We first highlighted entrepreneur and haircare guru Julian Addo two years ago, but her haircare line, Adwoa Beauty, deserves a revisit. Since then, Addo’s products have hit the shelves of Sephora in the United States and Canada, earned national beauty awards, and developed a cult following of customers whose natural hair has never looked better.
Addo’s foray into haircare began decades ago. She was born in Liberia and raised in New York City. She was 12 when she started working as an assistant for a neighborhood hairstylist, then quickly attracted clients of her own. Addo enrolled in a vocational high school, graduated with her cosmetology license, and eventually opened her own salon. She ran the business for several years before getting married and transitioning into a corporate career.
Addo’s passion for cosmetology was dormant until 2012, when she was struck by YouTube videos of women and men with textured hair who were giving up chemical treatments and rocking natural curls. She credits Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair, released in 2009, as one of the catalysts for the movement. The film exposed the dangers of relaxants, which may be linked to health issues like alopecia and cancer. “[These individuals] started documenting themselves returning to their natural textures, and I was moved. I wanted to be a part of it,” she says.
Addo cut off her own chemically treated hair and started a blog, Bella Kinks, to document her return to her natural texture. After a few months, she decided blogging wasn’t her calling and transitioned Bella Kinks into a media agency, facilitating partnerships between influencers and haircare brands. She also started working with Sally Beauty to repackage and reformulate their in-house multicultural haircare brand, Silk Elements.
Addo began to notice that the world of retail was experiencing a revolution. From Casper mattresses to Warby Parker glasses, companies were developing modern ways to purchase age-old products. “I didn’t see that happening with textured haircare,” she says. “The packaging and the branding looked the same in 2015 as they did in 1994.”
“Initially, I didn’t want to start a company,” she continues. “I was used to working behind the scenes. So I pitched a concept [about a modernized haircare brand for textured hair] to Sally Beauty and some of my other clients, but no one really moved on the idea. That’s how Adwoa Beauty was born–out of my frustration with the industry and how it represented Black women, and from my desire to have a clean, modern, gender-neutral brand that caters to textured hair. That didn’t exist prior to us launching in October 2017.”
Addo’s brand pays homage to the word Adwoa, a nickname used in parts of Western Africa for girls born on Mondays. However, Addo emphasizes that Adwoa Beauty products are gender-neutral. The brand’s black-and-white packaging and crisp, minty fragrances were designed to be universally appealing. “Hair doesn’t have a gender, and I didn’t have the energy for gimmicky marketing,” she explains. “Products ‘for men’ just have darker packaging with a masculine scent. I have to be able to stand behind my brand a hundred percent, so gender-neutral was just natural. Also, my favorite color has always been blue. The Adwoa Beauty blue feels both masculine and feminine.”
Creating clean, nontoxic products was of equal importance to Addo. “We’ve always used clean ingredients,” she says. “In Liberia, where I was born, a lot of our remedies are from our yard, from things we grow. Even the food that we eat there is all-natural.” Adwoa Beauty products are formulated with oils like baobab, peppermint, and wintergreen, with no parabens or sulfates.
Still, she says, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to caring for textured hair. Adwoa Beauty products are formulated to address individual needs, like added moisture, shine, or curl definition. Addo wants every customer to have a tailored experience, and her social media channels are used to provide one-on-one support.
“We create quality content like tutorials, educational posts, and Instagram Lives, but we then follow up with Messenger on Instagram and Facebook to have private conversations,” she says. Addo notes that some customers aren’t comfortable asking questions publicly, while others have private profiles and don’t want to share photos of themselves on the main feed. Instead, they can send photos of their hair and descriptions of their styling goals in a Facebook or Instagram message. Addo or her team members will then offer expert advice. “We want them to get the best outcome with our products so that they feel comfortable going into their workplace or anywhere in society with their natural hair,” says Addo.
Most large companies have too many DMs to go through, she says, or they simply don’t make it a priority. “Even though we’re growing, it is something that we continue to do. You don’t ever want to become too big to answer your customer.” After getting to know them on an intimate level, adds Addo, customers are more likely to engage on social media and act as brand advocates.
Creating a community for those with textured hair is at the core of Adwoa Beauty, and Addo wanted it to go beyond digital platforms. She developed a showroom in the Cedars, which welcomes customers to shop, get styling advice, and ask questions about the products. “I wanted to have an experiential location where customers can see, touch, and test everything,” says Addo. She plans to return to her in-person shopping model in the near future as the vaccine rollout continues.
The showroom is a multi-use space and is also used to host workshops and events. Last year, during Black History Month, Addo planned a shopping event and invited other Black- and women-owned businesses to sell their products. She also loans the showroom to local creatives for photoshoots and content creation.
“The space is here, I’m paying rent on it, and it doesn’t take anything from me to have people come in and use it,” she says. “Entrepreneurship is really hard. It’s even harder as a Black founder when you don’t have access to funding and capital in the same way that non-Black people do. So it’s really important to me to continue to lift up all people, with an emphasis on the community I came from.”
Addo believes that transparency is a key component of sharing her story with other small business owners. “I started this company in my one-bedroom apartment,” she says. “Everyone’s trying to put on their best face, but entrepreneurship is so hard.”
That said, in just three years, the Adwoa Beauty brand has hit major milestones. Its hair gel won a coveted Best of Beauty Award from Allure in 2020–the first all-natural gel to receive the honor. Then, Adwoa Beauty was tapped by Instagram to be a part of the launch of Live Rooms. Perhaps most impressive is Adwoa’s presence in Sephora stores, now in both stateside and in Canada. “It validated my brand and my work,” she said.
“I want to inspire people who want to be on the [entrepreneurial] journey, but also show them what it takes.”Julian Addo
Addo’s mission has always been to represent textured hair in the highest regard possible and to secure its long-overdue presence in the beauty industry. “Our images and marketing can fit in anywhere that beauty products are sold,” she says. “‘Normalize Being Kinky’ is one of our taglines, and we are making sure that people of color know that there’s an assortment of products for them, including in prestigious retailers like Sephora. They can walk in and shop in the same aisles, not just the ethnic aisle.”
Regardless of her success, Addo doesn’t feel like she’s ‘made it’ yet. Instead, she says, she’s just getting started. “I’m still in the trenches doing the work,” she says. “I do want to build Adwoa Beauty into a billion-dollar company and be the first Black-owned beauty brand to go public. So I have some major goals, but as far as short-term, I don’t really set goals for myself. I don’t want that type of pressure.”
Instead, she’s continuing to focus on what made Adwoa Beauty a hit from the beginning–connecting with customers.
“People will support and talk about brands they like, and they’ll go where they feel appreciated,” she says. “I know that sounds simple, but that’s the bottom line. As an entrepreneur, as your company grows and you get busy, you tend to stop doing a lot of the things that you used to do. But those things are really what makes the magic.”
The Adwoa Beauty showroom is located at 1414 Belleview Street, Suite 100. Shop Adwoa Beauty products on their website or in Sephora stores nationwide, or connect with the brand on Instagram and Facebook.