The natural hair explosion has created many opportunities for Black-owned beauty companies, but still there was something missing.
What about women with natural hair who wanted to give their looks a little boost with hair extensions? For some time, the options for textured extensions were few and far between. That is until Waveney Antoine and her husband Ruben started Koil: the “first luxury brand dedicated to Afro-textured hair.”
Waveney and Ruben met at Stanford University where she studied Psychology and he studied Management Science & Engineering. Despite their majors, the Pembroke Pines, Florida-based couple had a penchant for entrepreneurship and together launched a few ventures before getting into the hair business.
“To fund Koil, we used money from our past ventures,” Waveney explained. “Ruben is a developer and I’m a designer. We sold two of our software companies and used that money to get Koil off the ground.”
Koil offers natural-style wigs, extensions, and clip-ins that you can twist, braid, “stretch,” curl and do virtually anything you would your own natural hair. Here, Waveny talked to us about launching Koil and she and her husband’s plans for expansion.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you and Ruben meet?
Waveney Antoine (WA): We met during freshman year of college. I’d often see him on the third floor of my dorm because he and his friends had masterminded an in-room grilled cheese operation that definitely violated the fire code.
MN: Why did you decide to go into business together?
WA: We’ve been starting companies together since Junior year of college. It’s become a way of life for us.
MN: Why this business?
WA: I wore my hair in braids nonstop basically from birth until the end of college. Finally, when I wanted to rock my Afro for the first time, I discovered it was short, brittle and broken off, damaged not from heat or chemicals, but from years of neglect and fine-tooth detangling between braid installations. I went to a stylist for the first time hoping for a miracle, but she could only salvage a few inches and said, to my horror, that it’d take “four years to grow out.”
I soon realized that it’s possible to love your natural texture and still absolutely hate your hair. No inspirational Pinterest boards, natural hair Instagram feeds, YouTube gurus or even my own husband’s compliments could convince me to “enjoy the journey” or “trust the process.” When I looked in the mirror I saw big head, small hair, and frowned.
Having a bad hair day every day for nearly half a decade was simply not an option; I had to do something. So after selling our first company, Ruben and I decided this was the perfect thing to tackle next. We’d create a line of hyper-realistic wigs that would allow a woman to seamlessly bridge the gap between “how I want my hair to look today” and “how my hair will look in four years.” We’d take on the role of illusionists, designing extensions so believable that the wearer herself would forget the extra length wasn’t hers, stop agonizing about the long “journey” ahead—and feel good in the present.
MN: What are each of your roles in Koil?
WA: I take the lead on branding, product development, and all things design. Ruben heads up web development and logistics.
MN: There has been a rash of new companies with products for natural hair, what makes yours different?
WA: The realism of Koil Hair cannot be matched. We launched with a very small product line because it takes so much time for each product to meet our rigid standards of believability. While rocking a piece from our collection, you will never be asked in hushed tones, “Girl, where did you get your wig?” Instead, friends, family and random people at the grocery store will beg you for your hair care secrets—because our hair looks so completely and utterly yours. Not just in texture, but also (more importantly!) in length, shape and volume.
The beauty of our line is in its restraint. We will never release a wig that is unrealistically long, nor one with the density of a lion’s mane. Our line is uniquely suited to the woman who seeks a subtle, natural enhancement to her look, and a truly luxurious buying experience. We’ve resisted the temptation to be “larger than life,” and in doing so created something quite rare and special: a hair line that is unarguably lifelike across the board.
MN: How did you raise money to start the company?
WA: It’s important to Ruben and me that Koil remain fully Black-owned. We knew that raising venture capital would jeopardize that, so self-funding was the only option. When we sold two of our software companies, we used some of the money to get Koil off the ground.
MN: Since you were new to the beauty world, how did you create the products for the company?
WA: While this is our first beauty brand, it’s not our first foray into e-commerce or product development; we’ve designed and sold hair tools in the past on a smaller scale. For each Koil product, we went through a meticulous months-long design process alongside our manufacturer, adjusting shapes, lengths, densities and textures until we achieved unmatched realism. Then, products went through a testing process, evaluated by women in our target market, and were adjusted yet again until perfect.
MN: Right now you have two products, what’s next?
WA: The hair is ethically sourced by our trusted manufacturing partner in China.
Right now our line includes our two signature wigs, and clip-in extensions in four different lengths. We’re excited to roll out new silhouettes for the wigs and to play with color for the extensions in our next collection.
We’re also developing a line of hardware products tailored exclusively to styling coily strands –women who choose to straighten their hair have a wide array of tools at their disposal. For women styling their Afros, the options are far more limited, and we’re determined to change that. Stay tuned!
MN: What have been some challenges of working with your partner?
WA: I haven’t found working specifically with a male partner challenging at all, but maybe I’m biased because I work with my husband. Of course, there are some quintessentially girly things my male partner can’t help much with. Like most men, he’s never held a curling wand or been on a hair journey. So while I’m styling models on a shoot, he’s off handling logistics. When it comes to product development, I’ll put on one of the pieces and say “on a scale of 1 to 10 how real, how fake?” and he’ll scratch his head and go “…I guess 8?” So I’ll have to approach other women for feedback to actually test and tweak the line until it’s perfect. But I think that’s an asset if anything: Being forced to step outside of the company for perspective prevents an echo-chamber from forming and challenges us to give customers what they actually want.
MN: What has been the most important business lesson you have learned so far?
WA: Aesthetics are expensive! Watch out for hidden costs that can throw you for a loop just when you thought you’d budgeted for everything. For example, on a photo shoot, turns out you don’t just have to pay for models, crew and studio space—there are crazy equipment rental fees that you simply can’t cut corners on if you want top-caliber photos. No matter how amazing the photographer is, you will still need to pay for lighting, backdrops, and tools you’ve never even heard of. There are even fees for permits if you want to shoot outside–that includes on beaches and at parks! Do your research beforehand, and when you think you’re done, research some more–you’ll save yourself a ton of panic and/or bankruptcy!
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