Updated: Nov 19, 2021
Is someone's beauty separate from their identity? The negative psychological impact from the lack of representation in mainstream media has long-term effects on someone's self-worth, happiness, and ability to succeed in the workplace. Rachel Topping noticed this most prominent in women, more specifically in the Black community, that resonated with her. She saw that women viewed beauty as something they had to change their identities to be a part of versus beauty as something that women naturally were. Black women feel bad about their hair textures because of the misrepresentation of beauty standards.
Being one of five girls, the conversation of beauty and self-worth was a regular conversation in her household. Rachel created the Nappy Head Club out of a necessity to see imagery and every type of hair represented by the many facets of Black beauty in the fashion industry. She needed to see images that she could identify with. But, when Rachel launched the Nappy Head Club, it was a way to heal from the lack of representation. Using Instagram as a platform, she and her sister posted images that reaffirmed Black beauty, and people began to gravitate towards the messaging.
The Nappy Head Club is an edgy fashion brand that's not always polished, but its designs and phrases will make you stop and notice them. Rachel said, "Maybe make you a little bit uncomfortable, maybe make you ask some questions, but that encourages dialogue, which we think is really important and one of the ways that we want to use fashion as this vehicle for dialogue within the community. So it's given us the opportunity to get a lot of stops and stares and conversations. And that's exactly what we want the brand to do."
What are you most proud of when it comes to Nappy Head Club?
Rachel is proud of the community that she's built and the open dialogues and hard conversations she's had with them about addressing some of these pain points surrounding beauty. People find the content, engage with the product, but eventually stay for the community. She said, "It's really fun when we can use fashion to create community."
What were some of your biggest fears along your journey?
Rachel shared her struggle with imposter syndrome. As a creative director and graphic designer, she didn't know how that translated into being a founder. Creating is different from ownership, and she was nervous about the day-to-day operations of running a business.
Rachel struggles with the idea of relying on herself to sustain the business now that she's full-time. She feared betting on herself, taking significant risks, and investing in herself. Rachel shared, "I don't think that ever goes away, but in a way, I try to channel that because the fear of this has to keep working gives me that fire to push you. To make sure I'm always looking for new opportunities in the business, and I'm not like coasting on what has worked in the past."
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition?
This was Rachel's first pitch competition. Being part of a pitch competition was a personal goal for her, but she delayed taking action. Finally, she drew a line in the sand because she wanted to educate herself on the structure and process of pitching. Before entering the competition, she attended pitch practices for two months. She threw her name in the hat for the Manifestation Babe competition. Rachel used what she learned and practiced. She felt more confident to pitch when the time came.
Rachel's pitch funds went into inventory. They were designing a new collection, and now they can release that collection sooner. To maintain the relationships with her manufacturers, she was able to purchase a large order. Selling out every week wasn't a positive experience for both her customers and the manufacturers. With the increase in inventory, she's been able to do more pop-up shows and get their products in more locations.
For those who are nervous about pitching, her advice is, "Just apply for sure. You know, I definitely would hear people say, oh, well, I'm going to do a pitch competition, but in a couple of months, when my deck is, you know—at least apply. It's just a lot of practice. I would practice that pitch until it's just like second nature and get some feedback, even from family, because they will be able to give you some really good notes.
So it might not be as specific to the data points, but they'll call out things that weren't as clear in your pitch. So just being willing to let a lot of people hear it. And then also get comfortable with the presentation of it.
The story is the most important part. Like just remembering why you started your business and making sure that energy carries through in your pitch. I think that almost half the battle is getting folks to be energized by your pitch and understand the point and why this business needs to exist."
Tell us about any significant setbacks that you had in your business and how you recovered?
Rachel's setback, like for many entrepreneurs, is understanding cash flow. She found the business struggling to have enough cash to maintain the inventory. Running out of products might seem like a good problem to have, but it causes disruptions and delays in your business (as well as unhappy customers).
She said, "We were selling through things a little bit too fast and realizing we weren't buying deep enough. So it definitely was a bit daunting to figure out, like, how am I going to get access to this cash, you know, to continue the business."
Rachel used the small business resources in New York that helped them to get back on track. "If we didn't get any cash in doors within like 30 days, we were just gonna run out of money. And not because the business wasn't doing well, but there were new people involved, like having to pay your contractors and employees." She credits the nonprofits and small businesses resources that helped her gain access to cash to keep the business afloat.
Rachel also shared, "What no one really talks about growing is that there's this tough stage between hobby and full business. Your expenses start to increase drastically because things are happening. And also, your people's needs increased quickly because you're doing a lot more, but you're right at the cusp of the cash. Is it going to come in soon from all, like all the payoff from all of this work?"
What was the biggest risk you've taken so far?
The biggest risk for Rachel thus far was going full-time. At times she finds herself struggling to maintain an abundant mindset and feeling that there's not enough to go around. Or her imposter syndrome might kick in. It was difficult for her to leave a job that didn't want her to go, but she decided to bet on herself. Now with being full-time, she can take the Nappy Head Club to the next level.
How do you measure success?
Rachel said, "Success is being able to create wealth within my family. Right now, one of my sisters works on the fashion side of the business. She does all of our editorial shoots. I've got our baby sister as our marketing coordinator, and my goal would be to have my whole family working for the Nappy Head Club. To be able to see my family be a part of this and extend from that. Just people who wouldn't normally have these opportunities to be able to create more of these opportunities that make me feel really successful."
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Rachel shared, "There's a, what we call a scarcity mindset sometimes in our community, which is very understandable because we all are trying to create resources in the same way that I'm trying to create resources for my family. But there are times where there are businesses that we could be pooling together. We have resources that could be shared, you know, especially other fashion brands. I think sometimes there's this feeling that there's only enough space for one of us, you know?
So, there've been times where I've reached out for collaboration opportunities and things like that, where we have this opportunity to build together. There have been brands that I would have hoped to have been receptive to that are kind of like, there's only space for one of us. I don't want to be near you. Like, I don't want to work together, because I don't want you to take away from, you know, my food, which has been a bit disappointing for me.
There are so many potential customers we're all taking such a tiny piece of the pie, especially the beginning of our businesses. There's so much opportunity to build together, to get access to resources that happen when you collaborate and share."
Rachel prepared herself for not being in rooms with people who didn't look like her. She prepared herself for the struggle in raising money, but she felt unprepared for the lack of support in her community.
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Rachel thanks the Duplessy Foundation for helping her along her entrepreneurial journey. This is an organization that provides sales coaching for minority women entrepreneurs. She learned from that experience about how being hyper-focused on one thing narrowed her mindset.
She said, "I was really hyper-focused on online sales and the website and just like getting traffic to the website. But they showed me that there are always five different ways to get to an end goal. Having just the creativity not to be so linear-minded has helped me grow the business because I've been pushed to be way more creative and think outside the box. Where are five new streams that I can bring money into and five new ways that we can reach customers that we're not currently doing."
Rachel suggests if you have one idea, find two more and do them all. Instead of doing one thing at a time and waiting to see what happens, she says to do three or four of them, and if one fails, that's okay. That means one of those ideas will be great.
What do you think is an important skill or asset that you need to succeed in business?
Having a combination of creativity and flexibility is what's needed to be successful in business. Rachel shared, "We're very passionate about our businesses, so we have a very set way we think that things are going to go, but as an entrepreneur, there are so many different facets to the business.
There's going to be a lot of stuff that's going to be new. Like you might have an idea of how it's going to go, but it might end up being something completely different that's successful. And I think that it's really important to be flexible as a business owner.
And when you're getting advice and receiving—taking in information, just really being open-minded, and maybe it's a combination of what you thought, plus this new information that's coming in, or maybe it's pivoting. Still, I think you just gotta be able to be flexible and learn from your customers as well."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Rachel is a creative at heart. As a creative director and graphic designer, she loves the ideation phase and thinking of new ideas, products, colors, patterns, and materials. She said, "I get very geeked out about that side of things. My favorite part is when the sample is ready, I get to touch it and feel it. Super exciting because there are just so many things. It's those minute details that are going into me trying to make a product that's going to be best for the Black consumer, for fit and messaging that's going to resonate with the colors that are going to look great on their skin tone."
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Rachel shared, "I think the future for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs is—I mean, it's already manifesting itself as we speak. But I just think that shopping with Black-owned brands is not going to be a novelty. I think it's going to be almost a standard.
And I just think that Black women entrepreneurs are paving the way for just creating products or services that are just really ingenious. I believe that they're just going to be almost the leaders and entrepreneurs and innovators.
And I think these investment firms will have to pay attention because there's going to be, and they're already are, you know? You see, like Blavity and others that have paved this path in investing in Black businesses. Still, I just think that we'll see an eye and interest turning towards Black women entrepreneurs and the businesses that they're creating."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Rachel would love to see Nappy Head Club have physical locations in the U.S. and abroad like South Africa, West Africa, and Europe. She hopes to see their products in major retail stores where everyone can purchase them and be a namesake brand similar to how FUBU was. Rachel hopes people know the brand, and it makes them feel something. You'll see Nappy at events and festivals leaning heavily into the community and creating moments in real life that match what they've been able to accomplish through the social channels.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Rachel sets time aside for her to take care of herself. It could be as simple as putting a face mask on to care for her skin. She cooks herself a nice meal, even if that means taking an hour's lunch break. She recognizes that she has difficulty creating boundaries around her work and removes herself from it. Although work allows her to release anxious energy, she doesn't work past 10 p.m. and pauses throughout the day.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Always Black, never, sorry."
What is a book and podcast that you would recommend?
Podcast: How I Built This
Book: The Art Of Happiness by The Dalai Lama
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Name one food item that you have a hard time saying no to.
What is next for the Nappy Head Club?
Rachel is conducting consumer studies and research. The brand will continue to use fashion as an opportunity to do the things that the fashion industry hasn't done for Black people. Their top priority is designing fit and cuts that compliment Black bodies. She said, "Fashion has never really been constructed for Black bodies. You know, we participate in fashion because we enjoy looking good and feeling good, but we're not being considered as a top priority when these designs are cut or the prints, the pictures that are going on them."
Nappy Head Club is also designing bathing suits that better fit Black bodies. They are redesigning their hats, materials, and sizing to ensure their customers are top of mind for what they need in fashion so Nappy Head can accommodate.
Any final words…
"I would just say like, just in general, the experience with the pitch competition, I feel like it just gave me so much more confidence in my ability in a lot of ways, like presenting my business to potential investors. I think much—like I had an investor call three days after the pitch competition.
And I just felt very equipped to have those conversations, which was amazing, but as well as even just, it helped me to appreciate how much community and support I do have. I'm not the type of person who very often is going to ask for help, especially from my extended network, but it literally showed me the extent and the reach of my network—the amount of people who will support me and do support me.
And I think that was like a really invaluable moment of learning that I have resources to lean on that I might not always be tapping into, but they're here, they're there, and they really support and love the Nappy Head Club."