When it comes to natural hair care, Taliah Waajid is an OG. Not only is the beauty boss responsible for the first-ever complete line of natural hair care products, but she began building her empire at the tender age of 14 years old. We had the privilege of catching up with the highly accomplished beauty boss to discuss her entrepreneurial journey, how she handles rejection, investing in beauty start-ups, and the delicate dance that comes with managing a family-run business.
MN: What inspired you to venture into the natural hair care industry? Is there a personal story behind the launch of your brand?
Taliah: Yes, there is a personal story behind my brand. I started my natural hair care brand in 1996. Yes, that long ago! When I started my brand, hair relaxers were worn by 90% of African-American women. There were no products available in stores or on the market that specifically spoke to the needs of women wanting to wear their hair natural. My brand is the first complete line of products that addresses the needs of women that chose not to use chemical relaxers in their hair. My line was created from my love of natural hair and the need for a quality line of products to care for natural hair styling and maintenance. My natural hair love journey started shortly after my mother refused to allow me to have a relaxer in my hair. I had no choice but to learn how to comb, manage and style my own hair. Through that experience, I fell in love with my hair in its natural state and wanted every woman to know that they too could fall in love with their natural hair if they had the knowledge of how to manage it. Since then, I have been educating customers, stylists, friends, and anyone else that would listen about the benefits of having chemical-free hair.
MN: In your bio, it says that you launched your start-up at 14. Can you share more about that?
Taliah: Yes. I did launch my official business at 14. I was actually styling my neighbors’ and family members’ hair before my first business. My neighbors paid me and would seek guidance on healthy hair care since I did not have a relaxer and I had a head full of healthy hair. At that time, I was making hair concoctions out of lotions and oils that I found around the house. My mom always wondered how we were running out of the lotions and creams she bought, but I guess we’ll really never know, huh? I would use my concoctions on my customer’s hair while I styled it.
My first real-world business started when I stopped inside a braiding salon looking for a summer job. I was put to work on the spot. My customer base expanded now that I had my regular customers as well as the customers that I styled at the salon. I was paid on commission, so it was my job to continue to bring in new customers. Although I was already a naturally talented braider and creative natural hairstylist, I learned so much from working in that braiding salon. The owner took me under her wing and taught me about healthy hair care while styling hair. I learned how to care for and to use the right tension when styling fragile hairlines and nape areas. I also learned how to professionally interact with customers. I would take those skills back to my original customer base. I was excited not only to be earning more money doing what I love, but I was also excited to be educated in the field.
MN: I thought it was really interesting that you invested in the FroBabies Hair. Can you talk about how that partnership came to be?
Taliah: Yes, I can. Kanika, the owner of FroBabies would come to my show, The World Natural Hair, Health & Beauty Show, every year for about four years. I’m always looking for partnership opportunities that work well with my mission of helping the community, uplifting, educating, and giving back. One year we sponsored her brand to be included in our Children’s Corner at the show. This show activation attracts over 450-plus children over the two-day weekend. As always at the show, Frobabies was a hit. I noticed that she had this great brand but no hair care products. I brought the idea of FrobBabies Hair to her and she loved it. We worked together creating the names of the products while my team and I worked on the ingredient story, testing, and focus groups. Soon after, FroBabiesHair was born and it has been/is a great partnership. FroBabies Hair has increased the FroBabies business by over 300% and the brand is growing double-digit year over year since its inception.
MN: Are you actively looking to invest in other hair care start-ups?
Taliah: I would not say that I am actively looking. I’m always open to hearing and seeing what is out there. I want to make sure that whatever I invest in, I can give it the attention that it needs to be successful and produce a profitable return. Staying focused is key, however, I am open to and welcome submissions for future business collaborations for review to get the conversation started.
MN: What are your go-to tips for small business owners in regard to staying motivated and handling rejection?
Taliah: Sometimes I low-key like rejection because it is a chance to learn. It hurts at first but it is an opportunity to learn and to ask, “Why?” Always look for the why so that you can work to fix and adjust it for your next ask. Maybe you don’t have to fix or adjust anything, it may not be the right time. Just don’t give up. Never hesitate to ask, why you were rejected. If you are rejected, spend very little time being down and disappointed, if you must. Learn from the “why,” dust yourself off, make the necessary adjustments if needed and be grateful that you are able to get up and try it again.
MN: Your business is mostly family-operated. Are there any challenges commonly experienced when working with family?
Taliah: Yes, there are. It’s family. I would say, honestly, anything that I say is going to be easier said than done because it’s family. Just remember that you have to put the mask on yourself before you can help anyone else. You cannot allow anyone to stop you from growing your business and being successful. If anyone that you hire is not performing at the level they need to and it’s negatively affecting your business, you have to make the hard decision to let them go. My advice? Save yourself and your team. Do not keep them around while you watch your business decline or fail.