Desired Extensions Helps Women With Alopecia Find Hair That Fits Their Needs
Nearly half of all African-American women have experienced hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And the No. 1 cause of hair loss in Black women is central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA). CCCA occurs mainly in the central (crown) part of the scalp and causes the destruction of the hair follicles and scarring which leads to permanent hair loss.
While the exact cause of CCCA is unknown, as the Skin of Color Society pointed out, “previously thought to be solely related to the use of hot combs, excessive heat and hot oils on the scalp, chemical relaxers, and excessive tension from braids, tight hair rollers, weaves or extensions, the current thought also points to heredity (family history) playing a role.
Gina Conwell, the owner of Desired Extensions, has been helping women with alopecia through her hair extensions since 2009. Conwell got her start in the beauty industry young. Her parents have been in beauty supply business since 1964, owning a beauty supply house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Atlanta in 1969 and her mother, Robbie Conwell, opened All-N-1 Beauty Supply there, which is still in operation. When Conwell grew up, she became a sales rep for her mother’s business, and it was during this time that she decided to venture out on her own with her extensions focusing on women with alopecia.
The company offers 100% Virgin Indian weft hair, silk closure pieces, clip-ins, full lace wigs, and frontals, among other products. Conwell told MadameNoire why she decided to focus her extensions on women with alopecia and what her plans are to educate women and expand her business.
MadameNoire (MN): Why did you enter the beauty business?
Gina Conwell (GC): I grew up in the beauty industry. My father and mother owned a beauty supply store and my mother still runs another one they opened called All-N-1. I have always loved hair. Just don’t ask me to do your hair–I can’t do hair (laughs).
MN: What prompted you to focus on women with alopecia?
GC: Since I was going to various salons as a sales rep for my mother’s store, I was able to speak with the stylists about the needs of their clients. And one of the biggest issues was how to deal with hair loss. many of their clients were suffering from alopecia. So I saw the need and demand for hair extensions for these women. I started researching where I could find the highest quality of hair to make customized full-lace wigs, other hair pieces for women with alopecia, such as cancer patients.
MN: How was the transition from sales rep to entrepreneur?
GC: I wish I could tell you it was easy, but there were many challenges. When I decided to do this, I had to do a lot of research–four year’s worth of research to find the best hair. I also test tried all the products myself over a period of months.
MN: Are people very educated about alopecia?
GC: No, and I actually educate my customers and stylists about alopecia. There are various types, which are caused by different things. The more my clients understand alopecia, the better they are able to deal with it.
MN: What are some of the differences in creating extensions for women with alopecia versus the general Black hair market?
GC: It’s a very emotional stage for these women. Women have a strong connection to their hair, and when they experience baldness due to alopecia, from whatever reason–cancer, stress, heredity, hair treatments–it is very emotional. I sometimes have women in tears.
Also, you have to make sure the hair is of high quality and all of the material is good for sensitive skin. Many of the women who have alopecia, especially those dealing with cancer, have sensitive scalps–the skin may be thinner, the scalp may be irritated–so you have to be very careful with the types of products you offer. You don’t want to cause them any scalp irritation or discomfort.
MN: What are some upcoming plans for your business?
GC: We will be adding custom colors to our line so women can have exactly the hair color they want, especially women who want to match their real hair color, and we plan to do some pop-up shops in a few cities.
MN: What has been your biggest business lesson since venturing into entrepreneurship?
GC: The biggest lesson would be know your audience. I used to have a storefront location, and there came a point when I had to find a new store because they were tearing down the building and at this time I realized I really didn’t need a new storefront because I spent a majority of time out of the location and in my clients’ homes. Since many of my customers are dealing with cancer and might not feel well enough to venture out, I go to them. Also, I found that some women with alopecia were hesitant to come out to a location other than their home, even though I would guarantee their privacy and our store was in a private location. Plus, by going into the homes of my customers I am better able to get a feel of them and their lifestyles, which helps me find the type of hair and style they would best like. So now we are a totally customized hair business.