Owning a business was not part of the career track Andrea Polk initially envisioned for herself. “As a child, the word ‘entrepreneur’ was never a term that was part of my vocabulary,” Polk explains. “I was never taught how to own a business, but rather how to be a great employee.” But after years growing other people’s brands in corporate America, Polk says she decided to invest her sales and marketing background in her own vision — a skin care business targeting men. Her first foray didn’t work out, but she persisted to launch Solo Noir, an organic grooming line for men of color.
Polk calls her last day working a 9-5 “life changing.” She elaborates, “I remember leaving work that day in a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts of uncertainty and fear. As I was sitting in my car, I turned on the radio and heard Mary Mary[‘s] ‘Go Get It’. At that moment, I knew it was time to go after my true blessing and calling.” She adds, “Two hours later, I was setting up Solo Noir at a pop-up location and have been working purposefully and happily ever since.”
We asked Polk what kept her going in spite of initial setback, and what keeps her moving forward.
MadameNoire: What inspired you to start Solo Noir?
Andrea Polk: Solo Noir was inspired by the lack of representation in the male grooming market. The ethnic grooming market is underserved and major market companies do not feel that ethnic grooming is a profitable market. My vision started in college when I was given the task of creating a mock business plan… While doing research for my project I realized that I had a passion for the male grooming industry.
MN: Were you a little gun shy about re-entering the male skin care market after your initial experience?
AP: I learned a lot from my previous failures and am now able to avoid making the same mistakes with Solo Noir… I have been able to put systems in place to minimize failure such as partnering with a manufacturer that can produce, test, insure, package, and distribute my products, along with developing [an] infrastructure that has the ability to withstand growth. In my mind, I have the perfect recipe for success, and I am not going to allow the downfall of one business be a roadblock for Solo Noir.
MN: How did you secure funding for Solo Noir?
AP: I cashed in a large portion of my life savings toward building my brand… As a child my mother set aside a cash reserve for me to be used for a home, starting a family, and/or incidentals. After I graduated with my graduate degree [in Supply Chain Management and Aesthetics], I realized that life wasn’t falling into the natural order of which most people follow—marriage, kids, home—so I persuaded her in allowing me to allocate the money toward starting Solo Noir.
MN: What are the advantages or disadvantages being a woman and owner of a business geared toward men?
AP: My biggest challenge is convincing them that grooming is not a feminine quality [but] a human quality. Historically the beauty industry has not focused on the male consumer, or better yet the ethnic market, so men have been accustomed to not thinking skin care and grooming is for them.
…Being a woman selling and owning a male product [has] been both a hindrance and an advantage. It is a hindrance because I don’t personally have the same skin issues as a man because of obvious reasons. But it has been an advantage because as a woman I know what women like to see in a man, and that’s smooth and healthy skin so I have created a line to promote that. Although challenging I don’t know a person other than myself that is more equipped for the task.