Welcome to Byrdie's new series, The Hustle. We're profiling diverse, interesting women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Cora Miller has dedicated her life to supporting underrepresented communities. She spent the past seven years of her corporate career working in health care, helping implement change through social responsibility initiatives. These days, she and her husband Stefan run Young King Hair Care, the first natural grooming brand for boys of color. While beauty may seem like a far leap from health care, it perfectly aligns with Miller's purpose. After giving birth to her son Kade in 2017, she quickly noticed the lack of clean haircare products for Black and Brown boys. From that moment on, she made it her mission to develop a brand that made her son and every other young man of color feel represented in the beauty industry.
"When I look back at my career, that was the start of finding this white space in the beauty industry and being committed to doing something about it," Miller says. "I came from an environment where I was doing social impact work and started a company whose mission is to uplift Black and Brown boys. I think everything has come full circle for me."
Since launching, the brand has cultivated an engaged community (which they affectionately call their "YK Fam") of nearly 27K followers on Instagram. The brand has also made its way to the shelves of retailers like Target and Walmart, making their products widely accessible to Black and Brown boys. Ahead, Miller discusses her entrepreneurial journey, developing clean haircare products, and prioritizing self-care
What were you doing professionally before starting Young King Haircare?
I spent seven years working for UnitedHealth Group focused on social responsibility. My husband always calls me a "do-gooder" because I've always been into social impact and community work. Before I left to work on the business full-time, I was the vice president of external affairs. I had a lot of responsibilities, and I was traveling a lot. Still, it was all in the name of providing resources to vulnerable communities across the country and abroad.
When did the idea for Young King Haircare come about?
I had my son in January 2017, and he had tons of hair. When he was about seven months old, I began looking for products to help take care of his hair. I didn't see anything that represented a young man of color. That made me do some self-reflection and think about my upbringing with my male cousins. I also began talking to my husband about his experience with grooming products growing up. I realized their experiences were similar—parents didn't really do anything with their sons besides take them to the barbershop to get their hair cut. They didn't teach them about the importance of maintenance, styling, and cleansing.
My husband went to business school and told me I should validate my idea through consumer research. I surveyed over 100 parents to see if they noticed the same thing that I observed. I researched for about five months and concluded that parents also felt there weren't any brands speaking to a young man of color. From there, I was focused on figuring out the products and finding a person who could help me develop them.
What was the product development process like?
When it came to the development process, I wanted to create products that leveraged clean ingredients. That was important personally, but the parents I surveyed during consumer research were also keen on that. You don't see a lot of kid's products that have those claims. I had to make sure I could find someone that could develop products with plant-based ingredients. Finding the right partner took some time. It took us almost a year to fully develop the products before we launched them.
What has been the most challenging part of growing the brand?
When we first started, it was just my husband and me. We both still had our full-time jobs. Once we launched, we were trying to fulfill orders out of our house. Even after leaving my job and working on the business full-time, I was the only full-time employee. When we got retail partnerships, it amplified everything. Another challenge is capital. It takes money to make money, and we were bootstrapping this business from our initial order until we went into Target and Walmart. We didn't have any outside funding, and the craziest part about that is we didn't even qualify for other kinds of debt vehicles like a credit line. Everybody was like, "Oh, your business is too young." When you're growing fast, hearing that is stressful.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of building this brand?
Being able to build something that represents my son. He's our motivation every day. When you understand your "why" and deeply connected with it, you're going to do anything in your power to make it work. I also love the community we've built in a short amount of time. We call them our YK Fam, and they ride for us. They love what we're doing and the stories we're telling about their sons. It's been so great to get all the feedback from them. I had one guy call me on my personal number. He is a white foster parent, and his adopted son is Black. They were struggling with his hair and his self-esteem. He started crying over the phone because he said our products had changed their lives and his son has newfound confidence because he knows what to do with his hair.
When you understand your "why" and deeply connect with it, you're going to do anything in your power to make it work.
What have you been working on recently?
We're launching two new hair care products—a Hair Pomade ($14) and a Hair Mousse ($14). Our community is also very vocal about wanting travel-sized items so we're going to start offering those options for all of our products.
As a busy mom and entrepreneur, what does self-care look like for you?
For me, it's resting. It's one thing to get sleep, but actual rest is essential. As an entrepreneur, even when you lay down, you have 50,000 things racing through your mind. I try my best to disconnect from everything before bed so that I can get rest. I also love getting my nails done—that's my "me time." The last thing is spending time with my family outside the business. Don't get me wrong; there have been nights where we're still talking about the company at 10 pm. But we try to reserve the weeknights and weekends to spend time with our son and get ready for baby number two, who is coming in December.