I have always been enamored by the poise and power that coexist in the presence of a black woman. Her skin shines like the afternoon sun, and her confidence is a silent scream that quiets the inevitable haters.
Julian Addo is the founder of Adwoa Beauty, a collection of natural hair products that focuses on moisturizing and elongating all kinky-curly hair types. I had the privilege of going on a ride with Addo. As we briefly touched on the roots of her humble beginnings and smiled through the triumphs of building her legacy, I was moved by her story that I get to share with you.
Meet Julian Addo
MW: What does Adwoa represent for you, and what was your intent when you started the company?
JA: Adwoa’s my name in my tradition. My father is from Ghana, and it is a pretty common name. It’s like Lisa here. I just wanted to have a brand that kind of merged the intersection of my identity, which is I was born in West Africa, and I came to the U.S. when I was 2 years old. I grew up in America in Black culture, so I’m African American. I wanted a brand that was clean, modern, gender neutral, non-toxic, but I wanted to give it this name I understood people here wouldn’t be able to identify with right away or pronounce. But what it has done is it has started a conversation.
And for the people of West Africa, being able to give them a brand and branding that they are proud of that represents the culture was kind of like honoring being African and being American.
MW: What were some of the ins and outs of starting your brand?
JA: Beauty is in my DNA. I have been in the industry since I was 14. I started doing hair in New York City. I went to a vocational high school and took up cosmetology, so when I graduated high school, I graduated with a cosmetology degree, and then I had already worked in a salon for so many years as an apprentice in school and was able to gain credit hours for working under a licensed stylist.
I owned my own salon for a few years, and then I sold my salon and got into Corporate America by happenstance and ended up staying in the finance sector for the next 13 years. In 2012, when I discovered the natural hair industry and chopped off my own hair I created a brand called Bella Kinks, which was a small blog to document my journey and to also host events in Dallas. Through that journey, I worked with influencers, brands, did digital marketing. In 2015, I freelanced for three years with Sally Beauty. I was responsible for doing the digital for their in-house brands, and I helped them launch new lines.
I never intended on starting a beauty brand. It wasn’t a dream. Beauty is just so second nature for me. I’m always not quite sure what to say to someone that wants to start out. The only thing I can say is that if you are truly passionate about something, study the industry and know a lot about the industry that you want to go in before you go in it.
MW: What are the best and worst pieces of advice someone has given you?
JA: The Best – “Play for the long game.” With social media now, things can get so trendy. And as a brand sometimes you may want to hop on the trends, but you have to be able to determine if your brand is a trendy brand or a legacy brand. I think of Adowa as more legacy, so I want the products that we create to be around for the next 30 years.
The Worst – When I decided that I was going to start Adwoa, people kept saying the market is so saturated. It never discouraged me. Yea, it’s saturated. But it’s saturated with the same shit. Nothing is new, but if you want to start something — having an idea about what you bring to the table that makes you different and what your value proposition is going to be for the industry — it doesn’t matter how many are out there. Adwoa Beauty is more about the voice and all of the intangible things. The products are a bonus. They are going to work and be highly formulated. That’s second nature. The important part of the brand is everything else that people can’t use every day.
MW: What are some of those intangibles that empower customers and followers of the brand?
JA: As a black woman, I really wanted a brand that I could invest in, that I could trust for the long haul, that I know 100 percent had my back, that wasn’t all about profit and the bottom line. I think a lot of people start out with good intentions, but somewhere along the journey it becomes very money hungry. Yes, you need money for the brand to grow, but I just wanted to create something that would get black women to trust me. Once they trust me, I was responsible for that trust.
Everybody — father, husbands, boyfriends, brands, companies — once we trust them and we invest them, at some point they leave us. Throughout doing events under Bella Kinks, I have seen a lot of brokenness in us, and I felt like we just needed something to trust. Everything that I do is with them in mind.
MW: Talk to me about your team. What kind of people do you surround yourself with?
JA: I go off of energy, my business is personal to me. I like people with integrity, that are hardworking, that do the right thing behind closed doors, that challenge themselves and challenge me as well. I don’t have yes men around.
MW: What does Adwoa have in the works for the future, and how do you want to empower your consumers?
JA: I hope I am inspiring someone to know that everything you want is a process and it takes time. I am taking people on a journey with me. In the future, we are going to launch into other categories. We want to be a beauty and wellness brand for all multicultural people.
MW: Tell us about your beautiful Dallas showroom and what people get to experience when they come?
JA: We are not a salon, but I realized customers still needed help in how to apply the products and their technique beyond watching YouTube videos so we wanted to provide a touchpoint, an offline experience. They can come and smell, touch, test and try. You can also purchase. Walk in to our showroom Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re always there.