With so much talk in the zeitgeist about what it means to be "self-made" in the beauty industry, it's overdue for Mahisha Dellinger to be added to the conversation. The Curls founder is a veritable pioneer in the natural hair-care industry, having launched the brand in 2002, long before many other labels began catering to those with natural texture.
"When I started in 2002, there weren't a lot of options for us natural women who wanted to embrace our natural texture," Dellinger told Fashionista over the phone. "I was becoming a mother and didn't want to do relaxers anymore because I was pregnant, so I wanted to have natural options. Those chemicals affect your bloodstream and I wasn't willing to compromise my daughter's health. I became more conscious of what I ate, what I put on my hair — everything about my lifestyle changed when I got pregnant. That's what sparked my interest in the hair-care industry." And the rest as we say, was history.
Almost two decades, millions of dollars, dozens of products and hundreds of thousands of social media followers later, Dellinger is shifting gears into another, but no less buzzy industry: CBD. With new venture Herbn Goddess, the self-made entrepreneur is embarking on new territory and becoming one of a handful of black women to do so. Like with her foray into natural hair-care, Dellinger's pursuit of the CBD market is inspired by a personal experience: Her own mother suffered nerve damage after being the victim of domestic violence, and she found CBD to be a helpful pain management tool.
Ahead, Dellinger discusses her personal relationship to beauty, how she's measuring the success of her CBD line in a burgeoning market where the science is still catching up, the corruption of big pharma and more.
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I'd love to hear about your journey into the hair industry. What inspired you to create your brand and what was your relationship to hair before you became an entrepreneur in the space?
Everything about my lifestyle changed when I got pregnant. And that's what sparked my interest in the hair-care industry. I wanted something that would make my hair look beautiful, and the products that were in the aisle for women of color were primarily relaxers and texturizers, and then gels and greases for styling — many of which contained alcohol. I wanted to create products that were more natural, holistically healthy and sustainable. Once I realized there weren't many options, I started to create my own. That's how Curls was formed: out of a necessity to create something that I was comfortable using for my own hair, my own body and my own baby.
When did you realize this could be a business?
That happened at the same time as discovery. After giving birth to my daughter, I realized there was a need and opportunity existed because of the lack of resources available for us. So I wanted to create them. There were some products on the market, but none for us beyond relaxers and perms, so I went about finding a holistic, natural, organic solution.
Why did you decide to get into CBD?
My mother had a lot of injuries and physical issues with her body. At one point, she got addicted to pain meds and it took her about six months to get off of them. You don't want to be in pain every day, but no one wants to be addicted to pain medication either. That's how I started to become interested in CBD. She had early nerve damage from her younger years due to domestic violence, which left her with permanent pain. I gave her the option of CBD. Initially she felt she didn't want to get high — she assumed CBD was the same thing as marijuana.
It took me about four months to make her understand that it was extracted from the plant, and zero percent of the THC ends up in the oil, but it keeps all of its medicinal properties which will help to heal her and relieve her pain. After trying it, she was convinced. It made me think, if my mother was hellbent against it and it changed her perspective, then I needed to help other women who also have that same challenge. She was the first trial participant and became pain-free 30 minutes after use.
How did you go about formulating the product?
I went to Colorado to the best CBD supplier who had the best oil extraction process out of hemp and had all of the testing, all of the trials and all of the efficacy information I needed. I found that person and developed a relationship with them.
Is it important to you to educate consumers — and specifically women — about the potential benefits of CBD?
Women want freedom in our lives from depression, anxiety, pain, headaches and postpartum issues. There are so many things we deal with as women, that I just want to enable women to be the best they can be while using natural substances. That's the ultimate purpose of this product, and now we're looking to do other products with CBD in them from vaginal creams that help them with their lubrication to pain creams for the body to oil tinctures.
CBD is an explosive industry, but the science is kind of playing catch up right now. How are you approaching it? It doesn't have a long history with proven studies, so what are you providing for consumers who ask about results and trials to let them know what they can expect?
On our website, we have a host of studies, surveys and clinical trials that we've put together from what we've done. You can see some of the data that will be coming in and there's more information there for people to understand and that they should be aware of. It is a new industry and there are a lot of people who are concerned, confused, and don't have the education on it, but I don't think that's because of a lack of knowledge that exists.
I don't think the pharmaceutical industry wants people to become aware of it, because it can really bleed into their profits. But the person with the deepest pockets can actually put the money up and have the first trial published for a new product. The CBD industry is becoming one that the larger pharmaceutical industry can't really contain, so that's why it is becoming a threat. I want people to look at it on their own and look at smaller independent companies and brands to find out what benefits they can get from CBD products.
You're in two industries that are ripe for change, with a lot of new brands coming in and a lot of general buzz happening. What are your thoughts on the future of these two industries and where do you see them both going in the next few years?
I think more people are going to be independent and they're going to own more of their physical and medicinal needs without big pharma controlling them. That's one thing we don't realize — big pharma has a big stake in what we do and how we treat ourselves. More people are becoming aware that there are more options outside of what these companies are telling us. I'm seeing people doing research beyond what they're being told and I think that's a wonderful thing.
We have to take control of our health and do what's best for us. That's what I see happening now. People are realizing these companies don't necessarily care about their wellbeing and they're becoming more educated.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.