As a member of B-Lab — the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship’s summer startup accelerator — Brown has developed Figured, a venture that offers customized natural hair care guidance to women with Afro-textured hair.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Lauren Brown was 17 years old, she cut off nearly all of her hair during a visit with her grandmother in New York City.
Like many women with naturally Afro-textured hair, she had been using chemical relaxers for years.
“When I was growing up, the social norm was to have your hair perfect and pressed and straightened, and that was just the way it was,” said Brown, now a rising junior at Brown University. “Chemically relaxed hair is neither better or worse that natural hair, but there was this sense that the way Black hair naturally grows out of your head was not good enough for the rest of the world.”
Given this context, she said: “Cutting it off was very much a freeing experience.”
But with this freedom came an unexpected responsibility: “It was the first time in my teens that I’d really been able to see my naturally curly hair,” she said. “I had no idea how to take care of it.”
For Brown, this moment marked the beginning of what she calls her “personal hair journey,” a two-and-a-half-year process of trial and error during which she spent hundreds of dollars — and countless hours — sampling the glut of natural hair care products that had begun to flood the market in the late 2000s.
“There were so many products out there and so many influencers and so many YouTube tutorials that it was completely overwhelming,” she said. “I had no idea how to parse through that information and actually find what might work for me.”
To simplify this process for other women with Afro-textured hair, Brown is launching Figured, a venture that will provide users with personalized recommendations and samples of natural hair care products — all produced by Black-owned businesses — that are selected to suit their hair type and lifestyle.
“Figured’s goal is to serve as a helping hand,” Brown said. “We want to boil down what products might actually work best for the type of hair you have and design a hair care routine that will fit seamlessly into your everyday lifestyle.”
This summer, as a participant in Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab for short) — an eight-week accelerator program at the University’s Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship — Brown has completed the planning stages for Figured, which has involved interviewing over 50 Black women about their experiences learning how to care for their naturally textured hair. For Brown, the interviews have illuminated the common threads that connect the hair journeys of many Black women.
“Every woman I talked to brought up this period of time where they were consistently trying different products, spending a lot of money and getting really stressed out,” Brown said. “On average, they said it was about two years before they were able to find products that worked for them and that made them feel confident about how they took care of their hair.”
B-Lab has really helped me take ownership of my idea and build structure around it by encouraging me to talk to other people about their experiences. I’ll have customers someday, and I need to find out what those customers are struggling with and what makes them happy so that I can figure out what might work best for them.
The interviews also revealed the distinct twists and turns that made each woman’s experience unique.
“It was about taking them back to those moments on their journeys, from their first hair memories all the way up to where we are today,” Brown said. “Life is changing all the time, and your hair changes with it. I wanted to understand how people were adapting their hair styles and routines to match those changes.”
As B-Lab comes to a close with the end of the summer, Brown is using these findings to design a digital platform for Figured that invites each user to share details about their hair type and lifestyle. These details will determine which natural hair care samples and recommendations that Figured will provide to each user.
This process will allow each woman to focus on the personal significance of their journey while minimizing the unnecessary hassles associated with it.
“In my interviews, it’s often appeared that the trial and error phase of these journeys is a rite of passage, and I think that can still exist,” Brown said. “But there’s no reason that that rite of passage should require two whole years of money spent, time spent and energy spent. Figured can reduce that into a much shorter period of time so that you can get back to doing the things you love.”
For Brown, being a member of this summer’s B-Lab cohort — which features 15 student ventures ranging from an app that maps safe cycling routes to a grocery shopping bag customized for wheelchair users to a web platform that streamlines support resources for abuse survivors — has provided her with the mentorship and resources necessary to begin making Figured a reality.
“B-Lab has really helped me take ownership of my idea and build structure around it by encouraging me to talk to other people about their experiences,” Brown said, “I’ll have customers someday, and I need to find out what those customers are struggling with and what makes them happy so that I can figure out what might work best for them.”
The research Brown has conducted as a member of this summer’s B-Lab cohort has reinforced for her the most salient lessons of her Brown education thus far.
“Asking questions about other people’s experiences — being curious and being flexible — is a practice that Brown has taught me more than anything else,” said Brown, who is a business, entrepreneurship and organizations concentrator. “And I’ve been able to fold in so much of the knowledge I’ve learned in sciences classes, economics classes, entrepreneurship classes.”
By enabling her to apply these lessons to a project that she is passionate about, B-Lab has given Brown a singular opportunity, she said.
“This has been the first summer where I’ve been able to sit back and work on something that I fully want to do — and something that I’m extremely proud of — and I’ve gotten to work on it really independently,” she said. “I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.”