A Look Inside Taliah Waajid’s Journey to Building a Hair Care Empire

The African American hair care market is a multi-billion dollar industry. On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, business consultant for the UGA Small Business Development Center, sits down with one of the true pioneers on the Atlanta scene. Taliah Waajid is the founder of Taliah Waajid Brand, World Hair and Healthy Lifestyle Event, and Uncle Jimmy Products. Taliah is going to share her story and journey to the top of the hair care market.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome into the playbook Taliah.

Taliah:
Thank you for having me, Mark.

Mark Collier:
I am very pleased to have you in today because I said you are one of the icons in the Atlanta hair care market, and thank for you. Thank you for are coming in today.

Taliah:
You’re so welcome. And I’m pleased to be here.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. For those who don’t know as much about you as I do, my audience, why don’t you kind of give me a little bit of history and your background and what led you to the hair care industry that you’re in today?

Taliah:
I always loved doing hair. My first clients were my doll babies and from there family members and the neighbors.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
Always loved doing natural hair.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Taliah:
And I would have to say that my mom caused that because when I was growing up, all of the girls had perms and relaxes.

Mark Collier:
Oh yeah.

Taliah:
I wanted one so bad. My mother just refused. She said, “You’re not having one. If God wanted you to have straight hair, he would’ve given it to you.” So, I had to find creative ways to do my big, natural bush in these styles and blend in with my friends and stuff. I can say I was a client myself, too.

Mark Collier:
Okay. Okay.

Taliah:
That’s really where the love for natural hair came in. I learned the different things that my hair was able to do in this natural state.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Taliah:
When I was able to get a relaxer when I became teenager, older, I noticed I didn’t really like my hair relaxed. I liked the big, bushy hair.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
And all the diverse fertility that it had.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
I would say that’s my real intro to my love for natural hair.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
And my love for hair care just came from making people happy after I did the hairstyle.

Mark Collier:
It was natural offshoot of that.

Taliah:
Yeah. Exactly. I would say that’s pretty much how it started, with my doll babies then me being told, no, I can’t get a perm. I learned what this natural hair does when it rains, when it’s too hot, when it’s wet, when it’s too dry. Then for me just taking what I’ve learned about the hair to customers, to my neighbors and my friends.

Mark Collier:
I guess the old adage is true. All things happen for a reason.

Taliah:
Exactly.

Mark Collier:
So, your mom telling you no-

Taliah:
Yeah.

Mark Collier:
Was the impetus that led you to the business that you’re in today.

Taliah:
Exactly. Well, pretty much.

Mark Collier:
All right. So, hair care market, you have natural hair products for men, women, kind of explain what product lines you have.

Taliah:
I have how many collections? Probably about six.

Mark Collier:
Six different collections.

Taliah:
My first collection I started in 1996.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
That was the first collection for natural hair, period, on the market. There was nothing available. Just to go back a little bit until when I started doing hair, I didn’t have a hair salon. First I started in my Auntie’s basement doing hair and doing customers hair and then-

Mark Collier:
Many businesses have started in garages or basements.

Taliah:
Exactly. Yeah. With a mirror in the chair and that was it. The funny thing is I had these high end clients that would come to sit in that chair in the basement.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
Because they loved what I had to offer and there weren’t a lot of people offering it and there were definitely no products available to care for people that had natural hair. I wanted to embrace their natural hair. That’s where that started. Just me developing my first collection in 1996, Black Earth products, which is still very relevant today. We looked at the sales on that collection and over the last two years, increased double digits.

Mark Collier:
Phenomenal.

Taliah:
It’s been around for over 20 years.

Mark Collier:
Wow.

Taliah:
Yeah. And so we also have our Curls Waves and Natural line and our Apple & Aloe collection, those collections are for people that want to embrace their curls and natural curls.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
We have a men’s grooming line, Uncle Jimmy’s, which I named after my favorite uncle. I have seven brothers, but when it came to men’s grooming, I named this after Uncle Jimmy, because he is always so dapper and smelled nice, looked great. I just named that collection after him because I think every man should be an Uncle Jimmy man.

Mark Collier:
I love it.

Taliah:
I have a children’s collection, Kinky Wavy Natural.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
Just recently I invested into a company, a startup black company, a young lady owned it and we have just tripled, quadrupled her sales and it’s a children’s collection.

Mark Collier:
I was going to ask, what type of products is it? So, it’s a children’s collection. Now, are her products a direct competitor to your children’s product line? How are they different?

Taliah:
Well, yeah, competitor… I would say we’re on the shelves together. I have them next to my products.

Mark Collier:
So, they’re complimentary products then, right?

Taliah:
I would say they’re pretty much competitors because when the customer goes to the shelf, she’s making a decision.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Taliah:
Which collection she wants to purchase and luckily I’m invested in both.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Mark Collier:
So you win either way.

Taliah:
I win either way and the customer wins because of the experience that I put into it.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
Knowing about what the hair needs, natural hair, curly hair, children’s hair needs.

Mark Collier:
Let’s talk about those differences for a minute. Obviously there are a lot of options out there for ladies a and gentlemen who are looking for hair products. What makes your product so unique and why have they been so successful?

Taliah:
I think passion has a lot to do with it in any business.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
I think that no matter what you do, if you just have a great love for it, you really care about how the customer receives it, how it affects the customer, you want to be very pleased and happy about what you put out. I think that has a lot to do with it. I have a lot of years of experience, natural hair, knowing what the hair needs, what it doesn’t need.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Taliah:
And that helps as well. I think those are the things that set me apart. I have great ingredients of course.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Taliah:
But a lot of the competitors do, too.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Taliah:
But it’s just that extra… I think the consumers know about my passion and my care. It’s not just about money.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Taliah:
And the fact that I do so much in the natural hair industry as far as the show and different things. It’s not just about me and me having the only collection. I want the consumer to have choices and let them make their own decisions. So, that’s why we do the show and bring all the competitors in.

Mark Collier:
It’s all about the brand experience and you are a master at promoting your brand. That’s what it’s all about.

Taliah:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
But your mention of the show leads me to my next question. You have a signature event.

Taliah:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
It is the World Natural Hair and Healthy Lifestyle Event. Tell me all about that because it’s a big deal here in Atlanta. Tell me all about it.

Taliah:
Yeah and not just in Atlanta. We have people that come from as far as Europe.

Mark Collier:
Oh, wow.

Taliah:
France, they come from Africa, they come to this event. This is going to be our 23rd year at the event.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Taliah:
We two years because of COVID.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
What’s so phenomenal to me about it is that the base grows and it stays very relevant. It’s still very relevant. That’s how we’ve been able to keep it going all of these years. We have generations of family that are coming to this event. We have couples that have met at the event and started families there. Every year is another baby or they have another story about, “Oh, I met someone.” Or, “Now we’re married and look at our family.” It’s just a great event. I lose words for it because it’s just so emotional for me.

Mark Collier:
Right.

Taliah:
We started the event, we had less than a hundred booths, 150 people. Now we’re up to 30,000 people over the two day weekend.

Mark Collier:
30,000 attendees.

Taliah:
350 booths. Yes.

Mark Collier:
Wow. Over 300 vendors.

Taliah:
Yes. Over 300 vendors. It started out because of my love for natural hair. I wanted people to know the options, that you have a choice. If you want to wear your hair relaxed, that’s fine. Just make sure it’s healthy but here’s another option that you have. And look at all the beautiful hairstyles, all of the different companies that you can talk to about it.

Taliah:
That’s where the show started. From there, we added the health aspect because when people start thinking about what they’re putting on their hair and on their skin, they start thinking about, “What am I putting in my body? What am I eating? What am I putting…?”

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
That’s how it morphed into the natural hair, healthy. It’s a lifestyle event.

Mark Collier:
It’s a lifestyle event. It’s my understanding’s there’s not just exhibitors, but you have seminars, learning opportunities and workshops.

Taliah:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
Which kind of all add to the ambiance of the event.

Taliah:
Yes. We have over 40 free consumer workshops. We have business workshops for entrepreneurs. This year we bringing in some people from finance companies, the ones that invest into your company.

Mark Collier:
Oh yes. Venture capitalists.

Taliah:
Yes. Venture capitalists. To just talk to these small companies, so as they’re growing their business, they can make the best decisions about how they want to maneuver.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
Because for most of us, we’re entrepreneurs, we don’t up a lot of business savvy and knowledge.

Mark Collier:
That’s true.

Taliah:
I just felt that was very important. I didn’t have it, but luckily I had a mentor and I’m just dogmatic about what I want. I know that there’s opportunity.

Mark Collier:
Well, that’s great.

Taliah:
I just always do things and try to put myself in a position to get them. A lot of people don’t know that that’s some of the things that you do.

Mark Collier:
No, that’s true.

Taliah:
You have to be in the room, you have to be there. I remember being a young girl, grew up in the hood, poor areas. I would just get dressed and go downtown. I wasn’t even going anywhere. Just going down because I that’s the environment I know I wanted to be in. I know that’s where I wanted to be. For a lot of people that start their businesses and maybe they’re too busy. I want to bring that to them.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
If you come to this show, we’re going to bring you that environment that in your mind you dream of, you aspire to be in.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Taliah:
Just try to have those opportunities available.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. So other than the US, where you’ve been wildly successful, what other countries can your products be found in?

Taliah:
The Caribbean.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
Canada.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Taliah:
Some parts of Africa. We took a trip to South Africa about four years ago.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Taliah:
It took that long but we just got order, I think earlier this last year.

Mark Collier:
Things move a little slowly on the continent of Africa.

Taliah:
As long as you get something started, eventually that happened. But we do have distributors to sell to other places in Africa. I mentioned the Caribbean, in Europe, London. Yeah. Those kind of places.

Mark Collier:
Very good. So let’s do a little forward thinking now. I know you’re a strategist as I am. So, what are some of the future goals for the Taliah Waajid brand?

Taliah:
I really enjoy investing in this company that I did and just helping her to grow her company and her brand.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Taliah:
That’s one of the things that I would like to do more of.

Mark Collier:
Kind of hear pitches from startup companies and hopefully not only invest in them, but help them grow and scale their operations as well.

Taliah:
Exactly. Yes.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Taliah:
Scaling is very important.

Mark Collier:
You know what? Not only is that good for you from a business perspective, but it gives back. It really does because as you well know, one of the biggest hurdles to small minority and especially women owned businesses, is access to capital.

Taliah:
Exactly.

Mark Collier:
They can’t get it especially if they’re a startup. So for you to take the lead in terms of acting as a mentor, providing some venture capital, you are starting to create legacies outside of your business that will long be a part of your legacy here.

Taliah:
That’s exactly what I want to do. That’s exactly what I want to do.

Mark Collier:
So you are a valued client of mine at the UGSBDC. Would you mind just talking a little bit about how we’ve been able to assist you in your business a little bit?

Taliah:
Wow. How much time do we have? It has been phenomenal for us, been very helpful.

Mark Collier:
Good.

Taliah:
Anytime we call and just every part of our business, you all have a professional that can come on and help us or any questions or anytime we get stuck or just set up a meeting just to run some things across you.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Taliah:
It’s been a very valuable asset to our company and my team.

Mark Collier:
Oh, good.

Taliah:
We look forward to those calls and the week that we don’t have them say, “Wow, we don’t have a call with them this week. When’s our next call?” It’s just been so very helpful.

Mark Collier:
Well, good. I’m happy to hear that. I work for the government and I don’t make a lot of money but we are able to sew into small businesses that help grow the economic base of Georgia. That is what we are so pleased to do everyday.

Taliah:
Yeah. I can tell. I can definitely tell.

Mark Collier:
All right. Taliah Waajid, founder of the Taliah Waajid Brand World Natural Hair and Healthy Lifestyle Event and Uncle Jimmy Products. I want to thank you taking the time out of your busy day to come in and share your story, share what your company’s all about, and share some of the great things you’re doing.

Taliah:
It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Mark Collier:
You’re welcome and I wish you the very best today.

Taliah:
Thank you.


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