This Diversity & Inclusion Director Is Driving Inclusivity With Her Hair and Beauty Line

Carmella Marie is the epitome of a boss navigating working a full-time job while building a full-time business.

She uses the savvy from her 9-5 to be the building blocks of her hair and beauty line. It’s not all easy and it takes sacrifice and knowing what you don’t know to perfect your craft.

Currently, Carmella is a full-time professional working as a Director of Diversity and Inclusion with Yongstown Business Incubator. She is also the owner and kitchen chemist of CarmellaMarie, a natural hair company that she launched in June of 2013. After helping women realize their true self in her “Let’s Talk Hair” sessions, she was inspired to create a full natural hair care line offering 14 products and counting.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Carmella and I learned more about her entrepreneurial journey and how she is driving inclusivity through her company – all while still working full-time.

Tell me about yourself

I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. At this current time, I’m working a day job. I do Diversity and Inclusion at an Incubator. I am an adventurous person, I love cooking, and I have a love for chemistry, so that’s kind of how Carmella Marie was born.

What does your typical day look like?

First thing in the morning, I do Carmella Marie stuff which is probably wrong, but I check emails, check social media and stuff like that. I am supposed to be “exercising or stretching” or something. But I get up and get moving so I can get to my day job, which is providing business counseling to women and minority-owned businesses at a local tech incubator.  I have kept my day job all these years because I consider it my venture capital. I want all entrepreneurs to know that there is nothing wrong with a day job, and there is no rush to quit until you are ready. After I’ve completed my 9 to 5, I go home, eat a quick bite, and then start working on Carmella Marie. Some days it might be actual production, if it’s not a production day, I assess inventory, or network online via LinkedIn or send out content via social media or email. I also like to check in on CM Family by either direct messaging customers or showing love on their pages, to let them they are appreciated. Since I work so much, I make sure to keep my life balanced. In my downtime, I love to sit and listen to nature, read, journal, and if I have lots of time, visit a museum. All these outlets help me to reset and refresh my mind. 

How has your role as a Diversity and Inclusion Director influence the decisions you’ve made for your hair and beauty business?

So, I know that any company that diversifies their customer base will increase their overall revenue. With that said, because I am an African American female, initially, the only product tests that I could run were on myself and my immediate family. I made products that met our needs, and you know Curly hair and Kinky Coily Hair. As time went on, I saw that our products worked well on a wide variety of textures ranging from wavy hair to kinky hair. I started focusing on solving common hair issues, dry and brittle hair. Recently we started a campaign, #crownfocused, which focuses on women who are concerned about building better communities, stronger families, business, career, or a healthier lifestyle. A #crownfocused woman needs a company that can take care of her hair, while she handles her business and Carmella Marie is that company. Since we started the #crownfocused campaign, we have had really good feedback from our Carmella Marie Family.

There is a common thread with your work and building your business around diversity. When did you know it was time to diversify your product offerings?

When I had a Caucasian lady walk up to me and say, “I need help. This is my problem.” Since the beginning, we’ve always listened to our customers. I found a way to use the same product across various types of hair so that individuals could benefit from our product.

What has prepared you to start your business while working full-time?

My need to explore and ability to be inquisitive and listen. My upbringing growing up in church and my family had a huge garden. My grandmother and grandfather had goats. We raised hogs, fished, and hunted. We ate off the land, so we were able to take nothing and make it into something, and that is what an entrepreneur does, they can see potential in everything around them. My mother is an entrepreneur, and she taught me how to work no matter how tired I felt. My mother always encouraged me to implement my creative ideas.

What have you found challenging while building your business?

A challenge in my life is balancing my day job because I’m still full time. Over the years, I have reduced my cash outlay so that I can be able to do my business full-time and my day job part-time. Another challenge is, I’m not a chemist by trade. I’m a chemist by self-training, and when I first started, I was passionate about what I was doing. I wanted to help women understand how to love and care for their hair. But from time to time, I would get questions like, “you’re not a chemist how you know what water to use.” Since I got so many questions, I formed an advisory board. My advisory board consisted of industry chemists that were making products on a nationwide basis as well as university faculty members. The advisory board gave me insight, verified my formulas. I had a friend who was a trained chemist, and she also interned at L’Oréal. Having an advisory board helped me when I didn’t have the notoriety, I had a board that did. I am at a point where I now have a history of creating award-winning products, and six years later, I have the requisite knowledge. Not only am I producing for myself, but I am a consultant and create custom formulations for other brands.

What successes you’re extremely proud of?

I’m extremely proud of the fact that we are still in business. I’m excited my product is getting validation from stylists. They can see the difference from their clients that use my product versus the clients that don’t use my product.

What are some business goals you’d like to achieve before the end of 2019?

I started in my apartment kitchen. I purchased a home so right now I’m producing in my basement. My next goal is to be able to move into a lab outside of my home. I want to expand my product distribution, so I would like to start seeking out new distribution opportunities. 

What advice do you have for those who want to break into the hair care business?

Find somebody who’s already in the business that can give you some insight or direction. Have a diverse list of suppliers, so you won’t find yourself out of stock on certain items. Do your research. It’s so crucial that you research your target market. Your client is going to tell you what they want to buy and that’s how I started Carmella Marie. My clients told me precisely what they wanted, and I gave it to them; that’s how I built the product line. Every thirty days, we had a hair show. I asked customers what their problems were and what products they were missing from their hair care regimen. They told me their problems, and I made them a product every thirty days for nine months. Some people refer to this as a focus group. As a new entrepreneur, if you listen to the customer, they are going to be a little lenient with you because you took the time to listen and fulfill their needs.

Where can people go to conduct market research before starting a business?

The library. The library is your friend. The library has access to free resources where you can do research using your library card. A tech incubator may have access to different components of research as well as the local university libraries. They have reference librarians that are very insightful on every topic like history or business. In my hometown, Youngstown, we have a business investment center. Our librarian is Ed. If you get a library card, you can access Gale business software, customer profiles, business plan software, etc.

What motto do you live by? 

 “Education will take you anywhere you want to go.” 

Written by Mish Saka

Mish Saka is a creative Human Resources leader in New York City. She loves creating employee programs and internal HR systems using an entrepreneurial approach. Her side hustle is working entertainment events with exclusive companies like the Vanity Group, Gate Pass Entertainment and the WIE Network. During her time-off from work she loves to travel and learn about different cultures. She has traveled to Nigeria, Jamaica, Bahamas, Bermuda, and Thailand.