As a black woman, there are a number of things I demand from my haircare line. I want it to support my natural hair, I want it to emphasize my baby hairs and treat my frizz, and I want it to produce results as quickly as possible. Now, imagine that same haircare line is also a black female-owned business (!!!) with a retro hip-hop style that’s stocked at Target. This describes The Doux, created by the brilliant mind of Maya Smith. Smith is the creative director, stylist, and owner of the totally ‘90s haircare line The Doux, pronounced The Do. She’s been in the business for over 22 years, starting with a German salon named The Honeycomb, and brings with her knowledge, passion, a love for hip-hop, and an artist’s soul.
We spoke with Smith about creating her line and how it fits in with an industry that is finally evolving to better cater to the needs of black women.
Tell me about the journey of The Doux
We opened a salon in Germany and we launched the product a couple years after that. We were selling our products online and in the salon and it got to the point where logistically it was really difficult to keep that up because a lot of our shipments were going back home to the U.S. We decided to come back to the states but instead of just going right back into the product line, I thought it was more important to create a branding environment.
I thought if people could really see The Doux and experience what we were about it would be easy for them to get the product. We opened the first Doux salon in Georgia and from there we relaunched The Doux products. We were pretty well known and doing pretty well with our online stores. It’s been this natural progression of our brand and bringing things back to the market. I’m fortunate to be a hairstylist still so I can see the needs and wants of our consumer on a daily basis.
How long have you been a hairstylist?
Twenty-two years and counting. I’ll probably be that old lady in the beauty shop just talking to everyone and still doing hair. I love it. It’s one of those things I just love to do. Even with expanding the brand, I still have to go into the salon and kind of work things out. It’s like my lab. It’s where I feel strong. I’ll probably always be doing hair.
You’ve said before you’re the happiest hairstylist alive, why do you say that?
It’s always a good feeling to see your life’s work come to fruition. I’ve been really blessed to be an inspiration for the culture and a leader of the new school, so to speak, in the natural hair category. I’ve always wanted to bring something new and fresh to an industry that in the past its seems pretty homogenous. I finally get to put my two cents in.
How did you use your clientele in the salon to test your products?
Once we get used to a client and they come a couple of times, we will pick a select number of clients and make them a part of our focus groups. We are able to chart their results and track their feedback for development of our products. We have a really good client retention rate. It’s hard to get in our salon because most of our clients are weekly or biweekly. That gives a really good perspective and really healthy RND [Research and Development] when it comes to how well a product works and how a client feels about it. It’s our policy that if they don’t love it, we don’t produce it. It’s really important to us that they feel as good about the products as we do.
Can you speak to the lack of accessibility of black hair products?
What’s funny is that we call them legacy brands. It’s products intended for African or Afro textured hair. They’ve been around for decades and are what you see in all the beauty supply stores. We’ve always sustained some real estate or a category even in mass retail, but the challenge now is that as we learn more about the clients and their hair, a lot of the products are obsolete. It’s leaving these big brands to create more options for a consumer that’s a lot more informed. I would say it’s not lack of accessibility, it’s more right now is an awakening and awareness of what people with afro-texture hair really need. That’s really where the depth of it is. The awareness and understanding of what is most important in maintaining our hair.
Did you see the viral tweet? How does it feel to receive so much praise on social media?
Where do I start? I would say the awareness of The Doux is really exciting. I think that the consumer is much more aware and more concerned with where their products are coming from. We just kind of fit right into really what’s going on right now. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It kind of looks like we jumped on as this black-owned business, woman-owned business thing that has really emerged, but we’ve been here for years. It’s not new to us. We are kind of just coming in on our song.
What do you think mass retailers can be doing more of for black hair care?
Big brands really need to connect more personally to woman of color on an emotional level. There tends to be this blanket narrative surrounding what women of color really want and need in a haircare line. Even though our hair carries a lot of similarities from person to person, we’re really diverse. I think big brands could benefit tremendously from exploring more from our individual personal stories instead of simply assuming that we all share the same perspective as it relates to hair and beauty standards. Once they’re able to tap into that, it’s really easy to focus their marketing and messaging to people who want to buy their products.
You have a totally ‘90s vibe with fonts and colors, what was your inspiration?
I actually do all of our visual branding and graphic design myself. All the artwork and everything you see from us visually is actually a part of us. We do creative, which is my husband and myself. He does the photography and all of the packaging. Everything you see, we do it. It really is just a reflection of everything I love from hip-hop to street art. We got the name from one of our trips to Paris. Retro, pin-up style, a little dash of that. It’s really all things old school, which I’m about. We’re always thinking of new ways to engage, but the real thought has gone into what’s inside the bottle. The pretty part we got it—that’s easy.
Whose hair do you dream of working on?
Erykah Badu and Janelle Monaé. They both have a really futuristic afro punk quality to them that I’m attracted to as a creative. Badu is like this powerhouse of originality and she’s really fearless. I know she would give me a lot of creative life while working with her. She doesn’t take herself too seriously as well. Hopefully, I’d have free range and we could collaborate together. I just really love her authenticity and natural beauty.
Janelle Monae, of course, has amazing hair. I would love to work with her just because even though she’s known for the pompadour she’s been brave enough to step outside of what people have assumed is her only look. She’s been able to step outside of that and that says a lot about a person creatively.
Who are your role models in the industry?
My mentor Tracy Johnson. She’s been a hairstylist to Nia Long, and En Vogue, and Tony Braxton. She was huge in the ’90s. Darren Lyons is my other mentor. He’s actually a barber that I worked with when I started working exclusively with natural hair. He was actually Tupac’s barber. He’s worked with Sean P. Diddy and Steve Harvey.
What’s next for you?
I’m hopeful that we’ll grow as a global hair care brand and beauty brand, but I’m also an artist. I can’t help but to dream of the possibilities in other arenas. I’d love to expand The Doux as a lifestyle brand. I’d love to showcase a line of apparel and art and home goods. I’m really into interior designs and spaces. I’d love to expand into other ventures but I never put limits on what’s possible. I’m always open to new experiences. I’m open and the sky’s the limit. I guess that’s really cliche, people say that all the time. I’m an artist and most artists will say the same thing they want to be able to express themselves in more than one arena because we’re all multifaceted and multitalented. I’m definitely down with the hair care brand and I’m not going anywhere. The Doux has a lot and we serve a lot of people with a lot of interest so I want to be able to speak to that.