Afro Hair Care Meets Tech

Jade Phillips

After years of struggling with a hair care problem that is  common to many Black women, Jade Phillips, came up with a brilliant idea to use tech to solve the problem. In the interview, Jade shares the highs and lows of how she established her business and fulfilled her dream to support Black women. 

Always the best ideas are the simplest. Please explain the hair journey that brought you to this idea.

Mane Hook-Up was created to solve a combination of problems that I experienced as a young, Black woman. After transitioning back to my natural hair four years ago, I found it painfully difficult to find an afro hairdresser beyond word of mouth. There was no way for me to find, filter through and compare any stylists (and Instagram just wasn’t cutting it). 

I watched many of the women in my family struggle with the same issue – especially those who had moved out of London. My grandma moved to Bath in 2010, but for years she travelled back to London to get her hair done. Spending as much money on the coach fare as she did on her hair appointment.

I couldn’t comprehend that we live in a world where we all have access to the internet 24/7, have phones (that are basically mini-computers) in the palms of our hands. Yet there was no online source where I could easily find and book appointments with hairdressers who understood how to manage afro hair. After speaking to a few hairdressers, I found that the act of finding new clients wasn’t easy either. There are a lot of stylists that don’t know where to start when it came to marketing. Those who do often don’t have time to follow it through.

So, instead of waiting for a solution to appear, I chose to create it.

What has been the take up from both clients and professional stylists?

We have 35 stylists using the platform across three countries (UK, Ireland and France). Since launching, over 150 customers have signed up and we’re working with 16 Black-owned businesses to offer our customers discounts on their products. 

Outside London, how wide is the reach of Mane Hook Up?

30% of our stylists are outside of London (and some are mobile stylists that are willing to travel). We know that anyone living in areas outside of London will find it more difficult to find a stylist, so it’s important that we register more specialists outside the capital. 

I want to prevent more Black women from going through the same struggles that my family went through. To do that we need stylists across the country.

Do you have a background in tech?

Yes, I’ve been working in marketing for about ten years and spent the majority of my career at technology companies. My background played a huge role in my understanding of how to research, position, and build a platform such as Mane Hook-Up, which has a lot of moving parts. 

There is a growing community of women running successful tech businesses in UK. As a Black woman in tech, did you encounter hidden barriers?

One of the things I really want to do with Mane Hook-Up is to make sure that it’s created for Black women and is predominantly run by Black women. This plays a huge role in creating that authentic experience, as the people behind-the-scenes are trying to solve problems that they’ve experienced. While I’ve found some amazing Black women to help with social media, content production and PR, it’s been a huge challenge to find Black women in the technology space to develop and build the platform. My biggest challenge this year is to find a Technical Lead, who can help pave the way with me and continue to turn Mane Hook-Up into an exceptional online platform.

The technology industry is very white and male, which means that, while there are many Black women in this space, they aren’t elevated anywhere near as much as they should be. This lack of visibility makes it so difficult for Black women to find opportunities in the tech space and it makes it troublesome for people (like me) to find talented people who genuinely understand the problem that we’re solving. I haven’t quite overcome this yet (as I’m still on the hunt!) I plan on changing this by supporting and uplifting Black women at every opportunity. That way, I can be part of the solution by providing Black women with the support and exposure that they deserve in the tech space.

Were you able to gain support from other Black Women running businesses whether in tech or otherwise?

Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to build a community of amazing Black women that make the time and effort to support one another. Whether this is with the businesses that I’ve partnered with or the smaller online communities, Slack and WhatsApp groups that have introduced me to some great business owners, there are so many Black women that have been a part of my journey so far and, for that, I’m forever grateful.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when starting the business?

Know your customer and make the time to speak to them. All of my best product ideas have come from the people that use the product. It’s amazing how much you will learn, and how much loyalty you can build from a few conversations. 

The more you can get into the mind of your customers, the better your product will be. 

What are you most proud of so far?

I’m proud of building a platform that really serves Black women and solves an ongoing problem. Black women, often have not been prioritised in the hair and beauty industry and my aim is to create a space that celebrates and supports them.

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