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How Maude and Simone of Bonnti are bringing powerful communities of black women together

by christinecauthen

Maude Okrah and Simone Tetteh of Bonnti have known each other for more than 20 years, a friendship that eventually led them to form their innovative business. They were just two black women who struggled to find a great hairstylist — Maude someone who was traveling a lot with work to different cities such as Houston, Boston, London and Shanghai. After finding an apartment, the first thing she was on the hunt for was a solid hairstylist. Simone started her career at American London and Shanghai. Simone started her career at American Vogue as a bookings editor. That role led her to helping book hairstylists and makeup artists for all of the issues and events. There, she had a chance to talk to different stylists and makeup artists and to learn that their journey in climbing the ladder to success in the beauty world was difficult.

The two friends met up in New York and talked about their struggles as well as those of black hairstylists they interacted with to promote themselves and their services. They thought, “we can solve this, there’s got to be an easier solution.”

Now the two are entrepreneurs, creators and founders of Bonnti — a mobile platform for women of color to help them find great hairstylists in a fun and engaging way, while also giving their stylists the opportunity to promote themselves. It’s like Tinder meets LinkedIn for hair. Both Simone and Maude are first generation Ghanian Americans. Bonnti literally comes from their roots. "B) ne ti" means “to braid her hair” in Twi, which is relevant because much like how braiding brings together hair, this app is about bringing solutions together. 

“It’s about us wanting to give women a voice and choice and making it easier to navigate their hair experience,” Maude says, “When you look at the evolution of tech, I can use my phone or an app to order a Lyft or buy food and shop, why can’t I use it to navigate a top priority like my hair. We kept saying someone’s gonna do something, someone has to do something — and that’s what prompted us to do something.”

Now Bonnti gives women of color and their stylists or makeup artists a voice and a choice when it comes to their hair and makeup. It’s an amazing source for style inspiration and connects people with the stylists who can make those looks happen. But beyond that, it also creates unique experiences for stylists, clients and industry experts to cultivate authentic relationships — basically Tinder meets LinkedIn for textured hair. All this is thanks to two good friends and a solid idea.

Finding balance

But all work and no play is not the key to success. Outside of their busy careers, Simone loves to listen to music and check out music blogs and Spotify to discover new favorite songs. She’s also got a green thumb, so her tiny apartment in Brooklyn is covered in plants. A lot of her downtime is spent volunteering in a soup kitchen in her neighborhood that she has formed a bond with.

Maude loves to mentor with a focus around STEM, women and people of color. She loves fostering opportunities there and letting those communities know they’re capable of doing it. She also stays active and has recently gotten into photography, which helps to balance the crazy workload of entrepreneurship.

“It’s tough to do things outside of the grind,” says Simone, “But I had to prioritize time with friends and family, that’s what keeps me sane. I try to stick to commitments, keep my word.”

“For me, family and friends are vital,” says Maude, “They’re the only ones who can keep you grounded and lifted at the same time — and that’s who you need in this journey. I block off time for friends and family, and do everything in my power not to change that.”

As far as self-care goes, that’s an important regular step for both Simone and Maude. Simone loves to meditate and tries to do so every morning for at least every morning for at least 10 minutes. It helps her to step outside of her head. Journaling helps her make better choices, reflect and reassess situations.

“As a black woman, it’s important that I make time to get my hair done, and Bonnti has helped me reclaim my salon time,” she says, “Once I prioritize taking care of my hair, I feel a lot better. It helps me feel better throughout the rest of my week.”

“I think what’s really important is in the community we’re taught to grind it out and be tough,” says Maude, “But if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others.” Because of this, Maude says of their business practices: “We will check in on each other and will also respect each other and only reach out if its a really hot item. If someone needs a day for self-care, we are mindful of that.”

Daily routines

Simone’s daily routine starts with 10 minutes of meditation, followed by morning journaling to get her focused for the day.

“I like to reflect on what I’m grateful for and think about the things I need to get done. Then I try to work out every morning. That doesn’t happen always, but I try to.”

She then spritzes her hair with a homemade mixture of almond oil, castor oil, water and conditioner. It moisturizes her hair and gives it the elements it needs for peak black girl magic. She’s also a big skincare junkie, she loves using Dr. Dennis Gross Daily Peel Facial Wipes, which gently exfoliate her skin and prevent hyperpigmentation. She also doesn’t leave the house without sun protection — lately that means Supergoop SPF 50 Rosemary Mist, which she’ll spray on every couple of hours for a refreshing layer of protection. She might even apply Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse which makes your skin look like liquid gold. And a forever favorite for hair and skin is Shea butter, which Maude agrees with.

Throughout the day, affirmations keep Simone motivated. 

“Even if we’re going through tough hurdles, one thing I remind myself is that nothing good gets away,” she says, “If we’re focused on something and it doesn’t work out, that’s why.” 

And externally, a big source of motivation for her is Maude. “Few people know me as well as she does,” Simone says, “She’s a rock for me. We help each other stay motivated. It’s great to have someone you care about and trust a lot on this journey with you. She’s my partner in crime.”

At night, Simone uses that time to reflect and express gratitude. In college, she started a tradition of thinking of three things she was grateful for throughout the day before she went to sleep.

“No matter how bad a day I had, I have a roof over my head, with a warm bed,” she says, “No matter what, I have so much to be grateful for.”

Maude starts her day by flipping through her quote book that she’s been going through for four years. It serves as her inspiration, and if she comes across a new quote she’ll write it down to remember later.

For beauty products, Maude likes to keep it simple with shea butter and African black soap — two staples.

But to keep her motivated throughout the day, other than quotes and breathing exercises, Maude will rely on music.

“From gospel in the morning to trap in the afternoon to neo-soul in the evening, music keeps me going,” she says.

She also attributes some of her strength to her network of other black female founders

“I’ve also been fortunate to meet a lot of black women entrepreneurs like us who understand and who have your back,” she says.

Learn from the best

What’s one thing that Simone thinks every young woman should keep in mind? Always wear sunscreen and stay grateful.

That wisdom might seem simple, but it’s everything. Look out for your health and well being but stay aware of the world around you and your place in it. Stay strong and push for more, but always remain gracious for your roots. Those things will get you far.

“It’s really about embracing the notion that I believe you can have it all but not at once,” says Maude, “Life is and will continue to be about tradeoffs.”

Thinking that way helps her stay centered and embrace reality. At the end of the day, it’s about recognizing what it takes to be happy, asking yourself if you’re truly happy, and if not, reassessing your situation.

“Always stay ready,” she says, “Look the part and know your information. Sometimes you have one chance at first impressions, make it count. Sometimes opportunities just fall your way and you have to be prepared.”

Download Bonnti today to support Maude and Simone’s creation and to connect with stylists, makeup artists, clients and other black women. Now available via iOS and Android. Check out Bonnti on Instagram and Twitter!