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How The CurlMix Co-Founder Turned A DIY Kit Into A Multi-Million Dollar Empire

"My goal is to help people get a return on their investment and create generational wealth for their families."

Black Woman Owned

Black Woman Owned is a limited series highlighting black woman business owners who are change-makers and risk-takers in their respective realms. As founders, these women dare to be bold, have courage in being the change they wish to see in the world, and are unapologetic when it comes to their vision. These black women aren't waiting for a seat, they are owning the table.

Sometimes DIY goes beyond being crafty with items you find around the house or being exceptionally enterprising with a pair of scissors and a glue gun. The "Do It Yourself" mentality can become a foundational ethos for entrepreneurs looking to build something great out of everyday commodities.


This is particularly true for Kim Lewis, co-founder and CEO of CurlMix and Listeners Brands.

Due to her struggles with alopecia, Kim decided to undergo a big chop in her college dorm room in 2010, and she solicited the help of her now-husband, Tim Lewis, to do the job. "[Tim] was like, 'Kim, I'm not gonna cut your hair.' But he left me low on one side of my head so there was no looking back from there," she recalls laughingly. With kid's craft scissors in hand, little did the two know that as one journey was ending with Kim's hair, a new path would soon emerge because of it.

Image courtesy of Kim Lewis

Back then, there was one place on the web you could find a collective of Black women transitioning from their relaxers to embracing their natural textures: YouTube. As Kim navigated the early days of her natural hair journey, she turned to natural hair gurus as a guide to make her own products from her dorm room. As she began growing her hair out and experimenting with different styles, she couldn't step outside without being asked about the secret behind her curls. "Women would flag me down on Michigan Ave. [in Chicago] and be like, 'Oh my gosh, what is in your hair? How do you get it like that?'" Kim recounts. Then something clicked. "I finally got the bright idea to put [the products] in a box and give people a kit to make their own haircare products at home." So in 2015, Kim launched CurlMix as a do-it-yourself subscription box for curly-haired women to develop their perfect wash n' go, straight from home.

Although the kit was well-received among their customers, a star product was rising in the form of their flaxseed gel. Noticing its popularity, Kim remained nimble and pivoted their entire business to solely focus on their bestseller. Her agility paid off, making the flaxseed gel the brand's "hero product," earning them their first million dollars in revenue, and positioning them toward the forefront of the industry.

Today, Kim and Tim are on a mission to build "the Black Procter & Gamble" for underserved markets through Listeners Brand, the parent company of CurlMix and another of their brands, 4C Only. This spring, the duo launched an equity crowdfunding campaign for CurlMix, inviting their community to become angel investors in the initiative. In just a few short months, the campaign has raised more than $5 million, with more than 8,000 investors contributing.

For Kim, the vision is clear: Build the first black-owned public beauty conglomerate and put the power back into the hands of her people.

"I want my community to come up with me. My goal is to help people get a return on their investment and create generational wealth for their families." United by her village, it looks like that dream will come true sooner than she thought.

xoNecole: Your company, Listeners Brands, recently announced that it will be going public, and you’ve invited your community to be a part of investing in your company via crowdfunding. Take us through the vision behind this, especially in terms of building generational wealth?

Kim Lewis: As Black women, we all experience that when we get so excited about a brand, we rally behind it, we go and buy out the shelves in the store, and then, when they sell, we don't get anything for it. It's two things to that: On one side, businesses are in business to make money and to have acquisition. That's just how things go. But then, pair it with Black people being used by the system over time and not being able to keep wealth because people are keeping it from us or not allowing us to get it when we help to create value somewhere and one person gets to benefit from it, even though we all participated. Every time you purchase a product, you're creating value because you're creating revenue for the brand. A brand's evaluation is solely based on its revenue. It's the consumers that build the brand.

So for me, I was like man, if we ever sell our company—if we ever IPO—our customers won't get anything and they're the ones creating this value. And I wanted to open up my investment realm to them instead of making some rich person richer. I really wanted my community to come up with me, so if we make money, you make money.

You were also featured on 'Shark Tank'! We’ve seen other Black-owned businesses on the show who have either walked away from a deal, or investors just didn’t see the vision. What was your biggest lesson from being on the show? 

I had a good experience on the show. It was the hardest thing that I've ever done. You're preparing for a long time, changing your pitch multiple times, and you have to go in a room to prove your worth to a couple billion dollars in net worth. That is a lot of pressure. I can see why some people end up just bawling on TV. I practiced so much because I just didn't want to cry.

For anybody who wants to go on the show in the future, I would say, do as many pitch competitions as you can. I pitched in maybe 20 to 30 pitch competitions and never actually won any money. But I got connected with investors. I've met people. So many good things came from it, but I just did not get any checks. So I hope this encourages someone who feels like, dang, I keep doing these and I'm not winning anything. What you win is the practice. And you get better at pitching, so when a Shark Tank comes up, you're ready. When Good Morning America calls you, you're ready. Pitch as much as you can, and practice until you know your pitch in your sleep.

"Do as many pitch competitions as you can. I pitched in maybe 20 to 30 pitch competitions and never actually won any money. But I got connected with investors. I've met people. What you win is the practice. And you get better at pitching, so when a Shark Tank comes up, you're ready. When Good Morning America calls you, you're ready. Pitch as much as you can, and practice until you know your pitch in your sleep."

Image courtesy of Kim Lewis

You’re in business with your husband, Tim. What have been some of the keys to making your business and marriage work when your spouse is your business partner?

I remember talking to a woman who was getting married, but she wasn't sure if her husband should be involved in her business. We got on the conversation of if you had to pick your man or your business, which would you choose? And I was like, "My husband," and she was like, "Really? I would pick my business." And I was like, "Oh no." Our business is important, but our relationship and marriage are the most important. So we can always do this [business] again, but we're not going to find the love of our life again. And we know that the only reason why this works is because we've been together and on the same mission for so long. I would always pick [Tim]. When you realize that you're playing for the same team, you're working towards the same goals, and that you two could get there twice as fast together, it just makes everything work together and it makes for a happier life.

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about branching out and taking that leap into entrepreneurship?

One of the things that I did that I don't recommend is I started a business because I hated my job. I think if you hate your job, you should find a job that you love and figure out what you want to do along the way. Then find a problem that actually needs to be solved—like true problems that people are willing to pay you to solve. You really have to be solving a problem that people have and not just go into business because you want to be.

I've done the business where I've spent a lot of money on inventory and tried to fill it later. And I've also done the business where I did pre-orders and sold out before I knew how to make it and preserve it long-term, so those are two different experiences. You can also be self-employed, you're working for yourself and you don't have a whole team of people under you. I think it's important for people to know that they have options and that whether you decide to be self-employed, run a business that's a beast or run a small consulting firm, those are options to you, make sure that you're solving a problem someone is willing to pay your for, not just because you hate your job.

Follow Kim Lewis' journey via Instagram by clicking here. And to learn how you can become an investor in CurlMix, click here.

Featured image courtesy of Kim Lewis

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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