Rachael Corson, cofounder of the natural hair care company Afrocenchix, was worried she wouldn’t be able pitch to the judges at WeWork’s Creator Awards London. Corson was about to have her second baby, so Joycelyn Mate, her business partner of nearly 10 years, was ready to take over at a moment’s notice.
Corson, who had her baby a few days after the Oct. 25 event, did not have to be concerned: Afrocenchix won the top prize in the Business Venture category. The company received an investment of $360,000, a sum that allows Corson and Mate to aim higher than they ever thought possible.
“We were actually in the middle of raising investment because we realized that our vision is huge,” says Mate. “Winning at the Creator Awards London is incredible for us. It takes us to the next step in making sure that we get products to more women who look like us.”
After meeting at the University of Birmingham, Mate and Corson realized that they weren’t able to find high-quality products for people with curly or kinky hair. Products on the market not only didn’t work well, but also contained harmful ingredients.
What started with hair oil has since grown into a range of all-natural products that includes shampoo, moisturizing spray, scalp oil, and hair cream. And now, thanks to the win at the Creator Awards London, they’ll be able to expand even further.
“We’ve had a conditioner under development for two years, and every week we get requests,” says Corson. “Product launches are a little bit expensive, but we can do it now.”
The Creator Awards funding will also enable them to increase their manufacturing capacity. Afrocenchix recently partnered with Whole Foods, but so far has only been able to supply the company’s UK stores. Increasing production at their factory in the south of England will mean being able to make their products available to the American market. They hope to see Afrocenchix in more than 400 Whole Foods locations across the U.S.
“We have quite a few American customers, and it’ll be fantastic for them to be able to go to their local Whole Foods instead of having to pay $20 for shipping,” says Mate. “We’re always shocked that they’ll pay that much for shipping, but they just love our products.”
Empowering their customers to go natural with their curly and kinky hair, rather than trying to straighten it, is important to Mate and Corson.
“We always encourage people to see the beauty of their hair, to see that it’s acceptable,” says Corson. “If your hair is unacceptable, then you start to feel that you are unacceptable.”
Corson and Mate say their win at the Creator Awards London is a boon not just for them, but also for women of color wanting to start their own businesses. They are pleased to be able to send a message to young British women.
Afrocenchix already receives a lot of unsolicited resumés from women inspired by their success.
“People definitely want to work for us because they see themselves,” Mate says.
The women say that hopefully more women of color will be inspired to take the lead.
“You don’t usually see black women in leadership positions in the UK,” says Mate. “Maybe African-American women, but not in the UK. There’s a massive difference in the people you see in leadership positions and we really support that drive that you can do what you want to do.”