How did you first start By Selina? Can you remember where you had the idea, was it a slow process dream or an epiphany?
The idea to create curly hair products started in 2010 when I had severely damaged my hair from excessive bleaching. I was trying to find good quality curly hair products, but everything was full of silicones and did nothing to help my curls. I was working in a cosmetic lab at the time so I knew there was a better way to care for my curls. It was during this time in 2010 that I started to experiment with different formulations and ingredients for curly hair with the view to create dedicated curly hair products. However, just as I was about ready to start creating and releasing curly products, I was offered the chance to do a PhD. I had always wanted to be Dr. Church and I had always wanted to have a piece of published research that was my own. I therefore put the curly products on hold to pursue my PhD. Shortly after completing my PhD, I met The Curl Consultant Claire in Exeter, Devon for a curly cut. I told Claire about my background and nearly 10 year old dream of releasing curly hair products, as I was still yet to find anything on the market that was well suited to my curls. Claire gave me the encouragement to release my products. Claire also introduced me to Sarah, The Cornwall Curl Specialist, and these ladies together help give me the first exposure I needed for my products by inviting me to their curly meetups which I will be forever grateful for. It just goes to show what we can achieve when women build each other up, without these two ladies helps it would have been such a struggle to get my products in front of curlies.
When did it become an idea which you believed could turn into a profitable endeavor?
After meeting with curlies at the curly meet-ups organised by Claire and Sarah. The feedback provided by other curlies made me realise I wasn’t alone in struggling to find good quality curly products, despite the number of products available on the market!. There were so many others out there like me still struggling to find products that suited their curls so there was definitely a space for me. The women were so receptive to my ideas and shared similar values to me and the values that I wanted to incorporate into By Selina.
How long did it take from vision, working on the business plan to launching your company? What were the steps you took?
The idea has been 10 years in the making but from the initial chat with Claire who gave me the push to release the products to launch was about 8 months.
What was your vision? What did you want to gift to the world? How did you want your customer experience to feel with you?
My vision was to create great quality curly hair products, I didn’t want fellow curlies to have to use half a bottle of conditioner to detangle their curls. There is nothing more annoying than having to take an hour to detangle your hair and on top of that use nearly a whole bottle on conditioner at the same time. I wanted my products to be of great quality, meaning that curlies did not need to use copious amounts of products to detangle their curls. I also wanted the products to contain active ingredients that would help enhance curls. I wanted curlies to also feel happy about the products they were using too, that is why the products are packaged in aluminum. Generally speaking, many curlies cannot use eco-products such as conditioning bars or haircare bars because they just don’t have the slip to detangle curls so I wanted to give us curlies a more sustainable option that was also plastic bottle free.
In addition to the above, I really wanted to raise awareness of women and girls in science. So often when we hear big beauty brands talk about how they started they generally say they met with a chemist and when they refer to the chemist majority of the time the chemist is referred to as “he”. I so want to show girls and women out there that science is totally a space that they should take up and that science although academic is incredibly creative too. Did you know our STEM workforce is only made up of 22% women? That is a statistic that needs to change so that more women and girls head into science and pursue a career in science. It is why the products are called By Selina, I want other women and girls to know that we have the brains for science too.
Did you receive support through mentorship, or did you go it alone?
I went at it alone but I did have great encouragement from my wonderful family and of course the curly specialists, Claire & Sarah.
How do you go about making your products? How did you begin the search to find a supplier?
Due to my background in the formulation I knew which suppliers to contact and where to source ingredients. In terms of manufacturing, I currently make all the By Selina products myself. I was due to outsourcing the manufacturing just before we were hit with the pandemic but due to the pandemic I have put this on hold and will pick it up again later in the year.
Tell us a little more about your products, what did you want to create and why? Who was your target audience? How did you want them to feel when they shopped with you?
My products are specifically designed for curlies. Many curlies want products that are sulfate, silicone, and paraben-free, so I made sure the By Selina products ticked all these boxes. I also wanted the products to work, this may sound obvious, but I have tried so many curly products on the market and so many of them did not work for my curls. So many curly products are thick with butters, waxes, and oils so they can build up and weigh curls down eventually. I wanted my products to be formulated with natural ingredients but also contain active ingredients too that work to enhance curls. I wanted to create products that were thick and luxurious because curly hair is generally a lot knottier and drier than straight hair so we need richer products. Generally, when formulating products people will look at the profit margins first, any contract lab will ask, what do you want the products to do and how much do you want the product to cost. I wanted to create products that worked and then work out the profit margins. Curly hair products generally need a higher percentage of ingredients compared to straight hair products, so they are usually a lot more expensive to manufacture. When creating the By Selina products, I focused on creating a great product first, then I decided on what the price should be, not the other way round.
I wanted the curlies who shop with me to feel good about what they are buying, that is why the products are packaged in aluminum as opposed to plastic. Of course, all packaging has some downsides but for me, packaging in aluminum had fewer downsides compared to plastic. I also wanted the curlies to know they were buying products that were formulated by a woman, that is why the products are called By Selina. I wanted other curlies out there to know that women have the brains for science and formulation too.
I’m sure there have been a few teething problems along the way, share any here which you feel would help another avoid!
Oh my goodness, when I first launched I posted the bottles out in regular envelopes as I wanted to reduce the packaging. This was a mistake because the bottles are aluminum so they can dent easily. This meant that the first-ever By Selina bottles that were sent out arrived at with dents. Luckily the By Selina community is amazing and they were not bothered one bit like the product inside more than made up for the dents.
Tell us about your whole retail package of product, packaging and personalized care to your customers – what has been your vision, the challenges, and the best way of saving the pennies along the way?
The bottles are aluminum, so they do need cushioning during transportation to prevent them from denting. I, therefore, use wood wool filler, acid-free tissue paper, cardboard boxes, and paper tape. This means that all the packaging can be recycled and sits better with me knowing that the products are not packaged in plastic bubble wrap. I try to keep the packaging to a minimum whilst also trying to create a lovely unboxing experience. I also like to include a positive affirmation sticker with each order and a handwritten note. I appreciate every single person who has purchased from By Selina as they are what makes up this community and I want them to know that this is a small business that genuinely wants to take the time to communicate with them, I feel a handwritten note adds that extra touch.
The way I save money is to buy in bulk. I used to be nervous when ordering large numbers of cardboard boxes but it is the only way to help keep the costs down.
Best advice for sales?
Building a community.
I tend not to use paid advertisements on social media and instead where I can use some of that money to donate to charities. It does mean that the By Selina business grows at a slower rate, but I am happy with that. I recently received a message from a lady saying that she had purchased the By Selina products after striking up a conversation with a fellow curly because her curls looked amazing. She had asked the lady what she used on her curls and she said By Selina. To me that will always be the best form of sales, referrals, and the building of a community.
How did it feel to start receiving orders and comments with customers sharing their photos of your product?
Absolutely incredible. It is so nerve-wracking putting a product out there that you have made as you can never know exactly how it is going to be received. However, the support I have received has been incredible and receiving emails, reviews, and photos is honestly the best feeling ever.
How would you describe your brand/product in 3 words?
Elegant, conscious & empowered.
Tell us your highlights over your time running By Selina?
By Selina is about to turn 1 at the end of June and there have been so many highlights. Seeing By Selina on the shelves of curly studios and salons, seeing pictures of the By Selina bottles in other people’s homes, the reviews, the feedback but most importantly the friends I have made and the incredible people who make this happen, By Selina would be nothing without the belief and support of other curlies and for that I am forever grateful.
What is your best advice to other entrepreneurs with a company like yourself?
Believe in yourself.
Do your best.
Do not compare your month 10 to someone else’s year 10.
What would you tell anyone who has a dream and unsure whether to go after it?
Just go for it. You do not have to give up your day job to start a business. I still work full time and work on By Selina in my evenings and weekends because for me it is like a hobby, I love working on By Selina in my spare time.
What are your little moments of happiness throughout the day?
A cup of tea.
What’s your happy place?
Being at home in the garden when the sun is shining with a margarita!
When did you last feel brave? How do you define bravery?
Agreeing to do this interview. It is so far out of my comfort zone or anything I have done before. I think bravery comes in many different forms, it can be do something like this that is completely out of your comfort zone. I think bravery can also be defined as going against the grain, speaking up for what you know is right even if it goes against what everyone else is saying.
What do you wish to see more of in the world?
Businesses using their power as a source for good.
What inspires you?
Other women in business. I love listening to podcasts and hearing other women’s stories, especially those whereby they have faced adversity, or the odds have been stacked against them, but they have succeeded anyway.
Also, whenever anyone tells me no. I was told by a careers advisor at school that I shouldn’t pursue science because I wasn’t good enough. I would love to send that lady my peer-reviewed publication 12. It is also why I feel so passionate about telling other women and girls that they can do science!
Favorite adventure you’ve ever had?
When I moved to Exeter to do my Ph.D. There were so many highs and so many lows during my PhD but it was honestly such an amazing few years. I met so many amazing people while I was there, and I am so happy to still have those people in my life today.
What do we need to show more of in the world?
Understanding, sometimes we can be very quick to judge others and their decisions without fully understanding or appreciating someone else’s situation.
What do you wish you’d known when you were young?
That you are good enough.
The beginning is always the hardest part.
This is one of the first quotes I pinned on Pinterest during my Ph.D. when I really wanted to give up and quit. I am so glad I didn’t.
What ’s your dream?
To use By Selina as a force for good and to inspire other women and girls into science and share with them that science is more than just an academic subject, it is incredibly creative too.
Thank you so much again Selina for sharing your journey with us!
You can follow Selina's incredible journey on @byselinaofficial or head to her website www.byselina.co.uk.