous productions like America: The Story of Us, a 12-part series on the founding of the U.S., published in collaboration with the History Channel. During the pandemic, the company has built a fully operational Covid-19 lab ground and drop-shipped toilets with helicopters to keep filming in Iceland. To produce a documentary with National Geographic about the wonders of earth (Welcome to Earth), her team brought Will Smith to an active volcano. They also took Chris Hemsworth swimming with sharks in Australia for a piece on how humans and sharks can live in harmony (Shark Beach With Chris Hemsworth). While Root had to coordinate Zoom calls across the globe to get all of this done, she also used the platform to pitch documentary projects at a steady clip to people the company had never worked with before, from HBO Max to Warner Discovery. It was a nice change from flying to Los Angeles constantly, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. “Sometimes people have to get up in the middle of the night for a meeting. Sometimes it's me. You just have to do it,” she says.--Gabrielle Bienasz
For diversifying the toy bin.
Before Avani Modi Sarkar had her daughter, she hardly thought about children's toys at all. Avani and her co-founder brother Viral, both first-time parents, couldn't find any toys on the market that connected to their specific cultural experience. So they started Modi Toys, a children's brand of plush toys and books rooted in the Hindu faith. Since launching in 2018, they've sold nearly 40,000 products across 49 states and 27 countries, including to celebrities Mindy Kaling and Jay Sean.
To demonstrate a real need for these types of toys, Sarkar immersed herself in dozens of Facebook mommy groups worldwide to get mothers' opinions of all backgrounds. The feedback convinced her she was on to something. When she was laid off from her corporate job in September 2020, she decided to give Modi all her focus. "I had my ear to the ground and understood what was driving our customers during the pandemic: As homeschooling became the norm, families began seeking ways to diversify their toy bins and bookshelves. Our toys and books helped make their playrooms more culturally diverse and representative of their family's faith and background."
Her gamble paid off when her first launch, which the founders expected to take six months to sell, sold in three weeks. Several launches later, and Modi Toys has garnered attention as well as awards for Sarkar. The Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and FedEx Small Business Grant winner also hosts virtual discussions to counsel fellow South Asian small businesses.--Teneshia Carr