“You have to really do it because you love it, not for the money or recognition. I worked for six years on Kurlee belle and didn’t make a dime. I also worked and poured a lot of my salary into Kurlee Belle to grow my business. If you do it for money you will get discouraged because the beauty market is so saturated that the money will not come right away. Make sacrifices for your dream, even if you have to scrub toilets to make the dream work.”- Terrinique Pennerman
These are just some of the inspirational words that were shared by the owner of Kurlee Belle, Terrinique Pennerman. EGL had the opportunity to interview her and talk all about natural hair, representation in the media, and business. Read our interview below to get inspired!
So, can you give us a little background about your journey to natural hair?
Well, I went natural in 2008. Prior to that I had been relaxing my hair for years and I always got scabs and my hair became really thin. One day I watched the documentary “Good Hair” with Chris Rock, and after watching what the chemicals did to hair and what it did to the chicken, I could no longer allow myself to use those chemicals. So I decide to go natural. I didn’t do the big chop, but I opted for wearing protective styles that matched my hair texture and as my hair grew I would trim the relaxed hair. Once all of the relaxed hair was gone I began to just wear my own hair. During my transition, It was so difficult to find products that actually did what they advertised, so I began mixing my own products like I did with my mother growing up in the Bahamas. I used ingredients like avocado, banana, coconut oil, and shea butter. A friend of mine noticed the improvement in my hair after I had been mixing my own products and she encouraged me to start my own line and today I have Kurlee Belle.
Right now we see such a rise in women of color appreciating our roots and we are showing that appreciation through the way we wear our clothes, how we wear our hair, and more. Do you think this is just a growing trend, or is this like a new way of life for us?
I think it’s here to stay because the market is showing that natural hair care products are in demand and a recent study showed that the sale of relaxers had declined about 26%. I know once I went natural, I haven’t even considered relaxing or heat straightening my hair.
I remember growing up and not seeing many representations of natural black hair being celebrated in mainstream media, and to now see that everywhere is so important to how young women are able to see themselves in the world. Our hair is finally being celebrated! I didn’t even know my true hair texture until three years ago when I went natural, because it is such a struggle to let go of relaxers when it’s all we’ve known for so long.
Same here, I feel like it is truly a journey and a way to find yourself and once you do, you can never go back. My friends and I feel that we all look different and I feel like I look so much younger with natural hair. I feel like the natural hair in general is just a bigger part of the acceptance of ourselves. I’m not sure if you caught the BET awards when Jesse Williams talked about how other races kind of strip our culture but throw us away. I think that we are beginning to become more self aware and we are learning to love ourselves more. We are no longer looking to other races to define beauty for us, but we are looking at our culture and reclaiming our beauty, and it shows in so many ways not just our hair.
It’s great to not only see this transformation in the media, but to have access to products like Kurlee Belle that can aid us in protecting our hair while we try to find ourselves on the natural hair journey.
Yes this is true, because the larger companies see that the demand for natural hair care products are on the rise and they respond to that by taking their same formulas and rebranding them for black hair and they don’t do what they are supposed to do. In response to that we now see many black owned hair care lines on the rise, like Kurlee Belle, that are 100% black owned for black hair. This is very important, because we know our hair and are making products that are truly for us. This is another reason why I believe the natural hair care movement is here to stay because we are investing our time and talent into it.
I know you said you would make hair care products with your mother growing up and after your friend encouraged you to start you own line, you created Kurlee Belle, but what personally motivated you to listen to your friend’s advice? Many people are encouraged to start businesses every day, but that initiative has to come from within, what made you commit to the business?
I was working in finance and in commercial mortgage- backed securities and it was at the time of the big crash in 2008. I just wasn’t happy. I’m much more outgoing and creative. I’m great with numbers, but I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial; I was student body president and started a business fraternity at my college, it was coed and it was the first on my campus. Also, during my time at wachovia I started the investor’s relations group so I’ve always been very into entrepreneurship and I’m a self starter. So when my friend made the comment, it sparked something in me. I started researching how to break into the market and I remember coming across the story of the owner of Carol’s daughter. I looked at her as a black woman and I was inspired to see this woman who looked like me doing this and it gave me the strength to say I can do this. That’s how I was able to commit. In addition to my passion for it, I wanted to make products that did what they said they would do because I felt like the products that were on the market didn’t live up to what they advertised.
What was the process like, what challenges did you face, and why the name Kurlee Belle?
Well the idea for the name came from me traveling to Rome for a vacation. I am very dark-skinned and I have curly natural hair and while on vacation in a white country I really stood out. I would go to different shops and the men would always call me “bella,” which I think means pretty so that name was stuck in my mind. I played around with the name for a while and the name Kurlee is actually the phonetic spelling of curly. So I kept thinking Kurlee Bella, and Kurlee Belle. After surveying a few friends, Kurlee Belle was what I settled on. The main challenge I faced in the beginning was with the formula of each product. It was just difficult at first trying to get each product to do what it said it would do. I had issues when I went from mixing it for myself to mixing it for mass production because products on the shelf need to have a shelf life of about 24 months to sell it in stores. For example, I wanted to make the shampoo a cleanser and moisturizer so I had to work hard on the formula to make it that way. I worked on the right formula for everything for close to six years before it was launched in 2013.
That’s a long time to commit, what kept you bound to seeing it through?
I internally felt like it could work. I knew what the products did for me and I wanted to share that with other people. I believed in the product and I understood the need for a product in the market.
What is your favorite Kurlee Belle product that is essential to your hair care routine?
I think when I first started I was in love with the curl defining cream. We worked so hard to get that product to the point that it’s at, and I use that religiously. However, I think now my favorite is the almond and shea butter moisturizing shampoo because it’s like no other shampoo I’ve ever used, because it moisturizes and cleanses at the same time! I can even detangle and was at the same time. Even if you are like someone who only prefers to co-wash, this shampoo will make you a believer. Our top sellers are the thirsty curl leave in conditioner and the banana nut and avocado deep treatment, but still mine is definitely the shampoo.
Are there any new products that we should be on the lookout for?
We are looking into bringing a lock line and more stylers like twisting butters, and styling moisturizing gels to Kurlee Belle in the future.
Do you have any advice for young beauty entrepreneurs?
You have to really do it because you love it, not for the money or recognition. I worked for six years on Kurlee belle and didn’t make a dime. I also worked and poured a lot of my salary into Kurlee Belle to grow my business. If you do it for money you will get discouraged because the beauty market is so saturated that the money will not come right away. Make sacrifices for your dream, even if you have to scrub toilets to make the dream work.
How difficult was it to depart from your career in finance and to put your dreams into your business?
The companies look at us as a number, and I had a dream to be more than that. I wanted to make an impact. I launched Kurlee Belle in early 2013 and I didn’t begin to work for myself full time until June 6, 2014, but that came from me dedicating so much of my time to it. I knew if I didn’t give it my all in the beginning I would never have the option to make it my career.
On your website it says among your many interest, fashion is one. Do you have any plans to make your way into the fashion market?
No, I like to dress up and shop, but I don’t think I’ll be expanding into fashion as of right now.
As we can see from Ms. Pennerman, hard work really does pay off!
By: Princess Kabakole- Associate Editor, Beauty