Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Isoken Igbinedion, the founder and CEO of Hairtelligence, a technology company that recognizes and prioritizes the beauty experiences of Black people. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome to the blog, Isoken! Let’s jump right in. What challenges are you addressing through Hairtelligence?
Isoken: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! It’s a pleasure. Hairtelligence is on a mission to develop beauty experiences with technology that recognizes and prioritizes Black people. We exist to elevate the confidence of women and enable them to realize their own beauty visions, and we are starting with wigs and hair extensions. We’ve taken away the most difficult aspects of purchasing and using wigs by developing technology that allows you to automatically size and color match your features to our products. No matter where you are located, or what your skill level is, we’re ensuring you have consistent access to quality beauty products and knowledge.
Spiffy: That’s brilliant! What motivated you to do it?
Isoken: Our community gives us purpose and makes us possible. From the images that drive our dataset to the stylists who inform our education guides, it’s the members of our community who enable our technology and beauty experiences to exist. We’re here to recognize and serve the needs of our people in a way that only members of our community could. We’re not limited by what’s been done—instead, we take it upon ourselves to reimagine and build what can be. This emboldens us to revolutionize entire processes and set new standards. We’re creating the future we want to see, one that is more expansive and inclusive of who is considered and designed for.
Spiffy: How inspiring! Can you elaborate on how you and Hairtelligence are working towards a more equitable world?
Isoken: Hair wigs and extensions are in an ethnically misaligned market. Though African American women are the largest consumers of the space, we often don't reap the benefits of our spending power. As a company founded, owned, and operated by four black women, Hairtelligence is working to break that racial equity barrier. Just as important is our ability to take back the supply chain to ensure ethical sourcing and production in the industry.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a recent Hairtelligence initiative and the impact it makes?
Isoken: We are an early-stage startup founded in August 2020. In the last nine months, we've built an AI-powered e-commerce platform and have re-invented the way custom wigs are produced today. Most hair products are produced in China and Southeast Asia. For a small 5x5 hairpiece, it can take more than 50 hours to create by hand. This is often scaled through sweatshops, unethical labor practices, and unlivable wages. For the first time, we are introducing technology into the industry's supply chain, allowing us to pay living wages to the people who support the production of our products.
Spiffy: Fantastic! Moving on to my final question before I let you go: I’m always fascinated by how entrepreneurs deal with failure, without giving up. Can you share an experience of your own and what you learned from it?
Isoken: In March, I was in an accident where I broke both of my knees, and that recovery process was difficult. Three months in, I still couldn't get the hang of basic movements and still had to use crutches on a daily basis. The emotional toll of not being able to move freely, having to rely on strangers for support, and not having control of my body almost made me quit. But I kept going to physical therapy, kept asking questions and getting feedback from my doctors, and ultimately changed the way I approached recovery. Today I’m walking on both legs and am almost at a place where I can start running! I learned that success does not have a linear path, perseverance is a requirement, and you can’t win without help.
Spiffy: Wow, I wish you all the best in continuing your recovery and making moves with Hairtelligence, Isoken. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, it’s been an honor!
Isoken Igbinedion, founder and CEO of Hairtelligence, started her career at Target as an operations manager driving omni-channel distribution and fulfillment strategies. After Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market, she moved to a project manager role focused on scaling the delivery offering in new markets and supporting product strategy. She received her MBA from the Wharton School, concentrating on entrepreneurship and innovation. (Nominated by Visible Hands. First published on the Ladderworks website on November 30, 2021)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.