After experiencing racial division in corporate America, Mahisha Dellinger said she “claimed her own destiny” and “found her passion.”
Dellinger, founder and owner of CURLS natural hair care products, was once a top performer at Intel Corporation. While she said she was “going over and above” to succeed and move up the corporate ladder, her supervisor refused to give her the opportunity to grow. Instead of throwing in the towel, Dellinger said she began to strategize her own approach to business, and found that she could succeed by “becoming the consumer.”
“I had to remember what my wants and my needs were, in order to authentically create what a consumer would want from a natural hair care brand,” Dellinger said. “CURLS is not a white-owned corporation that wants to make a dollar off of the Black woman. CURLS is authentically created for us, by us.”
After conducting research trials, and finding a chemist, Dellinger launched CURLS in California in 2002. A decade later, Dellinger’s products can now be found in stores like Target, Sally Beauty Supply and Walmart.
While she continues to grow her line and expand her brand, Dellinger said she is grateful for the mistreatment from her former employer and even “sent him a thank you note.”
“He [the manager] made that the most stressful time in my life, but by channeling that energy and focusing on what makes me intriguing and authentic, I found a passion project that had the potential to be a viable business,” Dellinger said. “That experience and that struggle changed my outlook on life and it changed my outlook on business.”
MN: How did you get your start in the business world?
Dellinger: I came from an impoverished community. There were a lot of gangs and I was surrounded by disfunction. But, I wanted to break that cycle so I went to school, and then on to college, which enabled me to get a corporate job straight out of college. I worked really hard and eventually branched out on my own.
MN: What made you leave corporate America to open your own business?
Dellinger: My exit out of corporate America was because I ended up with a manager at Intel that made it his mission to get rid of me. I know without a doubt that his antagonistic behavior had to do with my race.
It was the most stressful time in my life because I was doing everything right and for no reason this man wanted to destroy me. And it was at that moment that I decided that I had to find something else to do with my life. This man had my financial destiny in the palm of his hands. When I finally got a different job offer and moved to a different department I [moved up the ranks] faster and I got a bonus, stock options and a raise. This showed me what I had known all along – that I had the ability to perform. I was no longer stressed about my income or what was happening tomorrow. I knew that I needed to own my destiny and not to allow anyone to hold it over my head ever again.
I began to look for other things that I was passionate about. I started doing research, found a cosmetic chemist, and CURLS became a passion project, and later a viable business. So, in the end, that awful work experience changed my outlook and I don’t know if I would have moved forward with CURLS had it not been for that experience. Now I have my own business that I can pass on to my children. And that is something to be proud of.
MN: How did you develop the concept for CURLS?
Dellinger: I reminded myself that I was the consumer for the products that I was creating. I wanted my brand to be relative, intriguing, and authentic. I had to remember what my wants and my needs were in order to authentically create what a consumer would want from a natural hair care brand. CURLS is not a white-owned corporation that wants to make a dollar off of the Black woman. CURLS is authentically created for us, by us and that Black woman that wants my products is me. So as I kept that in mind, the brand developed just like I wanted it to.