Trying to manage naturally curly hair is often challenging. Using heat or certain chemicals can damage the hair, while many widely available products do not properly moisturize or treat curly hair. But there is a growing movement of women who have decided to enhance their natural hair in a healthy way.
Inahsi Naturals is here to provide a solution through its plant-based or plant-derived curly hair products. On top of promoting hair health, these products are designed to embrace naturally curly hair types instead of simply taming them. We reached out to co-founder and CEO Rhonda Marshall in order to hear about how she personally reaches out to customers and her first-hand experience as a minority founder.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
Women around the world are looking for ways to embrace their naturally curly hair. Many have stopped straightening their hair with heat and harsh chemicals and need products to support their new lifestyle. They want products formulated to solve the problems that people with naturally curly textured hair encounter, such as dryness, breakage, and frizz. They also want clean ingredients.
While there are a variety of options available today, not all are able to meet the needs of our customers. Many brands don’t address the full range of curly, textured hair types. As such, there is a tremendous vacuum in terms of how to use products to achieve consistent results.
Inahsi Naturals products were formulated to address the needs of naturally curly, textured hair. Our products moisturize, define curls, strengthen, repair damaged hair, reduce and eliminate frizz, and improve scalp health. We also educate our naturally curly hair community so that they know what to use and how to use it to make every day their best hair day.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
The inspiration behind Inahsi Naturals reaches back to my college years working as an intern at Helene Curtis (now Unilever). I worked with the team that developed the first clear stick deodorant as well as other projects with hair color and Suave Selectives shampoos and conditioners. Years later, I earned a masters degree in secondary education, after which I taught high school chemistry for two years. The teaching experience did not work out as originally planned, and this is where I found the inspiration to create Inahsi Naturals.
During this time, the natural hair movement in the United States was in full swing. Women all over the world were transitioning away from using harsh chemicals and heat to straighten their hair and instead were beginning to embrace their curly, textured hair as it naturally grows from their heads. I had been wearing my hair naturally for over 10 years, and seeing what was going on with the natural hair movement, I decided to formulate my own line of plant-based products with a focus on curly, textured hair.
How does inahsi empower women of color?
In the beauty industry, women with long, straight, flowing hair have been the standard of beauty, whereas women with textured hair (who tend to be women of color) have been overlooked. Historically, there has been very limited research, education, and product selection for textured hair. We at Inahsi are committed to changing this narrative when it comes to textured hair.
Our name, Inahsi, comes from the Latin root word “innasci,” which means innate, born into. So, you will see on our bottles and jars: “Loving the You That You Were Born Into.” Our mission: “No matter how your kinks, curls and coils grow from your scalp, we celebrate you, we embrace you.” Our product assortment addresses the primary needs of textured hair which are dryness, frizz, tangles, and length retention. With all of this in mind, we empower women of color by providing them with world class products and education that allows them to define their own standard of beauty and supports every step of that journey.
You started inahsi in 2012. did it start as a hobby or as something serious? how has your business changed since then?
In 2012, this business started in my kitchen as a means for me to participate in the natural hair movement, which was growing rapidly in the US and abroad. Since then, the business and the market for our products have changed dramatically. While the natural hair movement was originally driven primarily by African-American women, we have seen women from all backgrounds come into an awareness regarding wearing their naturally curly hair and looking for products that support that lifestyle.
How do you differentiate inahsi from other competitors?
Our products are specifically formulated to meet the needs of textured hair, and we are committed to educating our customers as to how to take care of their hair. I go live weekly on Instagram, sharing how to take care of curly hair, how to read labels, how to understand ingredients and to provide emotional support as women try to navigate this journey, sometimes with a lack of support from their environment as well as a lack of confidence to “rock their curls” in their natural state.
Additionally, all of our products are formulated and manufactured in-house, which gives us a higher level of control over our ingredients and product quality as well as the overall integrity of our brand.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
We chose to raise via equity crowdfunding because it provides an excellent opportunity to allow our customers and other fans of our business to participate in our growth and benefit from our business as we scale. We also wanted to offer anyone who wanted to invest, be they an accredited investor or not, the opportunity to participate in our growth.
Our plans for the money we raise in this round include establishing our team with people who can manage our growth as we continue to scale the business. The funds also will help us to scale our inventory so that we can expand our distribution into new, larger sales channels and additional international markets.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
Potential investors should know that Inahsi Naturals is a brand with tremendous untapped growth potential, and as we are able to access the capital we need to scale our business, investors will have great opportunities to benefit as well. Our products are EU compliant and will soon be registered in Kuwait as well, giving us more access to Europe and Gulf Cooperation Council countries, where demand for products that address curly-textured hair is strong and growing.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Regarding the long-term outlook for the company, we do believe that an acquisition is a very likely exit opportunity for our business. Over the last few years, we have seen a number of acquisitions for similar brands in our space, including Carol’s Daughter (acquired by L’Oréal) and Sundial Brands (Shea Moisture, acquired by Unilever). We also continue to see strong investment activity in our industry as well, and we believe that the continued growth prospects of our industry provide good opportunities for investors looking for growth opportunities.
As a minority and underrepresented founder, what difficulties have you encountered working on inahsi? what advice would you give to minority and women founders?
Probably the biggest difficulty we tend to face is access to capital for our business. We realize that this is a challenge many small businesses face. However, the data suggests that it is particularly difficult for minority and women entrepreneurs to gain access to capital for their businesses.
My advice to other minority and women founders is to start where you are. In other words, you don’t always need $500,000 or $1 million in pre-seed capital to start your business. Start at a scale that you can manage and grow from there. Take a long-term approach, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
We look forward to seeing where Rhonda and her team take the company. Inahsi Naturals is currently raising on Republic.