Kim Lewis blazed her way into the natural hair world back in 2015 with CurlMix which evolved from a DIY box set for curls into having a flaxseed gel as a it’s hero product. As a CEO and Co-founder she’s become known for her resilient attitude in an over-saturated category and entrepreneurial spirit that has landed her on the Forbes’ “30 under 30” list and getting Oprah’s endorsement for CurlMix. She’s expanded her empire with the first and only brand dedicated to serving the 4C woman and hair texture.
4C ONLY celebrates and honors the kinks, coils, and coarser textures that have often been overlooked and alienated from mainstream products. Every aspect of the brand from the messaging, products, branding, and aesthetic caters to uplifting and honoring the 4C texture in all it’s beauty. We sat down to chat with Kim about expanding her brand, why she created 4C ONLY, and how it’s products differ from what we see on shelves today.
How would you describe your hair evolution?
For much of my life, I was relaxed and my mom went natural and I saw how beautiful her hair looked. She had gotten alopecia and then went natural in her 40s I remember being in college and I had my first bout with alopecia right around 20 years old and I went to go get my hair relaxed and my stylist wouldn’t do it. She was just like “You have alopecia, I’m not going to relax your hair at this time.”
I ended up just going natural and I literally spent maybe three months growing it out and then I realized I had never actually seen my hair texture as an adult. I hadn’t seen it since I was like four or five years old, which is kind of crazy because I feel like most ethnicities do not say that, like where they don’t know what their natural texture looks like or out of their head. And so I went natural short, like in college maybe junior year, and then I’ve just been rocking ever since.
You currently own another brand CurlMix, Why was creating another brand focused on specific hair types needed?
So I have very kinky hair and some people say 4B or 4C. It doesn’t matter it’s kinky and I didn’t think my hair curled. In 2014-2015 I went to a stylist who did a wash and go on me and I was floored like, oh, my God, my hair curls. This is after I’ve been natural for several years and wearing my hair and all kinds of natural styles. I started CurlMix and the number one comment I got was “This is not for 4C hair.” Even if we would demonstrate to someone who we thought had 4C hair, they would still declare it wasn’t for their type.
With us being a direct consumer brand, the 4C woman wanted to see herself. I didn’t want to see an ad that had wavy and loosely coiled and you tell me it works for all hair textures because the truth is my hair is very different. My hair shrinks up, kinks up, knots up, and does all these different and beautiful things. But don’t tell me that the same thing that works for wavy textures will work for my kinky and coarse textured hair.
Not every kinky woman wants to wear, a wash-and-go and CurlMix is a wash-and-go brand. I always considered creating a 4C brand but thought maybe it was too niche. When I came to realize that 4C is identity, it’s not a hair type. 4C means that my hair is kinky and I celebrate and identify with that and to lump that texture with other hair types isn’t fair. It doesn’t highlight her in the way that she deserves to be celebrated.
We decided to launch 4C ONLY not as a product because that wouldn’t be enough, the 4C woman needs to be highlighted on all fronts: advertisements, photo shoots, videos, and social pages. She needs to be able to go everywhere and see herself. There was no other brand with 4C in the title which I thought was crazy because most brands know that 4C women convert 2 times higher than other customers.
What inspired 4C ONLY?
CurlMix started as a DIY brand and then we landed on flax seed gel because that was the box people kept buying. But what I learned is that CurlMix as it was the wash-and-go brand with the four-step system, I was not going to be able to fully satisfy my 4C customer and it’s because she doesn’t always gonna wear wash-and-go and she doesn’t always use her products in tools or pump.
One of the things I learned is 4C girls scoop their product, they don’t squirt it and I know it’s like a risky thing to say, but she wants to scoop her hand in the jar. She wants to scoop her conditioner, leave-in and shampoo and be able to manage how much she’s getting to be able to apply to her twist out or braid out. She’s not trying to pump 1,000 times or she’s not doing her hair in the shower necessarily so I could not fully satisfy her with the way CurlMix was designed.
In order to do that it had to be separate vibe and also it was chance for us to speak to her in the way that that feels more comfortable, real, and natural versus just like a broader brand. We use cheeky language with 4C ONLY whereas we couldn’t do that you know with CurlMix and our customer on the CurlMix side is more mature as well.
How would you describe the conversation around haircare for 4C textures?
The conversation around 4C hair is very emotional because the 4C woman has often been rejected for their hair.It can be a sensitive topic so we have to be careful with how we communicate and make sure that we’re never using language like nappy or derogatory because we always wanted her to know that she celebrated. We have like taglines such as “The revolution will be moisturized,” as a nod to the old school, Black afro power to the people, but also funny and cheeky rhymes and cheeky, but celebratory.
We address topics with a lens into the fact that we need to be considerate, thoughtful, encouraging and empowering. For example, I like to say that natural hair is formal hair, you don’t have to straighten your hair to go to a graduation or a wedding. Your afro could be worn on your date night and that’s what I want to be able to celebrate with 4C ONLY and we make that come to life on our social media. If you look on Instagram, you’ll see lots of nods to The Soul Train Line videos or retro blackness because that was beautiful in the 60s and it’s still beautiful in 2023.
How does the “Kinks Guide” help with 4C education?
The Kinks Guide helps with 4C education because it’s very specific to somebody who has more coarse, coils and kinky textures but it doesn’t necessarily mean thick because we can have finer textures as well. A misconception is that we have thicker products, but you still need more water when you’re applying it to your hair, so it’s not just about applying the thick products and it’s your one and done right? Your hair still needs to be very saturated, you still need to finger come first and then go through with the brush. It’s tailored to her because we don’t need a dimesize amount in each section or wrap your head in a towel while it’s drying. It’s not the blanket education that you might get on the back of a bottle, it’s very tailored to her experience in the shower and, going to get braids, locs, adding shea butter, you know, because there are some of the misconceptions that.
One of the benefits of being a direct consumer first is that we know exactly what people are struggling with. We would get a lot of questions in the inbox for customer service with questions like “Do I rinse out the shampoo?” so we learned we can’t assume that people know what we think we know about hair. How do we make it fun to read? How do we make something your not gonna just download and throw away that you will never reference it again. How to make it entertaining? How can we be helpful? What most brands do is they make products they think you’ll buy and that’s it. But what I have learned in my eight years of running two direct consumer brands is that what sets you apart is helping people. The more education you can give them to help figure out how to use your product, the better. It’s not just you take these millions of products and you figure out what you want to do to your hair. It’s like, let me help you achieve the happiness that you seek with your hair.
Which product do you recommend for first-time users?
It is the leave-in which is great because it gets so much slip and I use it on my little boys, because they have really tightly coiled hair. My youngest is so tightly coiled it takes me 4 hours to detangle to do the entire head before I go and braid it up. It’s super slippery and so I think the 4C girl wants slip that’s like #1.
How are your products specifically designed for 4C textures?
We made the products thick, so our shampoo is not a runny shampoo, you can scoop it. You can literally scoop it into the jar and the shampoo will sit in your hand. It has thick, marshmallowy type of texture and so people are always react like “Oh my God, what? This is crazy.” But it looks so cool and then they apply and it’s not as stringent as a clarifying shampoo. so if you were trying to really deep cleanse your hair, our shampoo is not the greatest for that, it’s more moisturizing. It doesn’t strip your hair like a lot of the oils, it cleans it, but it’s just not like squeaky clean, you know.
Our deep conditioner is really thick if you open it in the jar you turn it upside down nothing’s gonna fall out. It’s highly concentrated so for example if you took our deep condition and you rub it in your hand, your whole hand is going to be white right. Whereas if you took like a cheaper drugstore shampoo, you rubbing your head, it might end up being clear because it’s mostly water. Ours is mostly product so you have to add a lot of water to it which means it ends up lasting for a long time. We use 10 ounce jars versus your normal 8 ounces because the 4C girl is going to use more product when she’s doing her hair. We actually have a theme song “I’m too soft, I’m too slick, I’m too thick…and that was the idea was to create a brand with only the 4C woman in mind.
Are you read to try 4C ONLY? Let us know in the comments!