CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — When it comes to beauty and haircare, finding what works for you means a lot of trial and error.
And for Black women and women of color, finding products that work can be especially challenging.
A new app created by a Cleveland Heights native aims to make the process much easier and it's also helping local women entrepreneurs thrive.
It’s called FELOH, which stands for For Everyone’s Love of Hair + Beauty.
Camille Genise Heard started the business with her friend and college roommate Jacqueline Baron in 2016, two years after she began her natural hair journey. The company also later added Zarin Hamid in a social administrative role.
“I was noticing there's a lot of content out there about different products and different hair textures and different design and style ideas, but it was pretty difficult to navigate,” said Heard. “But the more I started studying the industry, the more I saw it wasn't really just a hair problem, it was more of a content overload and navigating all of the different, really cool stuff that's out there.”
She also saw that the beauty industry was continuing to grow.
“[We] started noticing, probably in 2016, the rise of independently owned beauty brands that were creating the products and selling them and those individuals needed a new avenue to get out there and so around 2016, that's when we really started to find our focus,” said Heard.
That’s when FELOH was born. The company launched a beta version of the app to test the concept before fully launching just last week.
“You can think of us as an innovative Instagram hybrid that has, you know, the social side and a marketplace,” said Heard. “But, the super cool part about us is that when our users post their content in our social community, we give them rewards called ‘curl coins’ to shop in our marketplace. And the marketplace is where all of these incredible independently-owned brands can sell their products.”
FELOH features 1,045 products sold by 60 people from independently-owned businesses.
It's exactly the kind of community Heard couldn’t find when she went natural.
“So, when you're looking for recommendations, when you're looking for just different hair inspiration or ideas or whatever it may be, you can automatically also see where those products are and buy them!” said Heard.
But it's not just about fulfilling the customer’s needs. FELOH also provides a community for its sellers—70% of which are Black and 80% of which are women.
“I create handcrafted artisan soaps and body care products,” said Helena Rosa, the owner of Urban Rootz Artisan Soap Company, which is based in Cleveland.
Rosa is Latina and started her business at the end of 2020.
“I’ve always been passionate about handcrafting products. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. The sights and the sounds of my neighborhood just really influenced me,” said Rosa. “I realized there wasn't a lot of representation as far as diversity in natural skincare products. So that really just moved me to start creating my own. And so I started actually five years ago for family and friends, and then it just kind of moved into this whole other, you know, creature of its own.”
Rosa’s following on social media was very small when she started, so when Heard offered to include her on FELOH, Rosa jumped at the opportunity.
“The influencers will review your products, and it really boosts your audience. It boosts your audience in the way that your products will reach individuals that you may not have otherwise reached,” said Rosa.
She joined not just to build her brand, but to also connect with other business owners like her.
“It’s the fellowship in it. You know, just really connecting with other like minded individuals, and then also the cultural aspects. And then just really having that sisterhood, I want to say is just really helpful,” said Rosa.
Charron Leeper, the owner of Cleveland-based Perfect Pineapple Wraps, also appreciates the sisterhood aspect the FELOH app brings.
“I think it's also fostering sisterhood and it's fostering synergy among women of color. And I think that it's creating an environment in a community that will potentially breed more of its kind, more ideas, more collaboration,” said Leeper, whose products are featured on the app.
Perfect Pineapple Wraps is a head wrap and hair accessory brand that focuses on accessories for textured hair and specialty hair needs. She started the business in 2017 and was inspired by her grandmother, who was diagnosed with cancer.
“So I had a scarf that she gave me and it was tied in a certain way. And I would wrap my hair with this small scarf that was tied and I could do all these different styles. Then, it dawned on me that not only could I protect my curls at night, but I could actually wear it out to work. I could wear it everywhere, and my hair was protected. So I just started making them in her basement,” said Leeper.
Interest in Leeper’s head wraps grew, so she created a business. Her grandmother was able to see the progress she was making before she sadly passed away.
“She asked me to make her a promise that I would really keep this going and start a family business. And so she's my inspiration for the brand. So that's why it's not only for people with textured hair, but also for people if they have hair loss, if they're looking for an alternative type of headwear for hair loss,” said Leeper.
Leeper joined the FELOH app after meeting Heard at a JumpStart event. She appreciates the exposure and the community of entrepreneurs she’s met through the app.
“As a business owner and a Black woman, I think that it's encouraging because a lot of times entrepreneurship is lonely and you're not sure who is right next to you that's in your same journey. So by being connected in the same industry with like minded people from the same demographic doing a similar thing, I think it's just an overall boost in morale. And it's just inspiring.”
Heard knows the challenges both Rosa and Leeper have faced as entrepreneurs firsthand.
“Being an entrepreneur, at the intersection of being a woman and being Black, the opportunity to get funding for your business -- there's a huge disparity,” said Heard.
Earlier this year, Heard and Baron received $11,390 in the Black Girl Ventures pitch competition.
“That's the first outside funding that we've ever received that's not a loan,” said Heard. “What we've been able to do was one: Hire two interns, which I'm just very happy that we were able to do, and give other people experience but also really help us onboard all of these new sellers onto the platform and help out with our social media.”
Also, they were able to revamp the platform and eliminate barriers that were impacting users’ experiences using the app.
Plans for the future include more fundraising to secure enough funding to hire more staff members to build and operate the FELOH platform. They also plan to do more user research to find out what customers and sellers like and dislike about the app.
And though beauty is the main focus of the FELOH app, Heard is proud it can help bridge the gap for women of color in more ways than one.
“One really cool thing that I think particularly with FELOH is a lot of our brand partners, they're women of color business owners, and even though we're a tech company and they're a product company, they go through the same exact problems,” said Heard. “We build a relationship of accountability, you know, uplifting each other and just continuing to motivate each other which is—like you cannot put a price on that.”
More information about FELOH can be found here.
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