Tiffini Gatlin—a former corporate bank executive—turned her 20-year side hustle of braiding and protective styling hair into a beauty brand by creating the first pre-curled and looped synthetic crochet hair. With a successful sale of her first synthetic hair brand, Curlkalon Hair Collection, Gatlin expanded her vision for creating safe and affordable synthetic hair extensions with the launch of her second brand, Latched and Hooked Beauty.
Her products are a staple in the synthetic hair industry, catching the attention of celebrities such as Gabrielle Union and mainstream media outlets including Allure, which named her brand one of the best for women of color.
In this interview, Gatlin expands on her career pivot and future plans.
Black Enterprise: Tell us about how you got started in the industry and what was your inspiration?
Gatlin: I actually started in the beauty industry when I was 16-years-old. Ms. Gloria, a popular braider in my neighborhood, asked me if I was interested in learning how to braid and told me how much money I could make, so I decided to give it a try. For a few months on the weekends, I’d walk almost a mile to her home, and she’d teach me different techniques and even allowed me to practice on her clients. Several months later, I started building my own clientele. I used my friend Naima and other popular girls in my high school as models to display my work and attract clients strictly by word of mouth.
I didn’t pick braiding back up as a side hustle until I became an entrepreneur in 2010. I used the money earned from braiding hair to fund my entrepreneurial goals. In 2014, I took notice of girls on Instagram using a century-old method called crochet braiding to create voluminous curls, and I thought the style was amazing and the perfect style hack for girls who were transitioning, unable to grasp the “perfect rod set” or just wanted to switch up her look for a few weeks. I started trying the style on my clients and although I loved the results I hated the process which consisted of using boiling water to form the synthetic hair into a curl. Because synthetic hair is nothing more than a polymer (plastic), the use of hot water makes the style “set” and voila, you have perfect curls for weeks without any additional maintenance.
You created and manufactured a new product overseas. Can you share what that process was like?
As a natural creative, I became interested in how to make the process safer so that women would not be subjected to hot water burns and professional hairstylist would not have to bear the thought of liabilities due to the method. Not to mention, the time commitment was gruesome and unappealing to a stylist who worked to get more bodies in their chair. After searching in beauty supply stores, I realized there were no unwefted, pre-curled, and looped options. From that moment I became inspired to embark on a journey to design and manufacture the first pre-curled and looped crochet hair that matched the texture of black women’s unprocessed hair. In 2015, I launched my first beauty company, Curlkalon Hair Collection, which was acquired in 2018. Since then, I have expanded my vision of offering quality beauty convenience with the launch of Latched and Hooked Beauty.
Creating a product overseas actually wasn’t overly complicated. We found a few candidates, and I interviewed four prospects via Skype and eventually hired a woman based on her experience with locating factories that specialized in OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) development. After signing an NDA with her, we developed a short term contract that outlined her engagement with our business, which included being a liaison and helping us negotiate pricing and finding a factory that could design the prototype and help us break through the language barrier. Once we began production with the factory we chose, we worked directly with the factory, and the liaison relationship ended. I’d say the most challenging part was trusting that what we agreed to would actually show up and not being there in person to observe the process from beginning to end made me feel uneasy.
If someone was interested in inventing a new product, what three things are a must to ensure success and why?
If you are interested in inventing a new product I would recommend these three steps:
- Research your target market – How do you know your target market needs this product? Have you done a focus group? Have you identified a problem? Just because everyone else is doing it and you may have seen someone else become successful doesn’t make it a good idea.
- Create a prototype – Creating a prototype can help you determine how to approach the build-out of your product, you can quickly rule out the approaches that don’t work to focus on the ones that do work.
- Evaluate the manufacturing process for your invention – Can you manufacture in the U.S. or do you need to locate a manufacturer overseas? Knowing your options will help you put costs associated with MOQ’s (minimum order quantity) into perspective as well as give you an idea of how long the process will take to deliver the final goods to your consumer.
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