Co-founder, Whitney White is 1/2 the founding team of Melanin Haircare, the brand she launched in 2018 with her sister, Taffeta, after nine years into her journey as a content creator sharing her natural hair care evolution. White was born in Rhode Island but grew up about 30 minutes outside of Boston. She’s a proud and loyal Bostonian, and “really loves this state.”
Whitney and Taffeta run the business from the Greater Boston area but have managed to launch their revolutionary haircare products across the nation at Target, Sephora, and Ulta. Oh, and they were also featured in the Netflix docuseries Black Beauty Effect (NBD).
We chatted with Whitney about her journey from making DIY flaxseed gel in her kitchen 12 years ago, to now a YouTube sensation with 1.33 million followers (plus another 700,000 on Instagram) and entrepreneur who has been able to scale Melanin Haircare’s retail distribution 2X in the last year.
BU: You’re from Greater Boston, tell us about where you grew up.
I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, but I grew up in Massachusetts. When I was in around fourth grade we moved to Boston and I’ve been here ever since! My most formidable years were in Boston.
BU: How did growing up in Boston influence your journey?
I grew up with relaxed hair. The town I grew up in was very diverse, I grew up around a lot of different cultures and people.
[In Boston] I did a lot of sports! I was very active in the school system. Growing up in Massachusetts and my high school had the most influence over who I am today. The sport I was good in was track and field, but the sport that I played socially (I was not very good in) was basketball. I was the team mascot!
Are you a Celtics fan then?
If I’m going to pick a basketball team, it would be the Celtics. I don’t watch sports now, but of course, Celtics, Patriots. If I’m choosing a sports team, it’s definitely a Boston sports team.
BU: How did it feel going from growing up in New England to starring on a Netflix show?
I started posting videos on YouTube in 2009, back then it wasn’t monetized and a little more niche. I was sharing videos about my hair care journey, DIY hair products, really just trying to help out my community. It’s really cool to come from a small town and have these opportuntiies.
I have purposefully not relocated to New York or Los Angeles because I love Massachusetts, really love this state. I have two children, it’s an amazing place to raise kids. The education and medical options are fantastic, and I just love the culture here. I could not imagine myself living anywhere else. I wouldn’t want to lose myself by relocation somewhere else. I’m really thankful that what I do, I can still live in Massachusetts and still be on a Netflix show.
BU: Tell us what it was like to film Black Beauty Effect on Netflix and the key message you wanted to share on the show.
It was produced by friends of mine CJ and Andrea, they presented me with the opportunity (before we even knew it would go to Netflix) to share my story as one of the first Black-beauty creators online. I wanted to show the world how beautiful Black beauty is, and how beautiful curly hair and natural hair can be.
There were no guarantees of where the show would end up. I was just honored to share the story and be part of the history of Black beauty and the conversation. Now that it was picked up by Netflix, I’m really proud and honored. It means more eyes will be on the story and to learn about the history and learn how hard we worked to share and normalize our specific brand of beauty and where we plan to go in the future. I’m really honored to be a part of that.
BU: You went from DIY hair products, making Greek yogurt hair masks in 2011, to an award-winning and internationally acclaimed brand (now in Target, Sephora, Ulta). Tell us how.
I grew up with relaxed hair but started transitioning to natural hair after college. I had to learn how to do my hair on my own because there was no information anywhere. As a graphic designer, video was the most comfortable medium for me to present information. I wanted to give back to the community that inspired me to take this leap and so I started Naptural85.
It was completely organic. At the beginning we [content creators] weren’t making money on YouTube, it was for the love of it. I started becoming very earthy-crunchy and making my own hair products because the few brands for Black hair that did exist were very expensive and I was just out of college.
I would research and experiment on my own head. If it turned out well, I would post the video. And that was the start of my concoctions (later to become the backbone of Melanin Haircare). I hate saying this but, my videos were some of the first out there introducing hair mayonnaise, flaxseed gel and aloe vera.
But I had no intention to sell it.
As the years went by, an overwhelming amount of my audience craved product to help.
BU: Tell us about your vision and the technical steps it took to make your first product?
I took six years to make the line. From 2012 until 2018 when we first launched. I wanted the prodcts to be shelf-stable but as close to the natural DIY products I was already making. I had to find a chemist who could work with my very strict list of ingredients I did not want to use.
And get it at a price point that was fair to the consumer. I asked my sister Taffeta to join me, I needed a partner and knew it was a lot to take on by myself. It took six years of behind-the-scenes work, I was still creating content while developing the brand, and we launched Melanin Haircare in 2018.
Did you have a hero product?
The first launch was based on DIYs. I gave my recipe to the chemist and said, “recreate this, but make it shelf stable. And if you’re going to add anything to it, it needs to enhance.” We went through hundreds of samples. Our first two products were built out based on my personal recipes and my most popular DIYs. These are our Twist Elongating Styling Cream and Multi-Use Pure Oil Blend.
BU: You own Melanin Haircare with your sister, Taffeta. Do you have any advice for family-owned businesses?
Choose wisely which family members you partner with. If there are hesitations, do not go forward with it. We have a lot of hard conversations, and you have to make sure you trust your partner. You cannot be shy with them and want to trust that your partner will not be shy with you. You don’t want a “yes person.”
BU: What was the greatest challenge you faced in your first two years of business and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge was funding as we are completely self-funded. Be very wise with your funding because it can make or break you.
We literally took all of my savings from creating content and put it into the business. When you have such a large audience and are trying to make sure there is enough inventory for those who want to purchase, that requires a lot of money. There had already been so much money spent and then you have to have a lot of money to make the big order.
BU: Can you share some lessons learned from five years as a small business?
Slow and steady wins the race. Do not try to go too fast, enjoy every step of the journey. Prior to taking the next step, make sure that the previous step is self-sustaining. Hire smartly and slowly, we currently have eight employees. Make sure you’re picking employees that add value to the business and hiring with intention.
Every step is a whole new journey you have to learn, so don’t go too fast.
BU: How is Melanin Haircare a celebration of the community that inspired it?
The company is the celebration! The company would not exist without the community asking for it. I wanted to name the product something that represented the community, hence Melanin Haircare.
I wanted the community to know this is for you, by you.
But of course, our products are great for all different hair types.
BU: What’s next for Melanin Haircare in 2024?
We have some new items on the horizon. I think the community is going to be very excited for our 2024 launches! But we’ve got some amazing deals this holiday season. (Check them out below!)
Melanin Haircare Holiday bundles and Black Friday deals!
By supporting Melanin Haircare, you’re shopping a family, women, Black, and locally owned business! Plus, the products work wonders on all hair types-just take it from the thousands of five-star reviews online.
With the temperatures dropping and the winter just around the corner, we love the Cozy Holiday Bundle as a gift for yourself or a loved one! Save $28 (your giftee doesn’t have to know) and score Logo Crew Socks, an Oversized HOOD[ie], and a Stretch Satin Head Wrap for just $52!
The Bedtime Bae Bundle is the perfect gift to set someone up for the best sleep ever (an important part of any hair and wellness journey). Get a Melanin Haircare pink tie dye soft blend t-shirt plus a Stretch Satin Head Wrap for $27.
If you prefer a more hair product focused gift, shop the Signature Duo Bundle which comes with the marquis Melanin Haircare products that started it all! It’s a great introduction to the brand and you’ll get a full-size Twist-Elongating Style Cream and Multi-Use Pure Oil Blend! If you want to try even more products or have an upcoming holiday excursion, the Signature Line Hair Travel Kit has four travel size bestsellers plus a nifty canvas bag and can be shopped at Sephora and Melanin Haircare!
Don’t sleep on these deals as they’re only around for a limited time!