Scope out the hair-care aisle in the beauty section of any major retailer and you’ll find a familiar scene: a woman with a bottle of shampoo in hand, staring in dismay at the horde of options on the shelves in front of her. Should she pick sulfate-free or biotin add-in shampoo? Should she be looking for hydration or volume in her conditioner?
The process of reviewing ingredients, comparing prices and questioning the purported hair-care benefits can be overwhelming—particularly for black women, who over the past few years have seen an uptick in the number of products tailored to their specific hair texture needs. The inventory that was once relegated to a small section of a single shelf, or worse, not available in major outlets at all, now spans entire store aisles and endcap displays.
The creators of Myavana, a web-based mobile and social platform, understand firsthand the frustration of the shelf scan. Computer scientist Candace Mitchell, CS 11, and chemical engineer Chanel Martin launched their Atlanta-based startup in 2013. “The goal was to leverage science and technology to provide women of color with a personalized hair-care experience that takes guessing out of the equation and delivers hair nirvana,” Mitchell says.
The Myavana website (myavana.com) is a destination where customers can discover new hair products, hair styles and salons in their area. It joins the zeitgeist of blogs, Instagram feeds and YouTube channels that deliver black hairstyle tutorials and homemade solutions to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. No doubt social media has helped this movement gain traction throughout the United States and abroad, Mitchell says.
Increasingly, black women are going online to share stories and tips in their journeys as they move away from harsh chemical straighteners and the synthetic products associated with them, and turn toward unprocessed, curly hair styles and natural products. Myavana seeks to tap into this ever-expanding market—with an estimated buying power surpassing $500 billion annually—with the goal of providing end-to-end hair-care guidance to women of color.
Myavana’s linchpin is its new custom hair analysis service that promises to find the right product for each customer. “Yes, we want women to send us their hair,” Mitchell says. “But only a little bit of it, and just long enough to view the hair through a microscope and to offer customers meaningful hair product recommendations.”
Consumers initiate the process on the Myavana website, where a one-time fee of $49 will buy a single Hair Collection Kit. The kit includes a special comb for the sample, instructions for getting a proper cross section, a questionnaire and pre-paid postage. Once the kit arrives at the Myavana lab—the company rents space on campus at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology—the hair strands undergo a nine-point data analysis.
Let’s say a customer complains of dry and frizzy hair. “We look at a few things,” Mitchell says, “from the porosity of the hair (the ability of the hair to retain moisture) to its elasticity (its ability to go from curly to straight then return to the original curl pattern).”
The customer’s data is then run through Myavana’s recommendation system. According to Mitchell, the company’s database includes analyses of close to 1,000 products, which have been reviewed based on ingredient composition and how they react to different types of hair. The customer is then matched with a set of products based on the analysis, which the buyer receives in the mail. Customers also each receive a personalized hair-care regimen and several sample products chosen specifically to help individual users reach their desired hair goals.
The Myavana report even goes on to suggest specific hairstyles and salons in the customer’s area. Mitchell says that users can track their “hair journey” over time on the mobile app. “It’s like getting a personal hair coach,” she says. The company also sells a subscription service, where for $25 every three months, customers receive sample products with an updated regimen.
Myavana’s current focus is raising cash before the first round of seed funding closes and spreading the word about tis service. The mobile platform already has about 7,000 users, Mitchell says, and the personal hair analysis component exited the beta stage to fully launch earlier this year. The startup also partners with hair product manufacturers such as Eden BodyWorks (founded by Tech alumna Jasmine Lawrence, CS 13), Coco Curls (founded by Tech alumna Jeannell Darden, IE 08), Georgia-based Design Essentials and several others. The companies advertise on the Myavana platform, sponsor events and supply products.
Myavana has great potential—in time, it could become a hair-care lifeline for black women, connecting customers with the products that are best for them, while cutting out the time-consuming waste of trial and error.
View the original post by Osayi Endolyn here.