The idea of tracking down a professional hairstylist or barber can be very nerve-wracking, especially if you need someone ASAP or just moved to a new city and have no idea where to start. However, searching for great service has gotten way better with the rise of mobile beauty companies. There are now mobile applications specifically designed for people of color, and as I am a black woman always looking for a trusted source, this kind of inclusive treatment is a godsend.
You don’t have to commit to certain apps based on your hair texture or skin tone, but it is nice to know there are more options available for people of color to virtually browse and book everything from top-rated salons in your local area to professional beard grooming services.
After combing through tons of companies, we nailed down five for and by people of color that are truly a cut above the rest.
Jihan Thompson, CEO and co-founder, on the inspiration behind Swivel Beauty : My co-founder, Jennifer Lambert, and I are childhood best friends, and have long suffered the struggle of trying to find hairstylists who can work with our hair types and deliver the styles we’re looking for. I spent nearly a decade working at top women’s magazines in New York, and while I was a senior editor at O, The Oprah Magazine, I started noticing all these great advancements in beauty as well as tech. But there was always that moment where I’d have to ask, “Well, is this for me? Do they have someone who can work with coarser, kinkier hair?” In most cases, the answer was no. It was disheartening that you could order up just about anything from your phone — a date, dinner, a dress for your next party — but, for women of color, it was still unbelievably difficult to find a stylist. Which, when you think about it, is insane since we know women of color spend nine times more on beauty services than any other ethnic group. We saw this enormous white space in the market and decided to create a solution for women like us. No one else had done it, so we wanted to build an experience we knew deserved to exist.
How the app works: We provide a complete, end-to-end, discovery and booking experience. Women can come to our app, enter personalized search criteria (desired style, hair type, location), and pull up a list of curated, vetted stylists and salons who can perform the service. She can check out a stylist’s Instagram portfolio straight from the app, get all pricing information, read detailed reviews (including average wait time at the salon and hair type of the reviewer!) and request an appointment — all through the app. We make it incredibly seamless to go from looking to booking in just a matter of minutes. On the flip side, this generates new business for our stylists, who are entrepreneurs in their own right, and allows them to keep their chair filled by marketing directly to their target customer.
Points of difference:
We built our experience with the customer in mind first and wanted to create an experience that we know speaks to customers’ most pressing questions, such as, “Who can do an awesome silk press on transitioning hair this Saturday in Brooklyn for $65?” We built our platform to answer that question, so users can quickly get what they want (their best hair days!) and get back to living their lives.
While some platforms focus on just in-home stylists, we have listings for both stylists that will travel to you and brick-and-mortar salons because we know women want both. She wants to have the option to have a stylist who can come to her home at 7 a.m. for a pre-work blow-dry and trim, but also have a pampering experience in the salon for more extensive or chemical services. We allow her to build her beauty team around her needs, supporting her every step of the way.
We’re a vetted, curated platform. Stylists can’t add themselves to the platform directly without prior vetting. We built our platform based on user reviews and recommendations, and plan to scale that way, too. The platform has more than 200 user-generated reviews.
Are there plans for expansion? We hear from women all over the country begging for us to bring Swivel to their city, so this year we’re all about growth. Women will be able to find us in more cities soon, and we’re rolling a few other exciting features that we can’t announce just yet.
Debra Shigley, CEO and founder, on the inspiration behind Colour: For decades, I was a frustrated client! I’m a biracial woman — half Jamaican-American, half Jewish, and my whole life I struggled to find stylists that could handle and embrace my ultra-curly, kinky hair, but not have me waiting in a salon all day. As a journalist and lawyer, my time was crunched, and especially after I became a working mom (I’m currently expecting my fifth child; the oldest is 7), going to the salon was too inconvenient. I knew other women must feel the same way. So, I decided to take the leap and create a service that would enable me to get my hair done at home, by trusted stylists.
How the app works: A common scenario: A client has a flight to catch and needs to get her hair done by 7:30 a.m. She will browse our seven main styles, check out real client reviews, and book her date and time. If she’s looking for a particularly unique style, she might search our awesome new inspiration feature, which includes countless photos of braids, twists, updos, and straight looks that are all searchable by occasion (gala, date night, everyday, vacation, etc.). On the morning of the appointment, she washes her hair and our Colour stylist will arrive to style her hair, and she’s out the door to her flight by 8:30 a.m.
Points of difference: From selecting an inspiration photo and easy booking to a Colour stylist actually doing your hair at your house and seamless payments, Colour is a convenient hair care experience. There’s personalized customer support from our “salon in the cloud” and a true community of members. Plus, clients can save up to 200 hours of salon time by using our service.
Are there plans for expansion? We’re working on it! We get downloads and expansion requests daily from cities around the country and internationally — New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, L.A., Baltimore, Paris, even Lagos — and we’d look forward to serving women in these cities and many more. For now, we’re continuing to grow in Atlanta and are currently piloting protective styles.
Regina Gwynn, co-founder and CEO, on the inspiration behind TresseNoire: My co-founder Octavia and I have been natural for over 20 years. While we saw an explosion of new products, tools, and information, the styling experience had stayed the same — endless hours in a black hair salon, doobie, or Dominican blowout shops, or uncomfortable experiences in braiding shops. We wanted to use on-demand behaviors driven by companies such as Uber and FreshDirect to disrupt the salon channel and solve a major pain point for millions of women of color.
How the app works: Users enter a style request with location of service and TresseNoire sends an automated email once the request is confirmed. Next, you can text pictures of hair inspiration or set up a call with our stylists for a curl consultation.
Target audience: Time-starved women who need to look their best at all times love our app. The convenience of booking after hours and still getting a timely response is critical for our clients who have to pack a lot into their day.
Points of difference: A 360-degree focus on the customer is a key point of difference for TresseNoire. Our stylists are recruited based on their knowledge of healthy hair care regimens along with technique to ensure our clients are making the best decisions on the long-term growth and health of their natural hair.
Are there plans for expansion? We’re excited to expand our presence in the New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. markets, as well as create new pop-up salons and “naturalista experiences” that move away from the traditional natural hair expo format.
Simone Tetteh and Maude Okrah, co-founders, on the inspiration behind Bonnti: Bonnti was really inspired by our shared struggle of not being able to find great stylists when traveling for work or seeking to get a different style done. We recognized that this isn’t a struggle that affects just us, but millions of women of color. Our world is so tech-driven and different technologies have made so many aspects of our lives easier than before. However, for women of color, one of the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives, our hair, is still so complicated. Bonnti seeks to detangle the hair experience for women of color and provide a fun and easy solution that isn’t really offered now.
How the app works: Bonnti is a straightforward and a fun-to-use aggregator of the best hair content and stylist jobs in your area. We help women of color find stylists, discover styles, and build community. You can search a particular style in our community like bantu twists or silk press and find a stylist who can meet that need or you can use “Comb-Thru,” which is our Tinder-like feature that connects you to stylists based on your swipe left or right on a style. We take a very fun, social approach to the decades long struggle of finding a great stylists.
Points of difference: For a lot of other platforms, the emphasis is on booking and simply getting the client in the seat and then out the door for another client to come in. Bonnti strives to create an engaging, content-rich experience for both the client and the stylists. Our “Comb-Thru” feature on the app allows the user to filter through hundreds of different user-generated hairstyles and allows the user to match directly with the stylists responsible for their favorite look. For stylists, we provide access to a wide variety of job listings and hair-related classes in their area. People tend to forget stylists are also professionals and need a chance to build their network. Think of Bonnti as a Tinder meets LinkedIn for hair!
Are there plans for expansion? We are expanding along the East Coast the next few months and have some exciting partnerships in the works, which will bring a better experience for both the stylist and consumer. Look out for Bonnti in your city soon.
Luke Lawal of L & Company, owner, on the inspiration behind Taper: The inspiration behind Taper was foresighted around time management and fast-paced environments. While working on Capitol Hill, I was allotted a 20-30-minute lunch break, which I used to get a haircut in the downtown area. The weekly issue would be using portions of that time to stop at the ATM for cash and other tasks I needed to get done within that small window of time. I developed Taper to not only solve those two problems, but modernize to the oldest pastime in the urban community, the barbershop.
How the app works: Professionals sign up with Taper to showcase their work, get online booking services, and assist in accepting electronic payments. Reviews for each professional can also be given on the app.
Points of difference: Besides the fact that we are cooler and culturally relevant, our business model is a cheaper route for most professionals.
Are there plans for expansion? We would like to continually push for diversity and feature more services. Users should look forward to our pop-up events and collaborations.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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