Jamelia Donaldson, founder of Treasure Tress and arguably one of FGC’s first members, talks us through her journey to becoming a founder, stalking her mentors and how our October event pushed her to do the work needed in order to develop her business further.
The Idea… Growing up, I developed a passion for natural hair but I struggled go to a hair shop myself and buy good products. Then YouTube blew up and naturally, kinky, curly hair became fashionable. People were teaching each other online how to take care of this type of hair but all the products that they were using weren’t available in the UK, so I was really frustrated. I then thought, what if I could bridge the gap between the UK and US in terms of hair products? I caught sight of the subscription box model, which was really big in the US and was slowly making its way to the UK. As I love natural hair, I knew that if I could receive new products in the post every month I’d be so happy. Essentially, I wanted women who look like me and face the same hair struggles as me to experience products and share knowledge at the same time. I wanted my two year old niece to grow up in a world where she saw herself reflected and had access to products which worked for her hair, instead of thinking her hair was a problem. I realised we needed a community to spread more information and education about taking care of natural hair.
The Product… Treasure Tress is a product discovery box for women and girls with naturally, kinky, curly hair. It takes the hassle out of finding the right product that works for your hair by sending out new products, every month, for you to try. We have three type of boxes: Mini Me, Tween and Qween. Qween is for adults who are into holistic self care and are passionate about black beauty. Tween is for teenagers that want to understand how to maximise the potential of their hair, are open-minded about trying new products and also interested in connecting with other like-minded girls. The Mini Me is for mums and daughters - mums who are keen to become better educated on how to care for they daughters’ hair, not just for growth but for self-esteem too. We’re also developing offline communities by hosting regular events, such as our VIP Mini Me Tea Parties, for mums and daughters to learn more about haircare in person. More recently, we launched the Teen Experience, which is taking place at WAH once a month.
The Jump… I launched Treasure Tress in November 2015 and I took it full time in April 2016. I was initially working in financial services and I launched it from my desk, on my Iphone. I was running the two in parallel - waking up at 5 am, working on Treasure Tress till 7am, showering, going to the office till 7pm, coming home and then working again till 1am. That went on until April the following year when I decided I couldn’t do both anymore. I had to choose and I chose Treasure Tress. But it was tough. Every time I had a conversation with someone else, they reminded me that I had a good job that paid well. Regardless, I wasn't happy. I was tired, run down and didn’t really like the corporate environment anymore. In the end, I set myself the goal that by my 25th birthday I'd be doing whatever I love on my own time. Exactly on that date, I handed in my notice to my manager.
"It got mixed reception, with a lot of people congratulating me on being so brave but a a few people thought I was being silly. However, I knew what the right thing to do was."
The Challenges… Just making it up as you go along. This is the first time I’ve launched a business and I was putting into practice whatever I read or saw online. The finance side is challenging too because when I launched I wasn’t aware that you could get funding from others. It was hard for me to believe that people would actually give you money to run or launch a business that didn’t exist yet. I literally bootstrapped it from the beginning, so whilst working in finance, any money that I made went directly into the business to kickstart it that way. Building a team is also very hard and I haven’t mastered it yet. You have to find people who are really down for your vision. Without funding, they have to make the choice of whether they want to help build Treasure Tress from the ground up with me and make a true impact in the beauty industry or they want a well-paying job.
The Successes… The offline experiences are great! That’s when you actually get to meet the people who you send boxes to every month, email every week and speak to on social media. Seeing the little girls at the tea parties is the best feeling in the world. The issues that we were able to explore at the Teen Experience event, purely from a conversation about hair, was was great too.At the launch event, we left jars and post-it notes on the table, asking the girls to write down anything they wanted to discuss so that we could incorporate it into the workshops. The things that they came out with were amazing: feminism, money management, what happens when your parents get divorced. There’s so much that doesn’t get spoken about that these girls want to delve into. Finally, all the women that I’ve been able to connect with and have invited to be a part of these events; I only know them because of Treasure Tress and because we started talking about hair. I’m so happy to be able to celebrate natural hair in a way that isn’t really celebrated and challenge beauty standards in Europe. On our homepage, we intentionally chose to feature a dark skinned girl with kinky hair because you don’t see them in adverts.
"I want to be one of the brands to represent the girls that aren’t being represented anywhere else."
The Search For A Mentor…. I went to Sharmadean’s Power Lunch in 2012 and followed her on Twitter ever since. When I decided to start Treasure Tress, my friend and I agreed that we needed someone to guide us and we chose Sharmadean. We put Twitter alerts on so that every time she tweeted that she was going to be somewhere, we were there. We went to every event and would sit front row of any panel she was on, asking her questions so that she'd keep seeing our faces. Soon she confronted us and agreed to schedule time together. Ever since then, we have meetings to check in with where I’m at. When it comes to mentors, I’ve learned that you have to know what you want from them. You can’t think that they are going to lay out a red carpet for you to walk down. I've also realised that you need a diverse group of mentors for different things, so it’s quite useful to know their strengths for help on specific areas. I have another mentor, a white male in America who owns a soap company, so it’s an alien perspective on the natural hair scene. He’s completely different from Sharmadean but they make similar points because they are both successful business people.
The FGC Experience… I found out about FutureGirlCorp through Sharmadean. She told me that she was working on the October workshop and as soon as it went live, I think I was literally the first person to submit an application.
"I knew I needed something like FutureGirlCorp because it was my first time running a business and I had no guidance."
So it was great to attend something where we would be able to do work there and then, as opposed to reading a book and doing the work afterwards. You’re accountable to the other people in the workshop, so you can’t skive - you actually have to do the work! Also, being introduced to other like-minded women and knowing that you’re not the only one that is making it up as you go along. Even the Facebook group is really useful because you come across people asking questions that you need the answers to as well.
The Next Steps… Global domination! Expanding Treasure Tress and establishing it deeper within the countries that are already subscribing but also taking it even further afield. I want to completely transform how black beauty is represented, the way women engage and experience products and the way brands interact with women of colour and natural hair.
The Advice… Just do it! I listen to a lot of podcasts and I read a lot of books but sometimes that can limit you. You can have too much information and get stuck trying to do everything perfectly. I feel the best way to learn is just by doing it - literally just launch! Treasure Tress launched on social media, before we had a webpage or boxes, but it worked out. There’s a saying, take the first step and the rest of the staircase will appear - I really believe in that. That first jump takes a lot of courage but the only way to find out is by doing it. You can look to other people for inspiration but if no one has done it the way you want to do it, then you’ve got to make it up yourself; you’ve got to go for it!