Bad hair days used to run in the family for Sanmi Ogunmola and Tommy Williams. Both had grown up with their mums and sisters bemoaning the lack of affordable hair products for black women. “We’d seen as kids that they were really underserved. There were always issues with delivery or quality, but the rest of the market hadn’t paid much attention to it,” said Tommy, a former investment banker.
We started to look at the industry in a bit more detail and thought we should use our e-commerce and financial experience to bring it into the 21st century and help the community by solving a major pain point.
These frustrations sparked a business idea and last year, the pair launched All Shades Covered, an online shop selling hair and beauty goods for black women. “We started to look at the industry in a bit more detail and thought we should use our e-commerce and financial experience to bring it into the 21st century and help the community by solving a major pain point,” added Tommy. He and Sanmi first identified this gap in the market while working for another e-commerce company in Nigeria. But differing career paths separated them until two years ago, when they both found themselves in London.
Determined not to let any more time pass by, they set about honing their business model before securing funding from an angel investor. Soon, they were accepted onto accelerator program, True, which helped them tailor their offer. This included cutting out the middle man in most salon supply chains and dealing with factories directly to keep costs down.
We also went into the community itself, visiting salons and getting feedback from their customers
Aware they were two men starting a business for women, they quickly sought employees with industry expertise. “From the second week, we’ve been bringing people into the team who have backgrounds in hair styling,” said Tommy. “We also went into the community itself, visiting salons and getting feedback from their customers,” added Sanmi, whose background is in sales.
Fast forward twelve months and this approach has seen the business thrive and win European customers. The founders plan to expand into Africa next. Their success also recently saw them named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, which recognises the brightest young entrepreneurs in the world.
It has not all been plain sailing, however. The pair recall how celebrations over their first ever order quickly ended once they found the card used was fraudulent – although this did prove the value of their security software. Furthermore their website crashing on Christmas Day was “a bit of a challenge”, but the resourceful friends worked all day to get back online ahead of their Boxing Day sale.
Despite the growing sales and accolades, the co-founders remain modest about their achievements so far. Their priority is to keep learning and growing, with the help of pop-up events and social media campaigns. “I love learning more and finding ways to empower more people around you,” said Sanmi.
Thankfully, big companies are paying more attention to this market and realising how much other demographics spend on these products
Above all they are proud of the part All Shades Covered is playing in making the hair and beauty industry more inclusive. “Thankfully, big companies are paying more attention to this market and realising how much other demographics spend on these products,” said Tommy. “Part of that is because of small disruptive businesses like ours taking their market share. That’s very satisfying.”
Check out All Shades Covered’s website here.