Caren Dawkins Is Bringing Affordable Afrocentric Hair Accessories To The Market
Tired of wearing black scrunchies and nondescript hair accessories? Well, Caren Dawkins was. So the full-time NYC MTA conductor decided to make her own unique hair gear–and sell them. Her Joyful Heads company offers a unisex, multi-purpose line of Afrocentric hair jewelry sold online and priced reasonably from $7 to $13.
Launched in 2016 at the popular networking conference Circle of Sisters in New York, Joyful Heads also offers ankle, ear, and neck jewelry with names like “Freedom” headband and necklaces “Ankh Love,” and “African Funk.” Dawkins hopes to start a new hair fashion trend, and she told MadameNoire just how she plans to do so.
MadameNoire (MN): Are you happy with your entrepreneurial venture?
Caren Dawkins (CD): Oh my, if I knew it was going to be this much work I probably would have waited…but no, I was so hyped I would have gone ahead after all.
I have a 30-year-old son with Down Syndrome, I am married, and I work full-time, so this has been a lot. But this is something for me. Something all my own. I work while my husband is asleep and on weekends so I don’t sacrifice my relationship and time with him. And, actually, I am about to retire next year from the MTA, where I have worked 39 years, so this venture comes at the perfect time.
I have always wanted to have a business. When I was growing up, my uncle had a restaurant in Queens (NYC) called Jack & Jill’s. I loved seeing his experience of being a business owner. And that feeling never left me. Even before Joyful Heads, I was always doing some sort of side business like baking or seeing candy.
MN: Why did you decide to start Joyful Heads?
CD: My hair was damaged and I decided to go natural, but I could not find any cute things to use in my hair.
MN: How did you damage your hair?
CD: Since I was 18 I have had my hair permed and permed out and permed myself to death. I remember one day the plumber came because my drains were plugged up, and he said it was all hair. My hair! But anyway, one day I went to the salon on my birthday to get my hair permed and I knew something was wrong when I was getting my hair done. The hairdresser did something I didn’t think was right, but I was rushing. A few weeks later my hair was crunching up and falling out. And I mean falling out! I was so depressed, so I just cut it all off.
But now I needed some things to wear in my hair, so I went to Claire’s first because I know they have all kinds of accessories. I am 54 years old so I am not a teenager, but I stilled wanted to look cute. Claire’s had a lot of glittery stuff, stuff for teenagers. Not stuff for a woman my age. I went to JC Penney and they had nothing to my liking. I wanted to go with a little heavier material and something a little Afrocentric. I wanted a headband to hold my hair in place, something heavier than what I was finding. So I decided to make my own. I went home and made some designs with paper and then I had prototypes done and I liked how they came out. So I decided to manufacture them and sell them. My products are named after the Indinka Tribe from West Africa, with the message of beauty, strength, freedom, and grace. So while they are Afrocentric they can be worn by anyone.
MN: How did you fund the startup?
CD: I invested my own money. I didn’t take out any loans from the bank; I didn’t want to owe outside. It has worked out so far.
MN: What was the process like going from idea to production to market?
CD: It didn’t even take me a year. I thought of the idea in November 2015 and launched in October 2016. After I had the plastic prototypes made, I looked around for manufacturers and actually found one who could do what I wanted in China. I flew to China by myself, made the deal and came back and opened my business online. While I do most of my sales online, I also attend festivals and fairs to sell.
MN: What’s next for Joyful Heads?
CD: This line I made is very affordable, but I would like to do a more upscale line of products as well so I can have a good mix of items. Eventually, I would love to get my products into JC Penney and Macy’s, but that will take some time. For now, look for more products in 2017.