Titi and Miko Branch, a dynamic duo of sisters, are the founders and creators of the Miss Jessie’s hair product line. They recently hosted the official launch party for a new store and salon in New York City. The CurlBar launch party showcased Miss Jessie’s very own curly and natural hair models, all of whom eventually sat down to get styled during a special presentation. Local DJ Fatman Scoop was also in attendance and he too got the royal treatment as Miss Jessie’s stylists worked on his curls.
Guests got a first look at this brand new upscale hair salon specializing in curls, cuts, and texturizers where people can stop in for quicker, more convenient services and better prices. Titi and Miko Branch sat down with theGrio to talk about their upbringing with their grandmother Miss Jessie, entrepreneurship, their Target deal and, of course, tips for curly hair!
theGrio: Describe your favorite day with your grandmother, Miss Jessie.
Miko: As kids we spent summers with our grandmother, so our favorite day probably took place in her kitchen, at her kitchen table. Just listening to Miss Jessie was colorful and exciting. Her grandkids, her kids, people in Poughkeepsie all called Miss Jessie, Miss Jessie. She had a very strong personality, very opinionated, but her cooking was just amazing so we sat around and watched her cook everything from collard greens to sweet potato pies and macaroni and cheese. She also had comments and opinions about how people dressed and what someone’s hair looked like and she was very, very interested in what our hair looked like.
When we were all around that kitchen table she would take out an egg, she’d take some the mayonnaise, add a little bit of molasses and maybe a little bit of butter, and just whip something up so we could put it in our hair. If you remember the Mason jar, she’d put them in the Mason jar and send that back home with us so we could put them in our own hair. She just really wanted us to just be presentable and nice looking young ladies and she really played a huge role in our appearance and we loved our grandmother. We loved her so much that we named our product company after Miss Jessie’s.
Titi: Yes, I think just spending time with her at the kitchen table that’s where Miss Jessie ruled that table she was truly a matriarch. Everyone in the family respected her, they came to her house for family dinners, and holidays, it was her place that everyone converged at for the holidays and I think just spending time with her and watching her operate in the world from her kitchen table really, really was a great experience for us.
At what point did you look at each other and say ‘We are doing this’ and what gave you confidence to start this business?
Titi: As kids our dad really instilled the entrepreneurial spirit and in that he instilled the confidence to go out there and do for yourself and make your own way. Going out here and doing this venture, for us, it wasn’t a scary proposition because we had been trained in doing this from kids. Her and I we were entrepreneurs as kids, we sold Kool-Aid in front of our house, we bought our first pool with the first $25 dollars that we made.
I think the thing that our father instilled in us is don’t be afraid to take a chance and try, try, try, try and you may succeed so that was the big lesson that we learned from him and I think the eureka moment came in terms of the Miss Jessie’s product line came when Miko and I were in the salon doing hair and we realized hat there were no products that were available for this particular hair type so we had the confidence to say ‘Hey were experts in this, we do this each and every day, we live it, we know how these products need to be, nobody knows better than us.
Let’s come out with our own and that’s exactly what we did and we launched our first product at the end of 2004 and that first product was curly pudding. It was inspired by my grandmothers banana pudding and her way around the kitchen and her expertise in the kitchen and it was also a funny kind of spin on words and it was funny because curly pudding was an instant success.
As far as growing up as kids of mixed race, who did you identify with and how did your image change over time?
Miko: Our father who is African-American, he had a very strong influence on us so it was hard to ignore the fact that we were African-American. We grew up with an African-American experience, but my mother was very deeply rooted in Buddhism so we had that kind of exposure to it but initially growing up we grew up in black neighborhoods although we got shipped and bussed to white neighborhoods to go to school. We were introduced to our Japanese culture by food and little traditions that my mother would share with us but for the most part we grew up with the African-American experience while also understanding that there was something else going on with our Asian background.
Being biracial women, what challenges have you faced as entrepreneurs?
Miko: For me, managing single parent hood and just working my business at the same time. Managing my schedule and being a full time mommy for my son, I think that was very challenging for me but I found a happy medium.
Titi: I think being in business is a challenge every single day because we didn’t have MBA’s, everything that we learned is through life experiences and we learn something new every single day and we bring that to our business. So I think that really being open to new experiences and being open to learning has helped to make us successful.
As far as advertising goes, you guys are the face of Miss Jessie’s. Why did you make that choice?
Miko: Well, first of all, we don’t charge! We’re the cheapest models that are available! But I think that seeing the people who are making the products is really significant to us- I’d ever know or never saw the person who was making products that I used in my hair so we just thought that that was monumental and we wanted to step up and let people know that we’re the people making your products and this is meaningful.
Titi: I think also because of our hair types, we have a very similar experience to our customers so it just really made sense for us to be the spokespersons and the face of the brand because their experience is our experience. When we put ourselves in our ads were saying we know you, we understand you, we’re validating your story and were having the same experience.
Miss Jessie’s products has had an influence on the natural and curly hair boom, where do you see the company in five to 10 years?
Titi: We would like Miss Jessie’s to be a household name, we’d like it to be a product that’s in everybody’s medicine cabinet and we hope that people really feel the authentic vibe that we put forth and the hard work and the spirit of trying to help people. That’s in every single jar. People can feel the authentic spirit there.
Do you think the popularity of this particular hair movement is fad or is it here to stay?
Miko: Oh no! Natural hair and embracing it is here to stay. People understanding what they’re naturally born with is here to stay its not a trend and now we see more people catching on, particularly the larger companies and that’s kind of the indicator that other people understand that this is real and it’s no longer a hidden secret and it’s exciting to see that its being recognized in such a wonderful way.
Titi: I think also, when we got the call from Target, I think that was a seminal moment because that told us it was no longer a niche, curly hair is mainstream and its so much so that a major retailer is recognizing that there is a market for this and that they want this market so they contacted us. When they contacted us I think that was a real validation for natural hair. I think it’s mainstream now.
Going natural can be scary for those who have to step away, what message does Miss Jessie’s send to those people?
Miko: You’re beautiful step away from those chemicals! You’re going to be something that’s really beautiful and you’re going to be greeted by a support network and a community of people including us who have thought about all the stuff made to go into products for natural hair. It’s just a wonderful thing.
What stars would you love to get your hands on?
Miko: Well it’s so funny because through our products, we’ve pretty much touched everyone. I’d still love to work with Diana Ross and Bernadette Peters.
Titi: I think Tracee Ellis Ross is somebody that a lot of a women want to emulate when they come into the salon, and I think Chaka Kahn
If you were stuck on a deserted island with just two things and one was a Miss Jessie’s product, what would they be?
Titi: Lip gloss and Miss Jessies Super Sweetback Treatment
Miko: Baby Buttercreme and my blackberry. Gotta stay connected!