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Most people of mixed-race heritage will agree it's a unique, layered experience. The complexities of blending multiple cultures and ethnicities continues to be a topic explored in the media. Popular shows like Mixed-ish spotlight the realities of interracial relationships and the nuances of an individual's multiracial identity. Many biracial celebrities (like Halle Berry) and political figures (like Barack Obama) have also candidly spoken about their mixed racial identity, spurring further, more public conversations around the topic. Our new Vice President Kamala Harris' pride in her South Asian and Black ancestry has helped shatter some of the conventional boxes people often place around mixed-race people. Harris’ bold, honest, and unflinching command of her diverse lineage has also continued to spark global discussions that underscore that there are still many things people don’t understand about being multiracial.
And it's the lack of understanding around multicultural identities that led to the creation of the international beauty company Mixed Chicks. CEOs and co-founders Kim Etheredge and Wendi Levy Kaaya started Mixed Chicks in 2004 with the goal to create products to meet the complexities of natural hair. Over the past 17 years, the brand has developed over a dozen highly-effective products for all curl types. They have continued to champion and empower their customers by encouraging them to embrace their natural texture, identity, and character. As women at the forefront of the multiracial hair market, Etheredge and Kaaya proudly advocate for multiracial people with a tenacity and fervor that can be seen in every aspect of their brand. We recently caught up with the Mixed Chicks founders to discuss the mixed-race experience, how they teach self-love to their customers, and how Vice President Kamala Harris is setting the stage for a new generation of mixed-race people. Keep scrolling to read what they had to say.
On the Curl Revolution and Meeting the Moment
Kim: "We’ve always been about the 'revolution,' and now we’re continuing to push the evolution of these conversations in personal and professional spaces. That’s always been the premise of our brand. The brand reflects who Wendi and I are as women growing up in a blended world. In Wendi’s case, it was being one out of essentially none (bi-racial people) in New Jersey. For me, it was being one of many here in California. Our goal was always to support the hair care needs of blended families and spread our wings as a brand within the curl spectrum, which goes beyond the 'curly girl' and supports the waves, kinks, and coils of people worldwide. It was about supporting, recognizing, and representing blended families and their textures."
Wendi: "We didn’t have to evolve much because we were addressing the needs of the interracial family when our product hit the market back in 2004. It’s gratifying to see that the customer we’ve been addressing from the beginning is finally getting the attention they deserve. As Kim mentioned, our evolution as a brand is expanding across a wider curl spectrum to embrace people who may not be multicultural."
On the Challenges in the Industry
Wendi: "One of the biggest challenges is the segregation of hair care in mass retail by aisle and race instead of texture. We’re still working to overcome that dysfunction as a certified Black-owned business that creates products for curls of all races. Mass retailers confine us to one box. Attention is finally being brought to this malpractice as the 'general' aisle loses traffic to the fastest-growing multicultural demographic. The billions of dollars spent by curly women of all races embracing their natural textures demands it. Thankfully, we see a change on the horizon where retailers have come to understand that products aren’t race-based. They are texture-based. I’m confident this evolution will allow Mixed Chicks to support the curly hair customer without being pigeon-holed into an ethnic aisle. As CEOs, it’s been one of our biggest challenges to date."
Kim: "We’ve discussed the blending of the aisles before, and we understand from a business side how this works in the general market. Our challenge is to get more shelf space for our aisle because we are limited. In wanting more shelf space for our products, someone else’s has to be removed because of how small the shelf space is. There should be an expansion of more shelf space for our category (which is the fastest-growing category in beauty). Our category has shown that we deserve it, but this continues to be an uphill battle for the ethnic and multicultural space."
On the Misconceptions Regarding Mixed-Race Hair
Kim: "Mixed Chicks is a brand and beauty product for everyone. Women today aren’t defining themselves by their skin color when they are shopping for their hair. Women have blended textures, so they can use all brands. Depending on whether a customer shops at a retail or drugstore can also determine what products they are exposed to because there is separatism in the aisles."
Wendi: "The misconception is that mixed-race hair is 'one-size-fits-all' when in reality it can truly embody any blended hair texture. It can go from straight to kinky or coily, and perhaps where the true fault lies is using 'mixed-race' as a defining term for how we view someone’s hair. That’s why I prefer to talk about curl texture instead of someone’s race."
Kim: "Our tagline says, 'Are you tired of defining your race instead of your curl?' It’s still strikingly relevant today, and we’ve been in business for 17 years."
On Hair and Racial Identity
Kim: "Culture. Culturally for us, especially Black women, hair texture, race, and skin color, define you. That has been passed down from history, ancestry, and personal experience, which continues on, and it’s rhetoric that’s ridiculous. That’s why our current campaign #itsminetodefine is meant to empower our customers who don’t want to be defined by those labels. As Wendi has stated, 'Let’s talk about texture.' We should be talking about texture and what works best for your hair. We’re still waiting for the culture to catch up."
Wendi: "Simply put, when you have naturally curly hair, that becomes a conversation topic because there is so much history wrapped up in the culture surrounding it.”
On Experiences and Connections With Consumers
Wendi: "We are our brand. When people come to us on social media, email, or at shows (pre-COVID), they are coming with questions about caring for their hair, embracing their hair, and understanding the cultural differences that come up around curl talk. Kim and I can guide a customer through those formative experiences such as what it’s like to look different from your parents or the judgment that can come from having a blended family.”
Kim: "We have the first-hand experience, which is a helpful resource when developing those relationships with our customers beyond the products. We live it, breathe it, and see it. We are authentic and relatable because our experiences growing up mixed-race informed our brand and not the other way around. You see many products that have a story behind them, or perhaps they were riding the wave of a new trend, but for us, it was a personal need that we experienced growing up. We wanted to satisfy our personal needs and then help other people by creating a solution to a problem."
Products For Those Starting Their Natural Hair Journey
Wendi: "Agreed. Our staple is our Leave-In Conditioner. It’s still our best-selling product 17 years later."
On Kamala Harris, Cultural Lineage, and Hair
Kim: "While mixed-race people aren’t a new subject matter by any stretch of the imagination, people still find a hard time wrapping their mind around identity, family backgrounds, and all the other multiracial tropes. We’ve all heard the common questions of: What are you? What do you identify with? Who do you look more like? I think people are seeking relatability. People have to find a way to make sense for them when it’s such a complex subject."
Wendi: “For me, I think it’s about positioning. America isn’t used to seeing people of color or women in positions of power. It’s a foreign concept. They have a pattern of putting attention on aspects of their race or culture as opposed to their accomplishments. For example, when Gabby Douglas was competing in the Olympics and being scrutinized for her hair not lying down in a ponytail as if elite athletes during competition have room for such distractions as their hair when they are focusing on being the greatest."
On the Beauty Industry And Mixed-Race Hair
Kim: "I think Wendi and I have the only brand that is really about supporting and embodying being mixed-race, and we cemented that with our name. We see many brands now include multicultural models in their ads or use the term multicultural in their products in order to capitalize on what they view as a trend."
Wendi: "They haven’t tackled it yet."
On the Next Generation
Kim: "We’re at a time where parents are teaching their children worldly issues, how to accept who they are, and break against this idea of labels. We know when we step outside the door, we’re looked at as Black women, and we’re proud to be Black women, but we’re also proud to be bi-racial. We want to be judged for our character, morals, and what we can offer the world."
Wendi: "[Vice President Harris] is part of the change in what has been an evolving environment for some time now. We saw that wave coming when former President Barack Obama came into office in 2008, and his mixed-race identity was the subject of countless conversations. People are getting surprised every day when they take DNA tests and discover they aren’t just one thing. I’m hoping in the future it won’t be a subject that requires constant analysis."
On What's Next for Mixed Chicks
Kim: "We’re a global brand, and we’re continuing to expand internationally. This year, we plan to stand firmer in who we are and what we believe."
Wendi: "I’m excited to interact and engage with our customers while we continue to conduct business virtually. We want to continue creating products for them that will service their hair needs no matter their background or gender."