CURLS has been a staple of the natural hair community since its inception in 2002 and 20 years later it’s still a fan favorite. Founded by Mahisha Dellinger, CURLS was developed to celebrate and honor kinky, coily, curly, and textured hair during an era when the natural hair revolution had not bloomed yet. As an emerging leader in the natural hair space, CURLS has been at the forefront of innovation and originality in their unique formulas and diverse product collections. They have worked with iconic celebrities like Nia Long, Alicia Keys, and Ashanti, who have been champions of the quality, ingredients, and ethical business practices. As CURLS officially celebrates their 20th anniversary, we were excited to sit down for a desk side chat with Mahisha who discussed the journey CURLS has endeavored as a fan favorite and how the brand is carving out a future for naturalistas everywhere.

Leaders in Curl Mahisha Dellinger Reflects on 20 Years of as The Founder of Curls

How does it feel to be celebrating 20 years in the natural hair space?

It feels phenomenal. I’ve experienced so much success, pitfalls and key learning lessons. To say that I’ve been in business for 2 decades when 80% of business fail by year 5 makes me so proud. I’m proud to be a pioneer in this space, grow my fanbase, the CURLS offerings, and to still be thriving in this community.

What do you remember about the natural hair category when you launched in 2002?

Target was the first creator of a natural hair category in retail which happened around 2007, but prior to that it was challenging. We launched in 2002 and we were a part of a handful of brands that were all e-commerce based along with Miss Jessie’s, Carol’s Daughter, Shea Moisture, and Heritage. In the stores you could only buy perms, jerry curl juice, hawaiian silky, and jam so it was grim for us because we had no options. 

The reason I created the brand was because I was a new mother and didn’t want to use drying gels and jerry curl products so needless to say, before CURLS my hair was a hot mess. Me and my fellow sisters in this industry have created brands that back then were inspirational and now we’re on fire. Alot of retailers didn’t think this was going to last, for example: I pitched my products to Ulta and Sally Beauty and they rejected them because they thought natural hair was a fad that was going to go away. 20 years later we’re still here.

Leaders in Curl Mahisha Dellinger Reflects on 20 Years of as The Founder of Curls

If you could recall one big milestone CURLS had in the past 20 years, what would it be and why?

Hands down without a doubt it’s being one of the four pioneering brands that created this brand in retail. When Target called, they only had old legacy brands at the time and relaxer sales were down. Linda Sullivan was the buyer and decided she was going to create a multicultural category that she tested in 105 stores with me, Shea Moisture, Miss Jessie’s and Jane Carter and we were on an endcap. They said if it does well, we’ll grow with you and if not then we’ll just end the relationship. We all did really well and then the other retailers saw the success and started using our products in their store. Because of her direction and Target’s category, it changed the direction of the CURLS brand in exposure, credibility, respect, and it took us from e-commerce to retail.

The climate in the early 00’s in terms of collaboration vs. competition was a different ecosystem than it is now, how do you think that has changed in 20 years?

In 2002, the space was too new to be hypercompetitive, but by 2006-2010 it was pretty crazy because they were pitting brands against each other. It was CURLS vs. Mixed Chicks, Kinky Curly vs. Miss Jessies, Carol’s Daughter vs. Shea Moisture, you couldn’t like more than one brand. It made it detrimental for our sisterhood. It wasn’t very healthy because even if it wasn’t directly us it was the buyers and the distributors also fueling that fire. When we finally got past that time period, we found a new respect for each other. Now I see more collaboration like Mixed Chicks creating an event we all participated in at Essence Fest or at the World Natural Hair Show where we’re all together instead of spread apart like at the white conferences.

Leaders in Curl Mahisha Dellinger Reflects on 20 Years of as The Founder of Curls

We’re seeing new product brands pop up daily, how do you feel about the current climate of natural hair products entering the ecosphere?

We have to be mindful about how certain brands are being positioned in order to avoid any confusion between customers. The general market is not worried about shelf space, there are always a lot of products for women who are not of color. For us, it’s ensuring everyone has their unique branding and positioning clear versus copycatting what’s already on the shelf. For example, there was a big wave of people formulating their ingredients with coconut oil, shea butter, and argan oil and then everyone was burnt out. 

CURLS has always taken the stance of creating products with unique ingredients that have never been used in our category before such as: blueberry extract, cashmere and caviar extract and most recently, sea moss. Originality matters because you want to deliver to a need and not just want what you think is popular for the shelf. We have to start listening to our consumer, more women are wearing more wigs and weaves, do those products exist for their hair? We try to find unique formulas and solve problems with solutions.

What can you tell us about the brand’s new category launch?

Our “Hair Under There” collection was created based on data I researched that 70% of women in 2020 had reported they had already worn or planned to wear a wig, weave, and extensions. I saw that data and thought about how you were going to grow the hair under the protective style. You want to avoid neglecting your scalp, breakdage, dry, and brittle hair that’s going to hinder your hair growth. We have a lot of products but this line is for a Black woman who wants to see their hair flourish and grow.

Sea Moss is a hot and trending super food ingredient and people are aware it’s good for your body, hair, and skin. It has 92 of the 110 nutrients your body needs and is vitamin packed to help keep your hair supple, it has a naturally conditioning agent that helps with shine, prevents breakage and promotes hair growth. We took that one superfood and created a whole collection that customers will love.

Leaders in Curl Mahisha Dellinger Reflects on 20 Years of as The Founder of Curls

Our accessories “CURLS Ultimate Detangler Brush” which is similar to a denman brush, it has rows of bristles that you can pop in or out. If you have denser hair you can take out rows to give more room for your curls, if you’re straightening your hair it can be used as is, wavy hair you can remove 2-3 rows. The edge control brush has the brush to sculpt the edges and a fine tooth comb on one side and medium comb tooth on the other. The detangling comb has pliable bristles and teeth to detangle along the shape of your hair whether it’s wet or dry.

Desiree Johnson

Desiree is a passionate writer who loves to advocate for multiracial and diverse audiences in her writing. She enjoys writing and creating content that challenges and inspires people whether that's through a blog or social media management. As a Content Specialist in Austin, Texas she writes marketing content to help people improve their websites. She is passionate about diversity, education, and looks forward to developing compelling content with brands she loves.

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