Leaders in Curls: Joni Odum Shares The Evolution of Branding in a Modern World

Meet Joni Odum, President and CEO of Firstline Brands who is a graduate of Hampton has been an critical aspect to the evolution of Firstline Brands. As one of the first Black-owned brands carving out a lane for natural hair products, Jolie has helped carry the torch lit by her father to ensure the brand offers timeless accessories and products to elevate any hairstyle. They are pioneers for brands like Evolve, WavEnforcer, Camryn’s Bff, Dri Sweat, and Sleek which are featured in major retailers all over the world. We spoke with Jolie to discuss her family’s legacy and the evolution of their products since 1986.

Can you tell us the origins of Firstline?

My father founded this business he was a pioneer in those days because there was not at that point dedicated space for this particular market for the multicultural textured hair care market. He basically build a gap for an underserved market and he established distribution years ago. 

How did you get into the hair care industry? 

I grew up in kind of an entrepreneurial spirit of, you know, my dad being in this business. I spent summers working in the warehouse in our manufacturing facility at that time, like you’re loading products in acrylic bags then preparing them for shipment, whether they were a wig cap or a do-rag. I was in the warehouse and then would spend time helping with the administrative side of the business. I spent a year at Neutrogena in LA, then a year, at their corporate headquarters in global strategic marketing, and then landed at McNeil Consumer. I was managing the brand marketing expenses for that, that franchise and so working so closely.

How did you transition from finance to your family business?

My dad saw an opportunity for me to lead the product development side of our business. Marketing and then helping gain new distribution. I was really passionate about culture building at the company and inspiring others to lead, so he put me in that lane and it really served me and the company well. About 15 years later, we definitely broadened our portfolio of brands more than when we had years ago. We now have 5 main brands and then now we have in distribution across many other retail stores. We’ve been in Walmart and Walgreens in recent years, he’s really been able to deepen partnerships across the country and in some international territories. I’m really happy that you know that I had his leadership and just grateful that we’ve worked so closely together. 

We have a lot of black-owned businesses that end up getting bought out by the larger brands that index having to sell or you know cash out in some kind of way. Why is it important to y’all to remain and remain and stay a black-owned business? 

We are 100% black-owned. It’s important to me to show leadership in that market, especially being the daughter and carrying on the legacy that my father left for my sister and I. The community and just being that physical brand and voice that you know still resonates and speaks to the customer and wants to deliver quality and excellence.

Leaders in Curls: Joni Odum Shares The Evolution of Branding in a Modern World

We’re targeting these different patterns and prints that appeal to the multicultural customers.
The pandemic kind of created a need for alternatives to the day-to-day hairstyles when you’re going into the office. As people transitioned into remote life we saw a lot of people opting to embrace beauty like a snack – something quick and easy that they could do versus having to spend this long process of styling their hair. We’re really trying to develop things that people can use in just a few minutes they and can to achieve a beautiful look. 

What can we look forward to coming down the line, whether it’s a new brand, whether it’s new products, what can we look forward to from your brand this year? 

Our focus is to create items that are your everyday items, meeting your everyday needs. Then we also, come up with a few items that the consumer is going to love and that he/she didn’t know she needed.

What excited you about being an entrepreneur?

I love seeing people do what they enjoy and like and really making an impact and I’m most inspired by our team You know them to greatness in whatever area they’re in and letting them be their authentic selves. I’m so passionate about figuring out things like products because my dad knew what area to put me in I love a gap and a need for a customer. 

Read next: How Young King Hair Care is Bridging the Curly Industry Gap for Young Black and Brown Men

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