It was a quick run with his little sister to the Korean-owned beauty supply store for a couple of packs of Brazilian hair which initially sparked Damien Stephens interest in the hair extension business.
With no real clue on how to start, he went on the Internet and began looking up information on how he could get into the industry. What he found was a manufacturer in China more than willing to work with him to develop his own brand of extensions.
But before he even had the hair physically in his hand, Stephens took to social media to test the validity of his new enterprise: Flawless Hair Company, which specializes in 100 percent virgin Indian and Brazilian hair.
“I had made a Facebook status and told people that they could make pre-orders. By the end of the day, I made $2,000 from women I didn’t know from a can of paint,” he said.
That was in 2011. Today, Stephens has moved his business from Facebook statuses to an actual brick and mortar storefront located in Oak Park, Michigan. He says that he is on track to beat last year’s stellar record that earned nearly a half-million in sales. But despite how rapidly his business has expanded, Stephens says that he is not surprised.
“The Asian always had total control of the market. So once women started knowing that we [black people] had it, they were more comfortable,” he said. “They [black women] really wanted to do business with us and were excited to do business with us. I get it all the time, people come into the shop and say, ‘Are you black owned?’ And they are just so excited to give me money.”
According to some estimates, while the number of US salons offering hair extensions have increased by 28.5 percent, the vast majority of beauty supply stores (where hair extensions are usually sold) are owned by Koreans and other Asians.
However, thanks to the Internet, African American entrepreneurs have been able to forge relationships with manufacturers and distributors of raw and virgin hair around the globe, particularly in places like India and China.
They have also been able to harness the power of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to circumvent the stranglehold brick and mortar beauty salons have on the hair market, all while building a loyal customer base of their own.