Klerissa McDonald is the founder of Curly By Nature, a range of plant based products that she formulated specifically for people with genetically curly hair. Her background in hairdressing has led to not only creating products but also fuelling her passion for coaching and educating people on curly hair types.

The Curly Hair Revolution

How have you found salon life post lockdown?

So far I’ve opened up my diary just to existing clients, which is best for how I operate. I think we’ve all experienced an influx of enquiries from existing clients, and I just think it’s best to ease back into it, rather than allowing everyone in with back to back bookings. I’m also managing homeschooling, so it’s best for me to manage things this way.

How long have you been in the hair industry?

Decades! I think when I was eight I really knew I had a calling, and I started doing my family’s hair. Then I developed portfolio clients that were paying me. I had paying clients at 10 years old! When I was 14, I went with my portfolio of styles (which were amazing if I do say so myself!) to see local salons in London. I started working when I was 14 years old in a professional salon. I still have some of the photos of the work, and they are styles people are rocking today!

When was it that you moved into creating your product line?

I started operations on Curly By Nature in 2013. What started it was my motherhood journey actually. When I was pregnant, I was really conscious about what I was putting on my body and skin, and what I was consuming as well. I came to learn about the nasties or ingredients that weren’t necessarily great for nurturing curls. I found there were a lot of toxic ingredients in products marketed specifically for afro and curly hair, which moved me deeply. That drove me to jump in and learn cosmetic sciences, understand formulation and create my own product line. So that’s what catapulted the passion.

Did you find there was a gap in the market for products suitable for curly hair?

There was a huge global movement in terms of embracing natural hair, but alot of the good quality products you were able to get hold of were coming from the United States, so weren’t really accessible to the UK market. I was inspired by many of the stories of people in the US doing this, and thought I could probably do something like that. So I got really deep into studying the science of the formulation, and of curly hair. Even today products are not really promoted as much in the commercial mainstream.

Were there any haircare brands that inspired you to start your own brand?

Yes for sure, in particular black women owned US haircare brands like CURLS. That was created by Mahisha Dellinger. There are quite a few in the US. However, there are also several other brands that don’t truly understand the hair type, people (and the culture) that they are creating products for. That is why I felt like it was important for me to still operate from my lab, and be confident in exactly what I’m doing in terms of developing products and programs for education.

What was the journey like for discovering what plant products you could use in the formula?

That comes from my parents and grandparents’ use of plants, but I also wanted the brand to be sustainable, full stop. I wanted the ingredients, formulations and packaging to be kind to skin, hair and the environment as well. Curly by Nature is really focussed on having a 360 holistic view, so not just the product itself but the techniques used too. We look at everything really, even when we do consultations I’m asking the client about things like their diet and other elements that impact health.

Are consultations something you put a lot of value on?

100%. I think this is what initially really attracted and won me over with using Timely the software. I think it’s absolutely amazing, and I really think that this is one of the major cornerstones of Curly By Nature in terms of consultations because it’s all about listening really. It’s all about understanding and having clarity of what your client wants and needs. Listening to what they are saying, but also listening to what they are not saying, and reading between the lines. Interpreting it as an expert and being able to deliver, or even over-deliver and exceed expectations is what I feel has positioned Curly By Nature to where we are today.

Tell us about the Curl Summit and what the inspiration was behind it

Curl Summit is an event which is basically a round table discussion of the different issues and aspirations, and is a discussion on how we can really move forward in this hair space. I wanted to create a space where people can really feel like they are part of a community where they are not alone and can draw expertise and get support for their business and themselves.

The inspiration really came from a multitude of things. I would say the main thing being COVID, and the other being the Black Lives Matter movement. Looking at the different nuances and issues that it’s brought about in terms of the fact that curls are overlooked, and almost completely ignored. So many talented stylists have been denied curly hair education. Even when the issues have been brought up with institutions, it’s just been rejected which is an issue in itself. So I thought it was about time that conversations were had in order to fight past it, and also celebrate what we’ve been doing in terms of  bringing things up and supporting each other, which is probably the most important thing.

Do you feel change with these issues will come from education?

Change in going to happen regardless, but it will really come from people whose heart is in it. If you have the expertise and really do believe it’s important to share, then that is where it will come from.

How did you decide what speakers to have at the Curl Summit?

I really wanted to have people who have a great understanding of the space, who have a real love for the hair industry, and also understand the importance of getting together, speaking with each other and having discussions that will elevate the space. And not just for the space but for the consumers as well because that’s why we are all here, to empower, celebrate, make people feel, look and be healthy. I think every single one of those people had all of those elements to them.

I also wanted to make sure that it was diverse, so not just a panel of people who own salons. Some people sell hair, like Boho Locs. She understands the industry and has an online store where she sells products globally. With knowledge on the digital space, she was sharing best practice on how to elevate a brand, and how to communicate with digital marketing for your own salon or business.

Tell us about the training you do and what it involves

I cover a spectrum of clients. I do training for the complete novice, who perhaps has curls or afro hair, and doesn’t understand how to embrace it because they have been used to wearing wigs, weaves, or really hiding their hair. I also train professionals that haven’t had as much experience with curls, so they can understand the main characteristics, how to work with it, and covering the basic techniques that they might have done before but need improving on.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

I think often when you are building a business it’s quite a lonely experience or a lonely journey. That is the biggest obstacle. But with my nature, I am always finding solutions, I’m not dwelling on the negative aspects that could arise. I feel this is probably why I’m so passionate about Curl Summit, and so passionate about sharing best practice, and building the community in this space specifically.

Do you have any advice for up and coming hair entrepreneurs?

First and foremost, know yourself and your goals. Constantly improve on yourself and your skills because professional development is so key as a hair professional. If you continue to develop yourself, you are going to win.

What is the best way for people to get in touch with you about training?

You can DM me on Instagram @curlybyn, or email [email protected].

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