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.
There are many sides to Kersti Pitre. She's a beauty influencer, mother, wife, and entrepreneur. The California native amassed a social following in late 2016 after posting a YouTube tutorial showing viewers how she does feed-in braids, a variation of the cornrows that requires the braider to "feed-in" small strands of hair into each plait. Her easy-to-follow video quickly gained 1.5 million views. She later posted another viral video teaching viewers how to create a style popularly known as "Fulani braids." Over 1.6 million people viewed the tutorial, with many leaving comments expressing admiration for her ability to braid her hair.
Pitre has found success in creating hair-related content for over six years, but she always knew she wanted to do more. So, in 2020, she decided to channel her beauty expertise into building her own haircare brand called Pitre. Ahead, Pitre opens up about what it's been like pivoting from beauty influencer to founder.
You're a self-taught braider. What inspired you to share your skills on social media?
The number one comment I got, primarily from Black women, was that they didn't know how to braid their hair. I thought most Black women knew how to braid their hair, but there are way more that do not. So that's why I started sharing tips.
What made you launch Pitre in 2020, and how did the pandemic affect your business?
I filed the LLC for my business in 2018. I didn't know what the business would be, but I just decided to file for it. Little did I know I would get my answer in 2019. A lot of women were asking me what gel and combs I used. That helped me pivot from influencing and sharing tips to providing products to consumers that trusted me.
The pandemic helped the business. We saw the most growth in 2020 and the beginning of 2021. During the first part of the pandemic, it was easy to launch and market because everyone was working from home. People had a bit more money and were on their phones 24/7. We were also able to get grants because we already had our LLC.
How did you come up with your products?
I started to think about the products I lacked. I wrote those ideas in the Notes app and brainstormed with my husband. As my son got older, his skin and hair started to change, and he developed seborrheic dermatitis on his scalp. I thought it was from products I was using on him, but then I found out he just needed his scalp cleaned really well. There was nothing that I could find that would help manage it, so that's how I came up with the idea for our Filthy Scalp Scrub ($33). I wanted my son and other people who had scalp issues to have a product that would help them.
Creating products is a tedious process. When we were sourcing a scrub, nobody was making hair scrubs the way I wanted them to be made. They were more like body scrubs with many chemicals and coarse textures. Our scalp scrub is made by hand with 100% pink Himalayan salt. We use a fine ground salt because we want it to polish but not cut the skin while you're trying to buff away dandruff and build-up. Himalayan salt also has healing properties and naturally purifies. It also contains 100% virgin organic cold pressed olive oil and just enough surfactants to lightly clean the scalp.
I also wanted to make our Hemp Bae Restoring Oil ($25) by hand because every time I tried to source an oil, I felt like they were not the right texture. We didn't want it to be watery; we wanted it to have a little bit of thickness to it. We use all organic virgin oils, including hemp oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, and castor oil. We also use some essential oils like bergamot, rosemary, and oregano.
What have been the challenges and rewards of starting your own hair product company?
The feedback from customers is the most rewarding part. Someone left a comment saying, "Braid Glaze is the best smelling gel that I've ever smelt." That makes me feel like I'm doing something right. Also, being able to share the story of how we built our business from the ground up and getting opportunities like this one is rewarding.
The challenge we face is figuring out how to build a business from scratch. We have to figure out what resources we need to utilize to keep growing. We find that many customers come back and shop with us again, but the challenge is keeping our customers' attention while reaching new audiences. We also need help with monetary things. Getting grants and loans is hard for new businesses, especially Black businesses. We had an experience with a banker who was withholding information from my husband. He didn't tell us about certain grants that the bank had for small businesses. We had to find out through a post on Instagram. It's hard to get information from people and find the right resources.
Social media has changed significantly since you started in 2016 and has become quite saturated. How do you stay motivated and authentic?
When I'm feeling unmotivated, I usually take a step back from social media to see why I'm feeling like that, and then I pray. I spend a day or two away from social media, and I ask myself, What's going on? Why do I feel like this? Once I get that answer, I'll come back and try it again. I used to be afraid of taking breaks, but now I take a break when I need to.
I also watch Mia Ray's videos—she's the founder of Glam-Aholic Lifestyle. She motivates me because of how she grew up and where she grew up. She reminds me that you can come from nothing and become something. Being around friends who aren't tied to social media helps me stay humble and authentic. It's important to have a circle around you that will hold you accountable and help you stay real.
Do you find it challenging to keep up with the new trends and the ever-changing algorithm?
Yes. The new trend is dancing, and I can't dance. I also find it difficult that the standard is high-quality video content. My iPhone is not always going to produce a cinematic product. Sometimes I find that discouraging, but then I tell myself, It is what it is. Are you going to post it or not? At the end of the day, that's the number one question.
What does a typical week look like for you?
I work in the office as an executive assistant two to three days a week. So, I go to work, come home, and film a reel. Then I take packages to the post office if we have orders that week. My son is in basketball now, so our summer is filled with practice and games every other day. I'm staying up very late looking through TikTok, trying to find content ideas. My mind is constantly going, so sometimes I don't go to sleep until 3 a.m. and then have to wake up at 8 o'clock so I can make it to work by 9.
How has your business changed over the last two years?
Our anniversary is July 31, and it still blows me away that we've been alive for two years. However, it's been hard to reach customers in 2022. When we started, everyone was cheering us on, and we got a lot of support initially, but keeping the attention while balancing life and the business has been difficult. Trends move fast, and it's hard to keep up. Personal things happen that require me to take my focus away from the business, so I feel so out of touch when I return to social media. I constantly have to think of new ways of getting to the customer and keeping their attention.
How does your family contribute to the business?
When I call on my husband and son, they are happy to help. Every quarter we have to make new batches of Hemp Bae and Filthy Scalp Scrub, bottle them, and add the labels. When those days come around, we all make the products together. I could easily say, "I'll just do it myself," but I learned that's not the way to do it during my first year in business. I don't always want to ask for help, but I need help because I can't do everything alone.
As you juggle many roles, how are you taking care of your hair?
I try to be more conscious of wearing my hair curly and using Black-owned products. When I know I'm going to be on camera, I have a routine. I use a shampoo, conditioner, and deep conditioning mask from Briogeo. Then I use our Filthy Scalp Scrub, especially if I braid my hair. When I'm not filming, I'll do a wash and go. I'll use our Hemp Bae Restoring Oil and Curl Baby Gel ($15).
Do you have any advice for aspiring beauty influencers and entrepreneurs?
Do you. If you're interested in doing your makeup, it doesn't matter that there are thousands of women who do their makeup. It's your personality and your techniques that set you apart. I also asked myself, Why are girls watching me braid? There are people better than me. But my audience likes my videos and how I show the techniques. Just be yourself.
Where do you see Pitre in the future?
I see Pitre becoming a household staple. My five-year goal is to have Pitre in stores. I also want us to have a warehouse. Right now, we're working from our garage, which is a bigger space than what we had in our apartment, so I see the growth happening.