The bond between black women and their hair is something words can't describe. For many people, they express themselves through fashion, performing and visual arts, among many other things. Although black women are well versed in all these areas as well, you can always count on her hairstyle to reflect her personality, vibe and mood. That's why it's no secret that black women spend nine times more on hair than other racial demographics. Statistics projected that the black hair industry will reach $761 million by the end of 2017 in the United States alone.
Even with a booming industry and, honestly, more products than we need, it can still be difficult for some women to receive and/or give their hair the proper treatment it deserves. Priscilla Hazel, Esther Olatunde and Cassandra Sarfo, three women software entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria, have made it their mission to make it easier for black women all around the world to give their hair the attention it deserves. Their new app, Tress, is a mobile app that helps black women around the world find hair inspiration, top notch stylists and products with ease.
The three co-founders met at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Ghana, where they found a way to turn their passion and lifestyle into a profitable business through software development. This endeavor eventually led them to Silicon Valley's Y Combinator Fellowship Program, a program that has notable alums such as Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit. From that moment forward, they knew they had created something golden and never looked back. They've are also now in the main Y Combinator program and recently participated in YC's Winter 2017 demo day.
On the inspiration behind the Tress app and its importance for black women:
"As black women, we change our hairstyle all the time. It's something we've been doing our whole lives. When one of the co-founders (Cassandra) went on Instagram and saw a hairstyle she liked, she wanted to know the specifics of that hairstyle," co-founder Priscilla shared. "She asked us and a few of her friends, but none of us were sure of the specifics. It made us start thinking that this is something we do every day. We stop people on the street and ask about their hair, or we take pictures from TV and the Internet trying to figure out new styles, products and prices. We wanted a platform that allowed people to post their hairstyles so that other users could benefit from it."
In Ghana, they built a platform on a smaller scale to bring their idea to life, just to see what it would look like. It started to catch wind throughout local communities and people started using it and asking questions, which made them realize it was time to take this to the next level. The businesswomen took their talents from Ghana to Silicon Valley, where they ended up at the eight week fellowship that taught them how to make more people interested, and bring value to a platform that was needed more than they initially thought.
"This app has ALWAYS been needed," Priscilla exclaimed. "People used to look in magazines for hairstyles and inspirations, but now that software and technology have become an interesting part of our lives. The way we receive anything is constantly changing. All of us are always online, so it made sense to bring that experience to where people would get the most value from it." Co-founder Esther chimed in, "In a software world, it's really great to have something you can attach your personality to, because we realized that the hairstyles are part of our culture as black women. Something we talk about even amongst our mothers, aunties, friends. We needed one platform where we could all go to not only find inspiration and new styles, but receive tips and interact with top stylists in my local area. That's essentially what we're trying to achieve with the Tress app."
On a seat at the table for black women in the STEM field:
The most inspiring takeaway from speaking with these three women is that they're proving that you can create a space for yourself in the STEM field. Many women, especially black, tend to shy away from software, development and coding for various reasons. "Just the fact that we even decided to do this, it shows women that there are opportunities for us in tech, and you can do anything you want," Priscilla said. "Hair is not something you think about when you think of software and tech. We managed to merge the two. So for us, we allowed people to see that you can bring your passion into tech no matter what it is. You're always able to find some middle ground." The co-founders went on to explain that the angle they're coming from is that it is possible to use tech to solve a problem or provide value to your passions and ideas. They continued, that as women that are coders, they know it's not a lot of them in this particular field. It's time to change that. "We would like to start hiring soon and get great engineers that are women. It'd be great to have a company that's killing it and ran by women," Esther admitted. I strongly concur.
On what's next for the Tress app:
Although the app has 30,000 people using it weekly, they're still in the developing phases. They predict a lot of interesting things for the app moving forward. Launching their iOS platform earlier this month was a huge step. They also want to add a live video feature so you can witness your favorite influencers doing and explaining their hair in real time. "The app is very user-driven based, so we are constantly tweaking and making adjustments based on user feedback. So, we're always trying to find a way to make the experience on the app much better and enjoyable." They're also really focused on the US market at this moment, creating a solid following in all major cities. "We definitely want to do a lot of partnerships and collaborations with hair influencers and hair care brands." Esther went on to clarify that their app is for all black women, no matter their hair journey. "We don't discriminate against any type of hair. The hair industry is huge and diversity matters. Every black woman is welcomed at Tress!"
The co-founders concluded by sharing that Tress was made for us, by us for a reason. "Our first focus was black women because we spend the most amount of money on our hair. It's a big part of our monthly budget and we're constantly talking about our hair. We wanted a safe space where we could find anything we needed and wanted to know about our hair. When the black woman thinks about her hair, she thinks about going to Tress first. That's what we want it to become."
This post was originally published on Blavity.com.