Ease and joy are two things Carolina Contreras, Founder and CEO of Miss Rizos, hopes to bring to people with her upcoming products designed for curly and afro-textured hair.
“I knew, I knew, what we had was special. And I knew there was kind of an empty shelf both online and in stores waiting for this product to happen,” she said.
Contreras, who is Dominican American, will see her products sold at beauty retailer Sephora. It’s part of Sephora’s Accelerate 2022 brand incubator program, focused on mentoring and supporting aspiring female beauty entrepreneurs.
Beyond hair care, Contreras sees its Miss Rizos products as activism. She first made herself known through her blog, Miss Rizos, celebrating natural hair, as well as through her social media presence and a few hair salons she has opened.
Embrace the dark, but what about the hair?
The concept of Miss Rizos – rizos means curls in Spanish – was born in 2011. After college, Contreras decided to spend time in the Dominican Republic, where she was born.
She wanted to know what it meant to be dark within the Dominican diaspora; it was not an openly discussed topic in the community, she said. A two-month trip turned into a 10-year adventure.
In the Dominican Republic, routine blowouts to straighten her hair didn’t last, and choosing between enjoying a day at the beach and keeping her hair straight became a burden.
The premise of returning to her home country was to learn more about her Afro-Latino roots, but she held back on the one thing that would bring her closer: her hair.
Contreras said that one day two college professors approached her while she was at the beach. They suggested she stop tanning before her skin got too dark. Contreras was not oblivious to the widespread problem of colorism in her home country. She let them know she wasn’t worried about going darker, among other things, but what they told her later felt like a slap in the face.
“You talk about embracing the dark, but you’re relaxing your hair,” she said, they told her.
This has become Contreras’ warning signal. She realized she wasn’t straightening her hair because it was her choice – it was the only thing she knew. Her mother used to straighten her hair from an early age. Whenever her natural hair started growing out and money wasn’t tight, a hair straightener was the thing to do. Over time, straight hair has been the ultimate definition of beauty.
After teachers’ feedback, she began cutting her hair and learned to style it in its natural, curly form. As she came into contact with her darkness, she also found her purpose.
Contreras’ online community grew as she taught women how to take care of their hair on social media and erase the negative connotations associated with Afro-textured hair.
As she shared her hair journey on her blog, people in the Dominican Republic asked her if she could do the same with their hair. The only experience she had, besides doing her own hair, was a few things she picked up working in her aunt’s salon in the States.
In 2014, Contreras opened one of the first afro-textured and curly hair salons in the Dominican Republic. The salon was a huge success and in 2019 she opened her second salon, Miss Rizos NYC, in Washington Heights. The New York salon closed during the pandemic, although she plans to reopen it at some point.
Before applying to the Sephora Accelerate program, creating her hair care line was always a priority. She had tried in the Dominican Republic, but things hadn’t worked out.
The Sephora program is in its early stages, so Contreras can’t say much about what the final hair care line will include.
“I want people to be able to slide their hands through their hair with our products and feel that ease and joy around their curls,” she said, emphasizing her goal of celebrating Afro-textured hair.
When customers pick up the product, Contreras wants them to know and feel that it is a Dominican-owned product line.
Fund Women of Color
The Accelerate program is now in its seventh year and has evolved to focus on Black, Indigenous and Women of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs. This year’s program will launch 10 BIPOC beauty brands.
Access to funds is particularly difficult, especially for women. According to to Crunchbase data, “For the first eight months of 2021, companies with all-female founders raised just 2.2% of all venture capital funds.”
“Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things,” said Priya Venkatesh, senior vice president of merchandising at Sephora. “America offers an excellent market for entrepreneurs; however, it is hard. You have to get capital, you have to have connections. No one is born with a knowledge of ‘Let me build a brand from scratch’, there are many aspects to that.
While brands from previous Accelerate programs were not always sold at Sephora, the program pivoted and committed to launching all brands at Sephora in line with its commitment to dedicate 15% of its storage space to Accelerate-owned businesses. blacks.