Melanin Magic Kendria Strong Is Rejuvenating Iconic Black Haircare Brands Legends
Kendria Strong / Design by Cristina Cianci
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Kendria Strong Is Rejuvenating Iconic Black Haircare Brands

Get to know Kendria Strong, EVP of Godrej Brands.

The Hustle

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.

In the Black community, haircare brands like Afro Sheen, Just For Me, and African Pride have been beloved for decades. However, as more textured haircare companies have debuted over the last decade, many of these once-staple companies seemingly faded from the forefront. Godrej Consumer Products, an emerging markets company, has made it their mission to continue the legacy of Black haircare brands like Afro Sheen. The beauty conglomerate is constantly working to rejuvenate their portfolio of 18 brands through new-and-improved ingredients, refreshed branding, and engaging messaging. 

As the executive vice president of marketing and innovation, Kendria Strong is spearheading many of these initiatives. Strong previously worked at Revlon as the director of marketing before landing at Godrej Consumer Products in 2017. In four years, the seasoned beauty professional has helped reactivate the buzz around each Godrej brand and develop best-selling products (like African Pride's Pre-Shampoo). Ahead, Strong discusses the ins and outs of working on iconic Black haircare brands. 

On her interest in beauty...

"I was always interested in hair, but I didn't know the possibilities of a career in beauty. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in business. I knew that I wanted to create things. I always thought I would work for a consumer goods company like food or packaged goods. I went to Florida A&M University, and while I was there, my college professor asked me to talk about some things that I would love to do if I could imagine it. And that's when I started to think about the business around beauty. I thought about the wonderful women in beauty creating the products I was using. From there, I knew I was going to do something surrounding business and beauty. I just was not exactly [sure] when or how I would get there."

On leaving Revlon and joining Godrej...

"At Revlon, I was part of an amazing Black women-led team. They showed me the ropes of the business and how to navigate life as a corporate professional while still being authentic to myself. They made sure I was not only savvy about the product but also about the business. From there, I understood how to make products move, how to ensure our financials are good, and how to speak up. I had a wonderful foundation there, but any great mentor will tell you your current role is a stepping stone to something bigger. So when the opportunity with Godrej came about, I knew that it was a great fit for me.

I love making products affordable, accessible, and efficacious for women. Working at Godrej provided an opportunity to work on brands I grew up with like African Pride and Afro Sheen. I saw that the brands in our portfolio had so much potential. I knew I had the chance to rework these iconic brands and put something great back in the world."

Kendria Strong / Design by Cristina Cianci

Kendria Strong / Design by Cristina Cianci

On rejuvenating Godrej's iconic Black haircare brands...

"The first thing I wanted to do was look at the portfolio and see where we have gaps. Of course, they are iconic products, but I wanted to know where we were not serving our customers in the best way. There was an opportunity for us to make natural hair products that were very clean and helped the consumer fulfill a need.

My first idea was to do some quantitative research and hear directly from the consumer about what they are missing in their regimen. We came up with different products based on the benefit-need association. We started to look at what natural ingredients we could tie into each product to ensure that it has everything the consumer wants in the bottle.

When it came to formulas, our next largest opportunity was surrounding moisture. Moisture continues to be the number one need for Black women when it comes to their hair. We also wanted to address detangling, and we wanted to innovate around it to help reduce the amount of time women spend detangling. Identifying the needs of the consumers and developing products around them has been the key recipe to ensuring we're moving in the right direction as a company."

On her proudest achievement at Godrej...

"The number one product that I'm super excited about is our African Pride Pre-Shampoo. When I first came into the organization, the category really didn't exist on the retail shelves. But as consumers, we were already coming up with our pre-poo treatments at home. I knew I wanted to create a product that packaged all of that. The chemist and I went in the lab together and were able to knock it out in the first prototype. We tested it on additional consumers, and they loved it. Over two years, I've seen that product go from zero to $3 million. And now we see other brands coming out with pre-shampoos. That lets me know I've left the mark and done something great."

On what consumers are saying...

"I often hear from people who tell me they used African Pride or Afro Sheen while growing up. There is now an opportunity for a new generation to try the product, and people who've used the products before are excited about seeing it come back. It's so good to see these brands continue to live on for decades because they're servicing our hair needs in a way that the larger market has historically not. I think it is so important to make sure that we always carve a space that puts the beauty needs of Black women first. It's just a lovely opportunity to resurface many of those legacy brands."

Kendria Strong / Design by Cristina Cianci

Godrej Consumer Products / Design by Cristina Cianci

On what a typical day consists of...

"My day is always so busy. I always start my morning off around 6 or 7 AM with meditation or prayer. From there, I typically go into global meetings. While I service our US brands, I also lead our brands worldwide. We have a large population in Africa that uses our brands, so I start the day by meeting with our Africa teams to talk about innovation. Then I move on and meet with my team here in the States around 9 AM. I manage a team of roughly 20 people that contribute to our brands. We talk about everything from what we're doing that day to the latest news on The Shade Room and how it may resonate with our social media audience. After that, I meet with the creative services team to find out what billboards and campaigns they're working on.

Then, I will meet with our PR and integrated partnerships teams. Throughout the day, we also talk about our community initiatives as well. We make sure we give back through student loan forgiveness or donating to areas affected by natural disasters. Of course, every workday has its ups and downs. But at the end of the day, I can say that I'm doing something I love and something that I can see making a big impact on the world."

On the most rewarding part of her job...

"My biggest reward is being able to see my team progress. The most rewarding thing is seeing people I've hired or mentored come into the organization, do well here, and graduate to do amazing things elsewhere. That's the most rewarding because I remember I wanted the opportunity at some point. I wanted somebody to give me a chance. And so, anytime someone comes in and is just very passionate, I try to be the spark that helps light their path. One of my innovation managers went to work with Tracee Ellis Ross on Pattern Beauty. Even though it is a competitive brand, seeing her do amazing things is fulfilling."

On the most challenging part of her job...

"To be quite honest, the challenging part is being in the boardroom every day. I see myself as an elected official of haircare, and one of the most challenging things is making sure you're able to articulate your brand's needs to your board members. It's important to have conversations that are not only based on your thoughts but also data points.

As a woman in the boardroom, it's important to be opinionated and vocal. But the challenging part is having those tough conversations to ensure my team can work very easily and my consumers get the products they need. The challenging part is ensuring that you're heard. Overall, I think it is a rewarding challenge because it stretches you knowing that you have the responsibility to represent yourself, your community, and your brands in the best way possible."

On what's next for Godrej brands...

"We're going to be entering the world of hair extensions. That's a new challenge for me. But there are so many women who wear braids and extensions, so we're excited to be of service in this area. We're thinking about how we can innovate this category and make products that are longer-lasting, easier to wear, easier to apply, and super cool." 

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