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 and has been a critical aspect of the evolution of Firstline Brands. As one of the first Black-owned brands carving out a lane for natural hair products, Joni 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 Joni 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 no dedicated space for this particular market, the multicultural textured hair care market. He filled a gap for an underserved market and established distribution years ago. 

How did you get into the hair care industry? 

I grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit, you know, with my dad being in this business, I spent summers working in the warehouse in our manufacturing facility at that time, loading products in acrylic bags and 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 the Tylenol Franchise and working so closely with the Marketing team.

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 help gain new distribution. I was passionate about culture building at the company and inspiring others to lead, so he put me in that lane, and it served me and the company well. About 15 years later, we broadened our portfolio of brands more than we had years ago. We now have five main brands and are in distribution across many other retail stores. We’ve been in Walmart, Walgreens, and Sally Beauty for over 20 years. In recent years, we have been able to deepen our partnerships across retail chains & specialty stores nationally and in some international territories. I’m happy I had his leadership and grateful we’ve worked so closely together. 

Many black-owned businesses end up getting bought out by larger brands that have to sell or, you know, cash out in some way. Why is it important to you all to remain 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 me. The community matters and being that physical brand and voice you know still resonates and speaks to the customer in terms of delivering 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 multicultural customers.
The pandemic created a need for alternatives to day-to-day hairstyles when going into the office. As people transitioned into remote life, we saw many opting to embrace beauty like a snack—something quick and easy that they could do instead of having to spend this long process of styling their hair. We’re trying to develop things people can use in just a few minutes 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 on creating everyday items that meet your everyday needs. 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 love and making an impact, and our team most inspires me. You inspire them to greatness in whatever area that drives them and let them be authentic. I’m passionate about developing new & innovative products. My dad knew to put me in that space. I also love working with people. I love meeting gaps and needs for the customer. 

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

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