Beauty Idol: Joycelyn Mate and Rachel Corson from Afrocenchix

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Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson met at university and bonded though their frustration of finding the right products for their hair. They decided to put matters right and create their own products that works on natural hair and in 2009 Afrocenchix was born. In 2010, they won an award for Ethical and Sustainable Business Innovation from the University of Birmingham and went on to win the Bright Ideas Award from University College London. What made you decide to set up your own beauty business? In 2009 we bonded at university over a shared hair problem. We both tried many high street favourites and found not only did they leave us disappointed, they also contain nasty chemicals to increase shelf life, smell ‘nice’ and keep costs as low as possible. We found there were hardly any products available in the UK for women who chose to wear their hair naturally. This was a problem. Also Rachael was allergic to everything so we wanted to find something gentle enough for me to use and that complicated matters! After trying countless products, we decided to create our own and immediately had demand from friends and family.

What is the concept behind Afrocenchix? Afrocenchix is all about making natural simple. Many people still view natural hair as unprofessional, unattractive and unmanageable. We want to change this. If a black woman wants to embrace her natural afro hair, it should be simple and straightforward. When we started, we believed that if the correct information and quality products were easily accessible, it was likely that more women would feel free to embrace their natural hair. We work hard to make natural hair care simple by producing great products and providing straightforward advice.

What sort of research did you do to find out what sort of products your customers wanted to buy? At the time we started, we knew we both needed oils and hair moisturiser so we started there. When we began research we found that the market 'experts' had published findings based on speaking to just 30 black women. We felt this wasn't good enough so we surveyed over 100 women and held focus groups to get feedback on the initial prototypes of our current products. Today we work with scientists and bloggers to perfect our products and we continue to keep our customers at the heart of our product research.

How did you decide on the look and feel of the brand? We wanted a look that was simple, fun and professional so our website, products and branding are all based around those words. As we strive to be a source of information and inspiration for women with afro hair, we try to make sure that our brand is accessible and educational at the same time. Hopefully it's working.

What are your future plans for Afrocenchix? This year we want to finally launch our long awaited deep conditioner and styling butter. We are working hard on these as they are not easy to get right. We also aim to run more workshops and partner with women across the black community so we can help more women as we grow - there is strength in numbers. We like the African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We would like to see a community wide approach to loving natural black beauty and embracing afro hair as beautiful, professional and versatile.

What are your favourite beauty products? Rachael - We both love Seal Oil - such a good all rounder. We even sometime sneakily use it as a body moisturiser.

Joycelyn - my favourite beauty product is, believe it or not, nipple cream made from 100% Lanolin used by breast feeding mothers. Though I'm not a Mum I like to use on my lips as it gets out the cracks and leaves my lips soft. I've recommended it to Rachael as she's a big fan too!

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to set up their own beauty business? It is essential to do your research, know your market and make sure you are offering something useful to your customers. There is no rush, focus on being the best, not the first. Finally believe in your vision 100% – if you don’t others won’t, at the same time this confidence must be balanced with humility and gratitude for feedback.

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