On any given day – scroll through Instagram. I’m sure your timeline will be filled with images of luxurious hair lines to try. The funny thing is – you may even find an old high school teacher with her own signature brand. Every stylist claims to have their hands on the best quality hair – yup, Malaysian, Brazilian, and of course Indian. If you are a hair fanatic, like me, navigating the hair world can be daunting. In fact, the marketplace is so crowded that it is really hard to know who truly has their heart in the hustle.
Don’t sleep. One hair maven with an elite portfolio stands out from the crowd. When you hear her name you can’t help but respect her grind. Meet the ever fabulous, serial entrepreneur, Karen Mitchell. Hands down, she is a pioneer in the hair industry and the boss behind the blueprint of True Indian Hair (TIH).
Talking to Karen Mitchell reinforced that women can do it all and still be fabulous. She is fierce, fashion-forward, focused and full of confidence. During our conversation at her Midtown salon on 35th Street, where I was able to view her latest Vixen and Inspire collection, she brought me up to speed regarding her business ideology, her additional hustles (Brooklyn Wineyard), and how she was able to develop and execute her vision when there was really no competition.
Konnect: Karen, we might as well jump right into the foundation of True Indian Hair. Tell us how your dream came to light.
Karen Mitchell: I am the sole owner of True Indian Hair. I started my company 10 years ago, in 2004. Back then, I was looking at this like a hair hustle. I worked in fashion for many years and I would travel to India with my boss to visit factories. When I would go to India, I would buy small amounts of hair to bring back for friends and family, and myself of course. When I got laid off from my job, like a year later, after my last visit to India. I was like okay – I’ve been selling this hair on the side, and it was quite lucrative.
Konnect: So you were selling it on the side in bundles?
Karen Mitchell: Yes, in bundles. I would work my 9-t0-5 and then come home and start selling it. I was shipping out of New York as well. A friend of mine, Janelle Grimmond, was working at Vibe Vixen then and they used the hair for a shoot. I didn’t even have a brand then. They used the hair and mentioned the name of the company – True Indian Hair, and I started getting all of these calls across the state. So when I got laid off, I was like – I am going all in. I’m not going back to work. I cashed in my 401K. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have kids. I was like if I lose this $36,000, it’s not the end of the world. I will be okay. After that, I opened my first store in Brooklyn. The first two-to-three years we were struggling. We were making money – but we were just figuring out everything. I never did a business plan. I was new to being my own boss. But, I gave it 150 percent and I did it. It started taking off. Once it started growing, I realized that I may not have to work for anyone ever again. I opened my second location at 35th Street, in an office building – showroom style. I was then able to expand and move downstairs. Then I opened in Queens, NY a year ago.
Konnectshun: With hair being so big and you being a pioneer – what transitions are you seeing in the hair industry? And how are you staying on top of it?
Karen Mitchell: Staying on top and staying afloat all goes back to the quality because everyone sells hair now. Everyone on social media sells hair. Everyone is selling hair out of the trunk of their car – which is a great thing, but the market is becoming saturated with all types of hair. That includes bad quality. Even Indian Hair people are like – “I don’t want Indian hair.” When I hear that, I think they aren’t getting really great quality Indian Hair. For me, it’s all about staying on top of the quality. I am a partner in a factory in India. My product – I know it. I know what I am getting. I go through the assurance process. I go through each bundle. I go through to make sure that each bundle of hair is going to last. I check if you will be able to reuse it. I check to see if it is sewn properly. I started venturing out of India and started getting the hair out of Malaysia and out of Brazil.
Konnect: What’s the big difference between the three types of hair?
Karen Mitchell: With India, there is more of an abundance. Malaysian hair is a little thicker than Indian hair. It’s not available in a large abundance like Indian hair is. Brazilian hair is even less. I sell very small amounts of Brazilian hair.
Konnectshun: Where do you see yourself as a brand moving forward?
Karen Mitchell: Because my brand is consistent and the customer service is consistent, I’m not worried about the competition. We are growing. I plan to open two more stores within the next 18 months. One in New Jersey and one in Atlanta. So, I am just thankful. I know the market is saturated and flooded, but I feel as long as I stay consistent and true to the brand that I started, True Indian Hair will be okay.
Konnect: Let’s talk about your collections!
Karen Mitchell: The classic would be our Indian Wavy, which is what I started with and our Indian Curly. The Indian Curly is loose, naturally curly. It’s very sexy. Adding to the classic is our Malaysian line as well. That includes our Malaysian wavy, which at this time is one of our best selling brands. Then there is the Malaysian straight. It is sleek and sexy. They are all virgin hair that can be colored. Then there is Malaysian Curly, which is steam curled. That gives the hair more texture. That’s our flagship collection. Our latest line is the Inspire Collection. It’s our soft, textured line. It works well with people who are transitioning. It’s great for people who want protective styling. The collection has a (z) curl pattern, similar to an afro curl. With this collection, you can definitely wear it straight or blown out. Because it’s virgin hair, you can still color it. We also have Relaxed Straight hair, that has some texture to it. But it’s still very sleek. It reminds you of permed African American hair. And then there is the Kinky Curly option that is similar to bi-racial hair. All of these options are really sexy.