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 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.