When Tabitha Brown sits down to speak with me, the first thing I notice is obviously "Donna," her stunning afro. Brown has become just as known online for her hair as for her vegan cooking skills and motivational speaking. The social media superstar—who has 4.2 million followers on Instagram alone—regularly shares glimpses of her wash day routine and styling hacks. So, it's no surprise she launched a haircare brand, appropriately named "Donna's Recipe." The brand—which she co-founded and self-funded alongside social entrepreneur Gina Woods—debuted two years ago. Since 2020, Donna's Recipe has steadily grown, amassing a fan base of nearly 230K people on Instagram and landing a partnership with Ulta Beauty this year.
Though the brand has existed for two years, Brown's path to beauty entrepreneurship began several years ago when she went natural. In 2017, she big chopped; by 2018, she began to let her hair grow out. "In the back, [my hair] was struggling and very thin," she explains. "I kept trying new products. I was new to being natural, so I was reading the labels to see if [the ingredients] were vegan because I was more concerned about what I was putting on my [hair and skin]. From 2018 to 2019, I was trying to figure things out."
It was during this time her hair's famous moniker came about. "In 2018, I was cooking in my kitchen, and I looked in the camera and noticed [my hair] was growing straight right at the top," she recalls. "I was like, Why is this hair sticking straight up looking like Don King? So, I decided to call my hair Donna, and it just stuck."
For Brown, making her hair journey fun and humorous was a key part of the process. In doing so, she has also helped inspire her followers to do the same. "I wanted people to feel empowered about their hair," Brown shares. "I embraced mine and gave her a personality. I wanted people to know that no matter how your hair rose, embrace it and have fun. Because some days [your hair] won't do what you want it to. Some days, Donna is not attached to me and has her own agenda."
This spirit of hair positivity and community clearly runs through Donna's Recipe—with one of the brand's taglines being, "Let's go on this healthy hair care journey together." The brand has struck a chord with its inclusivity, vibrant visuals, and culturally relevant ingredients. At its core, though, the brand is an homage to Brown's grandmother. Case in point: the brand's new Sweet Potato Pie Collection.
"My granny was our town baker—everyone came to her house to buy her pies," Brown tells me. "Her baking is something I didn't get from her. Because of that, I wanted to still pay tribute to my grandmother, my mother, my family, and all the women and great bakers [through Donna's Recipe]. We love sweet potato pie."
The recently launched line adds to the brand's existing lineup of hair gummies and oils. It includes five easy-to-use products—shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, hair and scalp oil, and hair cream. In addition to smelling and tasting delicious, sweet potatoes provide ample hair benefits. They're rich in beta-carotene, which helps with cell growth and prevents dullness. As a vegan, Brown is very selective about the ingredients that go into her products, taking time to ensure they are all sustainable and efficacious. She offers the brand's use of silk amino acids as another example. "When it comes to ingredients, a lot of people use silk amino acids, but silk amino acids are made from worms," she notes. "Because we are vegan, we had to source a plant-based silk amino acid. We had to find a lab that knew how to do that and has had success before. Then, we had to test it to make sure it worked. There's so much testing that goes into [product development]."
Building Donna's Recipe from the ground up has proven to be the ultimate learning experience for Brown. "It's not easy," she says. "There's a lot of sleepless nights, long hours, and learning while you go. The big thing with entrepreneurship is that we don't know it all. When you start a business, you're trying to figure it out as you go."
She credits her ability to successfully adapt and learn to her entertainment career's slow and steady progression. Before becoming the globally known influencer she is today, Brown worked at places like UPS while trying to rack up roles in indie projects. "If I hadn't been working while I was waiting for over 20 years, I would have come in and lost probably every opportunity that came my way or be completely broke by now," she expresses. "But I knew to be patient. I also knew not to chase money because that's when people mess up a lot of times. Their goal is money, but the goal should be success. Money will come, but true success is in completing something."
Brown completing her dream of launching a hair care brand has allowed her to join the ranks of the inspiring Black beauty entrepreneurs who came before her. While some may say the industry has become saturated, it's clear there's a need for more brands like Donna's Recipe. A 2022 McKinsey report found that only 2.5% of brands in the beauty industry are Black-owned or Black-founded.
This is a fact Brown doesn't take lightly. Following her debut in Ulta Beauty, Brown is committed to continuing to make moves that uplift and serve her community. "I don't care about putting things out for money," she says. "It's got to be right. My name is all I have. I built my brand on trust and honesty. So I have to take my time and do it the right way."