• Ariel Green

Sustainable Hair with Founders of Consciously Curly Co and Lillian Augusta

Updated: Dec 9, 2020



Today's podcast episode is all about hair! Women of color, particularly black women or those with textured hair, have a special relationship with our hair. We all have memories of sitting in someone's kitchen getting our hair pressed, relaxed, or braided. We have memories of loving our hair, hating our hair, and probably wishing to change our hair. Its such an important aspect of our lives and culture, so it's no surprise that hair care is something to be considered while on our sustainability journey.


In this episode I'm chatting with the founders of two small businesses that in my opinion, will shift how we look at sustainability in the hair industry.


First, we'll talk to Dominique about her low waste hair care brand, Consciously Curly Co. Then we sit down with Jannice and Nana about how they are building the first plant based braiding hair company. That's right - plant-based braiding hair!!


Shop Consciously Curly Co: https://consciouslycurlyco.com/

Follow Consciously Curly Co on IG: https://www.instagram.com/consciouslycurlyco/

Visit Lillian Augusta website: https://lillianaugustahair.com/

Follow Lillian Augusta on IG: https://www.instagram.com/lillianaugustahair/


LISTEN HERE: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play | Watch on YouTube


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TRANSCRIPTION:


Ariel:

Hello and welcome back to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. This show exists to connect black, brown and indigenous women who are interested in sustainability. Our goal is to inspire, encourage, and educate each other; from gardening to thrifting, to minimalism, to veganism and everywhere in between. We're all on a journey to taking care of our bodies and our planet. I'm your host, Ariel Green. 


Today's episode is all about hair. Women of color, particularly black women or those with textured hair have a special relationship with our hair. We all have memories of sitting in someone's kitchen, getting our hair pressed, relaxed or braided. We have memories of loving our hair, hating our hair and probably wishing to change our hair. It's such an important aspect of our lives and culture, so it's no surprise that hair care is something to be considered while on our sustainable journey. In this episode, I'm chatting with the founders of two small businesses, that in my opinion, will shift how we look at sustainability and the hair industry. 


First, we'll talk to Dominique about her low waste hair haircare brand, Consciously Curly. Then we sit down with Jannice and Nana about how they are building the first plant-based hair braiding company. Yes, you heard that right, plant-based braiding hair, stay tuned. 


Before we get started, I've been forgetting to remind all of the podcast's listeners that this season we've been posting video interviews on our YouTube channel. If you want to see everyone's hair from this episode, there is a link to the video in the show notes or you can subscribe to Sustainable Brown Girl on YouTube. Now onto the show.


Today's featured Sustainable Brown girl is Dominique, the founder of Consciously Curly Co, a sustainable hair care company. Originally from Northern California, Dominique later moved to Southern Utah where she became deeply connected with nature and learned about living sustainability. Now she's living in Oregon and I am so excited to talk to Dominique today about her sustainability journey and her business. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dominique. 


Dominique:

Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here, so excited with what you're doing with this community. 


Ariel:

Thank you. 


Dominique:

So awesome.


Ariel:

Obviously, first of all, I just have to acknowledge how amazing your hair looks right now, goals. 


Dominique:

Girl, yours too, but thank you so much. I just trimmed it too, right before this podcast. 


Ariel:

Well, it looks great. 


Dominique:

Thank you.


Ariel:

Okay. Let's start at the beginning, how did you become interested in sustainability? 


Dominique:

I didn't really grow up in the outdoors at all or have any kind of influence living sustainably. But, when I moved to Southern Utah at 19, I really became involved in hiking and climbing and mountain biking and just...so my outdoor activity has really strengthened my connection to nature and I just slowly developed a passion for environmentalism, wanting to protect the environment. I attended Dixie State University in...St. George, Utah is where I lived and so I went to Dixie State University and I studied biology with an emphasis on environmental science so I really just getting dove into it. I got to work in Zion National Park. 


Ariel:

Wow!


Dominique:

I just had a blast doing that and slowly started living more low waste, zero waste. That's kind of how it started. 


Ariel:

So by learning about the environment and the dangers, that are impacting... the bad things that are happening to the environment that led you into wanting to live more sustainably. 


Dominique:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And just knowing how much I enjoyed being outside, I want other people to experience that and if we don't take care of the earth, then it's not going to be enough for everyone to experience eventually. 


Ariel:

Yeah, exactly. So then, what led you to create Consciously Curly? 


Dominique:

When I was really deep in this transitioning to a more low waste lifestyle, I couldn't find anything for my hair type. I was using SheaMoisture and just some other products that I liked, but I just was tired of going through plastic bottle after plastic bottle, after plastic bottle. And I mean, we use a lot of products with curly hair, ethnic hair and textured hair, so I'd be going through six bottles a month, between shampoo and leave-in and gel and conditioner and a spray refresher. And so I was like, I'm going to see what I can do. I make a lot of my own home products, I'm just going to see if I can experiment with making hair care products. And so, I went to YouTube University and I first found out about Shea butter. I think we've all probably dabbled with Shea butter and it just evolved that over time into what it is today. I found that I liked my products better anyway and...


Ariel:

Where did it kind of connect where you started making it for yourself and then you were like, "Hey, I can sell this."


Dominique:

It came out of nowhere, like nowhere, I don't know! I just literally woke up one day and was like, "I should put this on the market." I definitely have gotten more involved with spirituality and doing more manifestation and meditation and I think ever since I've really dove into that, I've been having a lot more like authentic ideas. I never saw myself being someone who would run a company or just do anything like this ambitious, you know? It was just a complete shock that I even was like... I feel comfortable going there. It was January 2020, we had just moved from St. George to Oregon and I had bought a product because I was out of product and I was like, "I just need something to get me through my job interviews," and "I don't have time to make product right now because we're moving, we're unpacking," et cetera. 


Dominique:

And so, I bought the product and I broke out. I don't usually get breakouts, but I had pimples all over the corner of my face and my neck and my chest and so I was like, "Oh wow, this is a big deal. There are these products claiming that they're clean and I don't think this should happen if they're clean products." Just later in that week, I was like, I should put this out there, I should see if anyone would buy it. And right as soon as I had the idea, that's when COVID was starting to hit the United States. It had been going on other places, but yeah, it was like, "I don't know if this is such a good idea anymore," but I just decided to go with it. 


Ariel:

How has the transition been like, has it been easy to get the word out there? I'm sure you've had a good response to it. 


Dominique:

Yeah, I have had a really good response. I've been really blessed to attract a lot of authentic people, people who I have really good conversations with, found you on there. But, I also put a lot of intention into that. Manifesting the right people who will resonate with this product and people, I don't know who we can like bounce off each other I guess. I wouldn't say I have a huge following yet or a huge client base yet, but I have been kind of shocked by how loyal people have been already and the feedback that I'm getting is extremely positive. 


Ariel:

Yeah, definitely. I really feel like it's a unique product and something that has a really big need in the community. But, before we get too deep into that, tell us what types of products you create. 


Dominique:

Yeah. I do the basics, so I do shampoo bars, conditioner bars. The shampoo bars, there are two different types; one for dry hair and scalp. Typically, people with textured hair have drier hair and scalp, we don't produce the same amount of oils, and then I have a normal to oily hair shampoo bar. So they have a little bit of different ingredients in them that cater to those hair types. And then, I have conditioner bars, treatment; deep conditioners, protein treatments. I have something called ayurvedic repair mask, which is a bunch of raw herbs and botanicals that work to just go in repair gaps in your follicles. And then, I have a growth tincture and some styling products, so a leave-in conditioner and curl nectar is similar to a gel, but it's not a gel, it's just a very unique product. It's like a wet based sticky kind of substance that isn't sticky when it dries, but, it's a curl definer and a hold provider. 


Ariel:

Yes. You sent me some of your products, I used them this morning, I just did a quick wash and go. I used the shampoo bar for dry hair and the conditioner bar and then I used the curl nectar and what was the other one you said? 


Dominique:

Miracurl curl cream, leave-in.


Ariel:

Yeah. I used both of those and LOVE IT so far! Of course, I'm going to use the deep conditioner. I'm going to do that this weekend when I have a little bit more time. But, the thing that I really love about your company is that it's zero waste or low waste and that's just something that you cannot find, especially for leave-in and deep conditioner products. I have the curl nectar here and as you can see, it is in an aluminum bottle, the deep conditioner is in a glass bottle and we have the shampoo bar, which is also in a tin can. Where has this been? It's so amazing that you're doing this. Why did you decide to take the plunge, to start your business by making it zero waste or low waste? 


Dominique:

Ultimately, I wanted a space for girls like us, like the Sustainable Brown Girl community, the girls who...I mean, I know we're out there, it just seems like we're scattered. 


Ariel:

Yeah. 


Dominique:

It seems like we're left out of the conversation a lot. There's a lot of hair products, hair care companies that are low waste and zero waste, but I can never find a product for me. I was just, I guess, annoyed where I just feel like black women are left out of the conversation a lot and I just kind of felt like, no more. Our hair is a big deal to us. It's in our culture, it's everything. I get chills just thinking about it and we've really learned to embrace our hair and we need to honor the people who also decide to live a sustainable lifestyle and want to honor their hair and have bomb hair. That's really why. That's been the biggest motive behind all of it, is that intersectional marriage between the curly hair community and environmentalism, there needs to be a place for us. 


Ariel:

I love that. Just seeing you starting out and being able to achieve these sustainability goals, it makes me look at these other companies who are more established, why haven't they done this? My question to you is, what challenges have you faced with trying to be a sustainable haircare brand? 


Dominique:

I'd say the biggest challenge that I've faced is, finding reliable suppliers and you have to do a lot of research to be able to claim that the products that you're using or the ingredients that you're getting are also sustainable because you can't really be a sustainable company if you're not utilizing sustainable brands. I look for fair trade certifications, packaging, certifications that indicate that they are really what they are claiming that they are. For me, that's been the biggest challenge. I don't think that really interprets to a bigger company. The reason that's a challenge for me is because I don't have huge access to capital, whereas these bigger companies do. I honestly, I don't know what the biggest challenge for everyone else is, that's me individually. I'm a small business that's funding myself and I imagine if I had access to more capital, I wouldn't have so many supplying issues because I could just buy large amounts at a time. But, I think a lot of other small companies who are doing the sustainable thing, also buy in small quantities so, the competition is high. Beyond that, I can't say that it's that challenging. It's a lot of research, it's a lot of learning, but I don't think there's an excuse. There are companies out there, there are suppliers out there doing it right, so it's not like there's nobody that you can buy from. I don't think there are excuses. 


Ariel:

Yeah. No, I totally agree. Definitely. Is there anything new that we can look forward to from Consciously Curly Co? 


Dominique:

Yeah. In the immediate future... So what's funny is, it's Consciously Curly Co, but I've had a lot of people with straight hair wanting to try the product, which is great, it's for them too. I use the name curly, to signal women like me who have curly hair, textured hair, but all the treatments, all the shampoo bars, conditioner bars really are for everyone. But with that, I've had a lot of women with straight hair asking for a topical, end of the hair type balm or oil, just something that they could help with their dry ends, so I'm working on that and that's coming really soon, probably in the next month or two. And I'm also working on a sealing butter for protective hairstyles. And then, within the next year, I want to start supplying more sustainable styling tools and that is just a lot of research because there are so many awesome things out there that you first glance think are sustainable, like the bio-plastics, they claim to be sustainable but then, you do more research and you just realize it's not always what you would think at first glance. There's a lot of research to go into that and I would like to network more with people who know more about that type of stuff than I do, but, I would love to implement styling tools, scarfs, stuff like that, all sustainable. 


Ariel:

That's awesome. Do you feel like your biology background helped with creating your formulas and just understanding biology better?


Dominique:

Yeah. I'm so grateful for my experience in college because I had the typical chemistry classes, biology classes, but then I also had that environmental science part of it and my experience working in Zion National Park and getting to learn the politics behind that and just the efforts that are made and the challenges that are faced, helps me as a business owner to know how I can be more supportive to the cause, to environmentalism and having taking chemistry classes really helped with that for sure.


Ariel:

Yeah. That's awesome. It's just like the perfect marriage of all of your experience.


Dominique:

Yeah. And it's fun. Yeah. I love it.


Ariel:

Yeah, that's great. So how can anyone be more sustainable in regards to their hair care routine?


Dominique:

Oh, I think there are hundreds of ways, super simple. One way when you're in the shower and you're washing turn off the water, shampoo your hair, rinse it, turn it off. I shampoo my hair, turn it off. And then I condition my hair and I like to let my conditioner sit for like 6 to 10 minutes. I get it all in there and then I turn the water off and I shave my legs and then I rinse, wash my body, turn the water off. Don't just leave your shower running the whole time you're in there. That's huge. Literally just dumping water down the drain.


Ariel:

True.


Dominique:

Yeah. So that's one way. If you're planning on switching to products, use the ones you have first, don't just throw those away and make them go to waste, especially if they're working for you. Definitely, next purchase buy more sustainably but finish what you've got, of course.


Ariel:

That's great. Yeah. Those are super good tips. Definitely turning off the water and to use up all of your products. It can be so frustrating when you learn about the awful chemicals and stuff and the plastic and all that in your like products that you have been using for years, but you'd have to just bite the bullet and use it all up.


Dominique:

Yeah. And when you do find a sustainable company, with us, utilize the options, we offer naked packaging. You don't have to get a tin every time you order a new shampoo bar, we'll send you a new shampoo bar without the tin, keep your last tin, and same with refills, experiment with that. It may not be your favorite thing, but give it a try at first and maybe you will like it, you'll realize how much you're saving if you just have the same bottle and pump for six months to a year. That's huge!


Ariel:

Yeah.


Dominique:

That's so big.


Ariel:

It really is. Like I mentioned earlier, you sent me a bunch of products, which I will be using over the next few months until I use it all up and then I know I'm going to order more. I'm going to be posting a video on my YouTube channel Naturally Mermaid, so check it out if you want to learn more about her products and see them in action on my hair and let us know Dominique, where everyone can find you online.


Dominique:

All right. So mainly on Instagram, @consciouslycurlyco, I'm also on TikTok where I do silly videos @consciouslycurlyco, basically any platform Consciously Curly Co. Those are my two main.


Ariel:

Perfect. Please go follow her. She really gives great tips on her Instagram about how to use her products, but even not just using her products, but just how to take care of your hair better and I've found it so helpful already.


Dominique:

Yay!


Ariel:

Thanks again for joining us, Dominique.


Dominique:

Yes. Thank you so much for having me.



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Lillian Augusta Interview


Ariel:

Did you know that nearly a hundred million pounds of plastic is produced from braiding hair each year? I didn't know that either. That fun fact it's brought by our next guests, the founders of Lillian Augusta, a plant-based braiding hair company, since recording this interview a couple of months ago, these ladies have participated in and won several pitches for their emerging brand, including the Essence Making Moves Black and Positively Golden pitch competition. As of November 2020, they haven't started selling products just yet, but there is already a lot of buzz around them. Todays featured Sustainable Brown Girls are the founders of Lillian Augusta, a plant-based braiding hair company, Jannice Newson, an environmental scientist and Nana Britwum, a biologist. They've joined forces to develop a braiding hair that eliminate the discomfort of synthetic hair and is a hundred percent biodegradable. I'm so excited to talk with these ladies today about the mission behind Lillian Augusta and discuss how they plan to revolutionize the black hair care industry. Thank you so much for joining us today, ladies.


Nana:

Thanks for having us. 


Jannice:

Great to be here.


Ariel:

Just to get started, can you tell us about yourselves and how you became interested in sustainability?


Nana :

I think my journey with sustainability all began in high school when I took AP Environmental Sciences and I learned about the population and it's out of control and I remember telling my dad, "It's the end, we're all going to die, this is too much." And he just comforted me and reminded me human ingenuity is a thing. We can move pass this, there's so much we can do to be more sustainable. And from there, I got involved with Future Farmers of America, which is a super white organization, but, it was a really wonderful thing to be a part of for me when I was in high school. And then from there, I studied plant science and cultural science in college and I was always super interested in plant breeding for developing countries, but I never really thought about doing anything domestically or actually solving any of my personal needs until I got to grad school and met Jannice .


Jannice:

My first hands-on experience with nature was at an internship in high school. And I was out working by a lake and looking at different plants. And I was just like, "Wow, I didn't know people did this as a job. I like this and I want to do it." So after that, I continued to seek out other opportunities to be outside. I didn't realize you could just be outside and it could be a job. I ended up majoring in environmental science, doing a bunch of more aquatic plant research and that's brought me to where I am today.


Ariel:

That's awesome. So you guys met in college. What college did you go to?


Nana :

We met in grad school.


Ariel:

Oh, gotcha. What grad school?


Nana :

University of Michigan.


Ariel:

Awesome. Now you can kind of go into what started your interest in what you guys are doing now?


Jannice:

Sure. Even though we both went to Michigan for grad school, we actually met in Seattle. We were at a retreat and we both realized, "Oh, we go to the same school, we should start hanging out." So we started spending time together in Michigan at school. And we went out one night and I had some braids in and I had just put them in, and I was complaining because my scalp was itching, my neck was in pain. My skin started to break out and we were just going back and forth, "Why does this happen whenever we wear braids?" This really shouldn't be happening just from putting something in your hair. And then we started to think about, well, it's not just personal discomfort, it's much more than that. The hair is made from plastic so it's bad for the environment, it's also made from carcinogenic materials, so there could be some health concerns involved too. And after that conversation, we said, "Let solve this problem?" We love sustainability. We have a stem background and we also are very intimately tied to the problem because we have the problem ourselves so we should solve it. Since we both done a lot of work with plants in different capacities, we gravitated towards a plant-based solution, which is how we landed on plant-based braiding hair. With a plant-based braiding hair, one, it's lightweight, much lighter than the plastic so that takes out the neck pain that you experience. The plastic hair does have some chemical coding that causes those allergic reactions, which would not be present on the plant-based, so it makes for a much more comfortable experience when wearing the hair and since it's plant-based, it's biodegradable, so it can be returned to the earth as opposed to the plastic hair, which won't break down within our lifetime.


Ariel:

All right let's talk about what Lillian Augusta, what the materials are made out of, you mentioned that it's plant-based so what types of plant materials are you guys using?


Nana:

So right now we're still in the product development phase, but we've been doing a majority of our experiments with Phragmites which is an invasive wetland species annually, millions of dollars are spent on just removing the plant and it's commonly done by burning it or spraying herbicides. Our alternative is, why not create an added value product instead of spending all this energy and polluting even more by getting rid of it.


Ariel:

I guess as a biologist and environmental scientists, you guys have studied lots of different types of plants. What made you decide on the one that you decided on?


Jannice:

Sure. Within my experience in college and in grad school, I did a lot of work in wetlands. So that is where the plant Phragmites grows and I was familiar with the plant. I had seen it myself and I thought about it once we had this conversation of making plant-based hair and we were like, "What should we make it out of, we got to pick a plant?", And I was like, "Oh, Phragmites". One, people are throwing it away, they can't wait to get rid of it and it has five risks composition that can be moved into something like hair. it's been used to make things like hats, baskets, ropes, so we said, "Why not make it into hair? "


Ariel:

That's so cool. As far as distribution goes, do you harvest it yourself and send it to the manufacturers?


Nana :

Right now, that's what we've been doing, harvesting ourselves, storing it in the basement and going from there.


Ariel:

Okay. That'll be really interesting to see how you guys grow and make it more of a......


Nana:

Scalable?


Ariel:

There you go.


Nana:

Dont worry it won't be just us two doing it forever.


Ariel:

I don't really know much about how to create things from plants. What's your process with creating the hair?


Jannice:

We've been going out ourselves and cutting these plants down. They can grow up to 12 feet tall and there's some within our area, since it is a Midwestern plant. We go out, we've been cutting down the Phragmites and we were working in a lab before the COVID pandemic closed down the school. The process itself is proprietary so we can't tell you exactly what we are doing, but we're taking the plants and we are processing them into a more fibrous version so you're able to have the actual fiber from the Phragmites removed from leaves and flowers, so on and so forth. And once we have a better developed version of our prototype, we're looking to start sharing it with people so that they can try it out, let us know, do you like this? What don't you like? How can be improved?


Ariel:

Where in the process are you, have you started making prototypes and using it on yourselves?


Nana:

We've started making prototypes and as Jannice described with everything with COVID, since we don't have, access to lab space, we've started working with manufacturers for them to enhance the prototypes that we do have since they have those capabilities. And we're really excited. We've been going back and forth with folks and we're excited to get it to something that we can start sharing with the people that we know and strangers, honestly too, that are willing to try it out.


Ariel:

Yeah.


Nana:

It's exciting to be creating something, not just for us, but for the community, because there's so many times where we're just given stuff and we're like, "All right, we'll make it work." I can think of all the times I have bought plastic hair and then I washed it with Apple cider vinegar that I have to let it dry and then I break…It's just too much work. Why do we have to manipulate things so much just to get like the minimum effect?


Jannice:

We really want people to know that we're making this hair for black women. We are black women making hair for other black women. It's not just something that we want to sell. We want to be able to use it ourselves. We want our family and our friends to be able to use this. We want people to be excited to wear hair and have braids in to be comfortable and also be able to connect to the brand. Right now there are no other black mainstream braiding hair brands. If you go to the beauty supply store, those braiding hair brands are not black owned, and we want to change that. We want to be able to offer something within the community.


Nana:

Absolutely. And it's just so crazy to think I've been wearing braids since I was a kid and I just knew, yeah, the hair would be cute, but it would be itchy, it would burn and I would just deal with it. That's not normal and I think it's so important for us to put our needs first and to have companies that can do that as well.


Ariel:

Yeah, definitely. Especially seeing things that are made for us by us. We obviously care more about the ingredients we want to make sure that it's not going to be harmful to ourselves. So it is really great to see you guys creating something for black people and knowing that it's going to be good for you. And it's not just to make a quick profit, it’s really from personal experience and caring for the environment so that's really great to see. If you can come up with a better product and especially something that's plant-based because we know how important it is to protect our environment. This is just so revolutionary and it is really exciting, so I'm excited for you guys. How's it going to compare to traditional hair, as far as the look and the feel?


Nana:

We know that braiding hair is easily manipulated into a lot of different styles, it comes in different lengths. It comes in different colors. We want to keep all those good characteristics that come with braiding hair. Of course, we haven't completely sorted this out since we're still only working with prototypes, but that is what we're looking to provide to our customers. But without the toxins, without the plastic pollution, without having the wash it in Apple cider vinegar, having an itchy scalp. We want people to have quality hair but safe hair too.


Ariel:

Yeah, definitely. Since you mentioned, you don't have to rinse it in the Apple cider vinegar what's the projected care routine, about how long will it last?


Nana:

We project that it'll last, just as long as your standard plastic hair, if you want to wear it for two weeks to three months, it's up to you, so that would be the standard.


Ariel:

Wow. That's awesome. The big question is when will it be available to purchase?


Jannice:

We're planning on launching a product line for people to purchase on our website next year.


Ariel:

Awesome. Do you have any ideas on the type of styles you want to offer first?


Nana:

We want to start with the standard, braiding hair, the 1B hair for braiding, regular braids, the straight hair and obviously we would expand and do passion braids and all those things that people are interested in.


Ariel:

All right. And where can everyone find you guys?


Jannice:

For sure. Our website is lillianaugustahair.com. Follow us on Instagram @lillianaugustahair. We're also on Twitter @lilaugustahair and we're on Facebook @Lillian Augusta.


Ariel:

Yes, please go follow them because they are doing amazing things. And I really look forward to your launch. It's going to be really exciting. Thanks so much for joining us ladies.


Jannice:

Thank you:


Nana:

Thanks for having us.


Ariel:

Thank you so much for listening to the Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. Be sure to subscribe and share it. If you loved it and leave a review, you can find us on Instagram @sustainablebrowngirl and check out our Facebook community. We would love to have you there until next time. Let's continue to make healthy choices for the health of our planet and the health of our bodies. Thanks for listening.



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