Going natural has been an incredible hair journey for me, though I’ll have to be honest, more often than not, fraught with frustrations. After relaxing my hair for most of my life, I’ve gone creamy crack free for a little under 4 years now. One of my favorite things about my natural hair journey is the discovery of black women taking their share of the black haircare industry, something that was considered unthinkable before. One of these boss women is True Indian Hair founder, Karen Mitchell. I’ve been following Karen and her brand since it’s early days; I first remember seeing the advertisement for it on a bus in Brooklyn in around 2008. I loved a long straight weave back then and started to hear rumblings in the hair industry about “indian hair” that you could reuse and would still stay full. Karen’s hair was my first foray into luxury hair extensions and I haven’t turned back.
As she’ll tell you later, Karen Mitchell’s True Indian hair wefts are behind some of your favorite celebrity looks, from Taraji P. Henson to Rihanna to Lizzo and on the runways of New York Fashion Week. I can personally attest to the intense quality control that the company provides. I first told my ‘N A Perfect audience of my love affair with True Indian Hair back in 2015, when I wrote about embracing the idea of curls for the summer. Right before this weave was the last time I permed my hair and in an effort to straighten my hair less and take care of it despite my rigorous travel schedule, I decided to try curly extensions for the first time in a texture that would match closer to my own. I hoped to be able to “sweat it out,” go swimming etc. without worrying my roots and hair didn’t match. Flash forward a few years later and those curls have become my signature look and have only gotten kinkier and closer to my natural texture. The wildest thing to me is I still have a few pieces of those bundles. They have lasted through INSTALLATIONS.
But here’s the problem that I’ve found throughout the years in my curly hair search, SHEDDING!
The curlier the hair I seek out is, the more maintenance it requires (think costs) and the more it sheds. So, despite trying a few other luxury hair companies, and even AliExpress, I’m back to True Indian Hair for this summer because I still haven’t found a product that matches the brand in quality. This summer, I’m trying the 20 inch (when pulled) variety of one of their newer textures, super Indian kinky and despite some slight shedding, I can say I am extremely pleased.
If I can support a black business woman, I’m there for it, all day, every day and Karen’s story and hustle is truly inspiring to me. Before Instagram marketing, she was the first black women entrepreneur I saw holding their own in the black hair trade. At the time she started in the early 2000s, packaged hair was the norm; maybe you went to an Asian-owned beauty supply store and if you were lucky, the shop assistant was someone of color. This is why I was particularly interested in Karen’s story and wanted to share some of her experience and sage advice with you! Enjoy!
‘N: I’ve been a fan of True Indian Hair since it’s first store in Brooklyn. In fact, it was the first luxury hair weave company I ever purchased from. Some of my “fill in” pieces are still from one of my first batches! Karen, I’m sure you’re an inspiration to a lot of young women entrepreneurs. This is an industry that seems to be ripe for opportunity, but so few black women selling products to fellow black women at the time you started (and still now). Did you face roadblocks and obstacles in launching True Indian Hair? What was the biggest lesson learned from them?
Karen: I started at a time when there were very few black women hair bosses. I started in 2004 selling out of a showcase in a barber shop I owned while still working my 9-5. Two years later after getting laid off from my job, I opened my first flagship store in Brooklyn. The obstacles I initially faced was being based on not having any real business knowledge, plan or enough seed money. I was naïve about what it took to start a business. I had the drive to do it but very little else. This lack of planning made it very difficult to get the brand off the ground and I almost closed the store the first year.
‘N: Black Americans have revolutionized and democratized the hair industry. Making weaves trendy for all races, upping the stakes in the quality we demand, etc. The closest I’ve seen it in all of my travels (even to black countries) has been in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they were selling bundles in an airport stand! If you could open a TIH boutique anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Karen: Yes, black women have certainly taken hair extensions and wigs to new heights globally. I would love to open a TIH store in Europe (London, Paris, Germany) and in my country, the beautiful island of Jamaica. I have clients in many European countries and they constantly complain of the lack of readily available quality hair extension and wig stores. These international stores are on my to do list.
*They also do Sheitel / Jewish wigs!
*And her background is Jamaican, so maybe I am a bit partial!
‘N: It used to be almost “taboo” to talk about your weave. Now people wear them loud and proud, switching it up. What do you attribute to this change?
Karen: As a hair retailer it makes me so happy to see the taboo subject of weaves and wigs are no more. “This aint your mama’s wig” is a line I jokingly use with my clients all the time. This change is largely attributed to social media. Black social media influencers, celebrity stylists and celebrity themselves have pushed the envelope in showing weave and wigs as an acceptable and fun beauty regime. Now you have the Kardashians proudly saying they wear weaves and wigs. Celebrities are proudly tagging and promoting wig and weave companies. This has taken the shame out of it and now it’s cool to proudly claim it. Now many celebs themselves are starting hair lines. We are actually partnering with Marlo Hampton of House Wives of Atlanta to launch a line of wigs this summer.
*take that to all the people questioning Marlo’s hustle!
‘N: I remember going to the shop years ago, maybe 2009ish or 2010, and Karen was on a trip to India. I was in India at the end of last year and it was hard being a black woman there. I’ve read a lot of accounts, enough to know it wasn’t just me. From what I experienced, there is a strong overarching racism towards black people there. This could be very different in the business world as your money is just as green as everyone else’s. What were your experiences in India as a black entrepreneur? Do you go often for work trips?
Karen: Yes, in the early days of the business I traveled to India to visit the factories making my hair and wigs. I do know of the racism black people and darker Indians face in India based on my research before I went. I did not encounter that while I was there and it may have been because I was there on business. What I got more of was a bit of sexism. It was always a surprise to the vendors that I was doing this as a woman alone. I was often asked, so is your husband running the business at home? or is your husband coming? or is your husband a silent partner? It was always a surprise that I was doing it alone as a woman.
‘N:Who would be the most iconic “get” wearing TIH?
Karen: I have had some iconic OMG’s like Rihanna. We love Rihanna and her stylist Yusef who keeps her fab in our hair. Adding to her: Beyoncé and First lady Michelle Obama would be the most iconic gets for me right now.
‘N: Advice time! If you think a friend’s hair, could benefit from a little umphf! A nice weave… how would you suggest it to her?
Karen: A friend friend or just a friend lol.. I would say in a diplomatic way, hey, I think you would look amazing in this texture. A change would look amazing on you.
‘N: What is your go to TIH style?
‘N: I’m loving my TIH super kinky curly for a wet and go summer style. What are your 5 favorite summer hair and beauty products?
Karen: Yes, the super kinky curly is a new texture we added this year. It’s kinkier than our normal kinky curl but it’s still soft and manageable with a daily leave in conditioner. I recently created a line of paraben-free hair care products called TRUE HAIR CARE Moisture Rich system. My goal was to create a product that works equally great on natural hair and weaves and wigs.
My top 5 summer and beauty products are: 1. True Hair Care Moisture Rich leave in detangler | 2. Jane Carter Scalp Nourishing Serum | 3. Toppik Hair Building Fibers – gives you fuller edges for those up close selfies | 4. La Mer Moisturizing Cream – costly but keeps my skin looking and feeling younger | 5. Clive Christian L perfume
Check out this fun little video I made for Instagram jokingly inspired by the 1990s Maybelline campaigns staring Christy Turlington.