Published on Monday September 19th, 2016 by Afrocks
Looking For Natural & Organic Hair Products For Your Hair? Read The Awesome Interview Of Bernadette James, Founder Of SimplyMoi!
Remember our super cool blog post on UK Black owned businesses written a couple of months ago? Back then we had featured SimplyMoi as one of the hottest website where you could buy natural and organic products. Well we just had a chat with energetic, inspired and delightful Bernadette James. And it goes a bit like this…
Hello Bernadette, how are you doing today?
Not too bad. Just recouping from the hectic August Bank Holiday weekend sale we just had. I’m shattered, but hey I can’t complain. Sorry for getting back to you so late.
No worries! We know Bank Holidays are quite busy. Where did the SimplyMoi idea come from? Did you have any experience with hair and beauty before launching?
When I ditched relaxer and decided to “return” natural, I struggled to find products that are non-toxic and contained high level of natural ingredients, not just a handful. One Sunday morning, I was sharing my frustration with my partner, Clint, when he kick-started the idea of SimplyMoi. He basically told me with your experience and knowledge, I think we should launch our online store. So yeah, he put the battery in my back and I just ran with it.
With regards to your second question, I spent four years in the holistic healthy and beauty spa industry in the early 2000s, working at Calmia Spa and The Sanctuary Spa. At the latter spa, I worked as Product Consultant for a black natural haircare brand called Phytospecfic. I was trained to use high-tech digital microscope camera to analyse and diagnose clients’ hair and scalp. Based upon analysis, I would then prescribe the right product and haircare regime for the clients. They also gave me an insightful training course into trichology and what I have learned has helped me a lot over the years when it comes to caring for my own hair.
Wow! That’s a very useful background. So you guys just launched a few months ago. How is it going?
Yeah, we launched in June and in the short amount of time we have been in the business, we are doing relatively well. The word is out there. People are talking and we appreciate that. We have had so many random emails from people not just in the UK, but other parts of the world, telling us how much they love the whole concept of SimplyMoi, the branding and the professionalism and not mention the calibre of products that we stock.
Speaking of the branding: we love the website, the design and the user experience provided by SimplyMoi. Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do or did it just happened?
My professional background before getting into this business is marketing and communications. Plus my other side hustle right up until July when I gave it up was website and graphic design, which I did for small businesses and charities. So with these skills set, I knew exactly what I wanted for SimplyMoi site, in terms of the look, feel, functionality and user-friendliness and journey. Even though it took me ages to bringing it to life, we were able to save funds by not hiring someone else to do the site, as well as the logo and artwork such as the banners.
We strive to make sure the products we stock don’t put customers’ hair and scalp, overall health at risk just for the sake of looking good.
Looking back now, what was the most difficult part of launching the business?
Where do I start? We need a whole day for this question right here. But let’s focus on the most difficult part and that was arguing with Clint constantly. We are both very strong-minded characters and we like things done our own way. It would take a bulldozer to get either one of us to back down in what we strongly believe in. Like any other business partnerships whether with loved ones or investors, we had disagreements about the direction of the business. Majority of our arguments were based on finances. I’m liberal when it comes to spending and borderline risk-taker; whereas, he’s more financially astute than I am. If it were up to me, I would have initially launched with every premium natural haircare brand that is in the market. LOL! We are now better at compromising with one another as we focus on building the business, one strategy at a time.
How do you source your products? What kind of effort do you put behind it?
Before we stock a product we study the ingredient listings and hierarchy to identify to what extent the product is really natural as it claims to be. We look into the type of preservatives used to make sure it is non- toxic and had not been deemed harmful by scientific research. We strive to make sure the products we stock don’t put customers’ hair and scalp, overall health at risk just for the sake of looking good.
Call us bias, but we also have a taste for small, independent, black-owned quality brands, which currently accounts for 80% of our portfolio. The men and women behind the brands are passionate about their crafts. They understand our hair needs because it’s something they live with day in, day out. Their stories are so inspiring that is hard not to fall in love with their products.
Do you usually take customers’ suggestions and need on board when you source products? It could be a bit tricky sometimes…
We also look into what customers are saying out there about the products in terms of reviews. Another approach we are keen is getting customers to take more control of what products we stock; after all they are the end-users. As such, we have a message on our site urging customers to get in touch with us if they want us to stock a particular brand or product, and we would look into it. So far, we have had a couple of recommendations from customers, one of which will be introducing to the store soon.
These as well as other criteria help us sift through and weed out the weakest links. Right now we have some brands on our hit list, but first thing first. Primary and secondary research.
We understand that you guys are really reaching for quality products on SimplyMoi, Did you have a dreadful experience with hair/beauty products yourself?
During my relaxed hair days, I was using natural and organic products from Phytospecfic and other brands such Aveda and Green People, which were mostly catered for European hair. Even though they didn’t quiet work well on my hair, I was desperate at time for any natural products and going to my local high street cosmetic store to pick product with none or limited botanical ingredients was not an option.
When I “returned” natural, I was suddenly faced with another challenge as I my real hair textured needed something much more effective. So I started buying products from America, which would take a while to get here and the delivery costs were almost the same as the cost of the products. Furthermore, some of the US-based retailers at the time didn’t do international delivery.
I’m not fan of the phrase “natural hair movement” to be honest. Our natural hair is a permanent fixture of who we are and when we label it a ‘movement,’ we are sort of declaring it is a fad and therefore temporary. This is why you find some naturals are really not about that life. They eventually go to back to relaxers or what not after a while.
As a businesswoman in the natural hair/beauty product business, what are your views on the natural hair movement?
I’m not fan of the phrase “natural hair movement” to be honest. Our natural hair is a permanent fixture of who we are and when we label it a ‘movement,’ we are sort of declaring it is a fad and therefore temporary. This is why you find some naturals are really not about that life. They eventually go to back to relaxers or what not after a while. Hey, each to their own.
As someone who chemically-processed her hair since the age of 10, I myself was apprehensive to give up the straight hair look. That’s all I knew. But after 30 years of relaxer, I had to wake up. So, I’m definitely pleased to see sistas embracing their uniquely beautiful and diverse hair textures. More and more of us are becoming aware about how to care for our hair the best and healthiest way possible. I hope the younger generation to come will take this to another level, to the point that all we see is kinks and curls on the black man, woman and child.
Where do you get your inspiration from when things get a bit tough, what gets you going no matter what?
My parent and Clint, whom all to me embody hard work and resilience. No matter what is thrown at them, they always find a way to overcome like it’s nothing.
Last question: Our CEO Herve is probably at his 20th attempt of growing a super sexy beard. Do you have any tips, recommendations and products for him?
20th attempt? At this point, only prayer can help, Herve. Just kidding. Scotch Porter, our key men’s brand would do justice for his struggling beard. My tip; thoroughly shampoo, condition, moisturise and seal the beard with light serum/oil at least every couple of days Invest the same amount of efforts as you do with your car and most importantly, be patient and spend less time playing with it.