Updated: Jan 15
Tonya Fairley started with one idea that morphed into an unbeatable hair product line. As the owner of two hair salons and a stylist for 30 years, she noticed that her clients used products that damaged their hair. Tonya used the feedback from her clients to create the Strandz Unlimited product line that includes her signature product, Hydro Curlz. A line of vegan, cruelty-free hair care products. Tonya wanted to create a product that she truly believed in: a line of products that give hair moisture and hydration, frizz control, and strength to grow and flourish. Their Strandz Unlimited products are perfect for wavy to super curly hair, textured hair, and simply lacking moisture and shine. She creates the formula in small batches with natural and organic ingredients, including organic watercress oil, bamboo, and aloe.
What were some of your biggest fears along your journey?
Tonya didn't have any fears along her journey. She stepped up to the challenge and worked through it. Her mindset and the belief within herself motivated her to take one step at a time. Tonya said, "I was crazy enough to think and believe I could do it. And that right there catapulted me to make sure that I continue to improve on the product even as I gave it to clients and people try it out and test it. I jumped and got my wings on the way down."
It was a no-brainer for Tonya. Being in the industry as long as she had coupled with her expertise, she didn't doubt herself for one minute.
What's the biggest risk you've taken so far?
Tonya launched Strandz Unlimited three months before COVID. She used all of her money and resources to bring Hydro Curlz to life. However, like most businesses, she pivoted and turned Strandz Unlimited into an eCommerce business model and had more sales than she did in her salon. With every beauty salon shut down, beauty products became the next go-to. Although it was a considerable risk, it turned out to be fruitful.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Strandz Unlimited?
As a former foster youth in Bakersfield, California, Tonya is proud of herself for how far she's come in her life. Despite the many bumps and bruises along the journey, she never gave up. There was always this personal journey to prove something to herself and tell other women and young girls that they can be and do whatever they put their minds to if they have absolute dedication.
Tonya said, "When I started out with the product line, I knew there were some heavy hitters in our industry, and I didn't care about all that stuff. I just knew that here I was, with no business degree, no real mentors, no people who really just was like, you know, take me under their wings to develop a product. And, it's been pretty doggone successful."
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Tonya's first-ever pitch competition. She admitted that she doesn't believe in competitions because they often bring out the worst in people. They often make you feel terrible because you didn't win, but she had to change her mindset and look at the opportunity to pitch differently. She said, "When I got the notification that I was a finalist like I almost threw up, I was like, what?!"
Tonya shared that the BGV pitch competition didn't feel like a pitch competition. She received help in her timing and making her pitch and deck more concise. She couldn't help being nervous all the way through. Tonya said, "The relief came by looking at the lady's smiles and just knowing that we're all there for the same purpose: to expand our brands and seek guidance and feedback. And they gave me really, really good feedback on my pitch." She not only used the BGV platform to practice but also asked some of her clients to listen to her pitch, and they gave her more feedback. Tonya also received feedback from the panelist at the pitch competition. This helped her define and enhance her pitch moving forward.
Tonya shared the best part of the experience, "I really felt like that was a space and the place that I was comfortable in, even though I was a little nervous."
Her advice to those looking to pitch in is, "Know your brand, in case you don't have any screens, any PowerPoint slides, or Google slides in front of you—anything can happen.
And you just don't want to be caught off guard with nervousness because you don't know your numbers. You don't know what your target market is. So really understand your brand and where you want to take it."
Tonya used the pitch funds to hire a social media manager to help with her online presence.
Tell us about any significant setbacks you had in your business and how you recovered.
The biggest setback for Tonya is navigating social media. She calls herself a "genuine audience builder." She's built her client base through her salons and talking to her clients. Her clients can touch, smell, feel and see her products before purchasing them.
Tonya said, "Navigating this whole e-commerce world where you're trying to sell a product that they've, nobody knows about—you're the small fish in a big pond. It got a little discouraging.
Even when I found out that I was a finalist in the pitch, I shrunk myself. I said, wait a minute, these people have 50,000 followers. This has a hundred thousand followers, and I have 500 followers. Like, how can I even compare? And then it was like, God spoke to me and said, this is no competition. You're going to do what you need to do."
Tonya ensures her clients give referrals, and she often receives orders from people she's never met. Although it often feels like the orders aren't moving fast enough because she has big dreams for her business, she understands the power of word-of-mouth referrals.
How do you measure success?
Tonya measures success by touching a person's life daily. When she hears someone say that they've been looking for a product like hers, she says, "I haven't been able to find a product that didn't contain gluten, or it's been a long time that I found a product that didn't leave my hair crunchy. I know I have a successful thing going on because people are saying that, and ingredient that goes into strands unlimited, is very thought out."
She doesn't measure success based on a conspicuous overnight success story for Tonya. It's the little things that build up that ladder towards success. When she receives a phone call from someone telling her that they saw her product in a friend's bathroom, those small moments light her up.
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Tonya admitted, "This has been a disappointing journey period regarding support and finances. If I could be completely honest, being a Black woman business owner and in this space, I have to take a class to learn how to raise money. It was, let me build right here. So I worked hard to put money aside. That's how we were able to launch the company. But then, when you look for venture capitalists or investors, they don't give you that support that you feel like you should have when it comes to the money part.
And then when there is something for Black and Brown, like BGV or different ventures, it's so saturated because it's such a small amount that's available that the opportunities aren't just completely there. So it's definitely been a learning process for me. I'm not discouraged. I don't give up because I'm still going to make our products and still do what I have to do. But the number of bookmarks I have open for this company, that's giving money to, you know, it's just like you seize the opportunities that you can when you can. But to find investors that look like me, that want to invest in me, has not been easy.
I'm grateful for BGV because they are very intentional with their investors and the companies they partner with to help you out. And that's a really, really good thing. They're not just saying, oh, we're BGV and then take anything that comes their way because the intention is to make sure that Black and Brown businesses can get a piece of the pie."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Tonya has learned to take entrepreneurship one day at a time. There might be days that you weren't selected to be in a pitch competition, or you might be ready to release the following product, but you don't have the funds. She's learned not to become discouraged. Tonya finds herself waiting to have the resources before she can move forward with another idea for her business.
She said, "It's just understanding that everything does happen for a reason. And don't try to rush the process along and take every step, one day at a time has really been critical for me. Because I want to enter into everything, I want to be at this show. I want to be this vendor. I want to do this. I want to do that.
And I'm like, okay if I do that and I sell a hundred, I don't have a hundred in the backup to resupply. So then do you want to be—it's about keeping your name as your name is everything. So I don't want to be known as, oh, don't fool with that company, they never have the product. So again, one day at a time making sure that what I'm putting out there, the things I'm getting involved in, I'm able to maintain that without feeling like I'm drowning."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to succeed in business?
Tonya believes every entrepreneur needs to have a vision but with that vision, be willing to have an honest peek into that vision. She said, "If you have a plan and you have a vision, even if the plan gets changed, at least you have a plan. I don't think it's wise to launch anything or go into anything without knowing the result, what you want that end result to be. And for me, I wanted the result to be my clients saying that this product helped to tame their frizz, give them moisture.
So I know that's what I wanted at the end, but how I was going to get there and make sure that it was affordable and represented right, and it was something from the heart and not designed by a chemist. I just think that when you start and you write down your plan and have this vision, your vision and your plan have to gel together. And then from there, there's like no stopping you unless you just flat out quit. There's stopping."
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?
Tonya wants to see Strandz Unlimited go global. She wants it to be a household name, a product that people can depend on.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Tonya's Sundays are non-negotiable. She doesn't do any physical work that day. Usually, she'll check a few emails, but she puts her phone away and doesn't look at it again until later that evening. Tonya then schedules herself a monthly massage at her home. She reports that her health has remained intact for two years. Tonya recalls when the iron in her body depleted and was mentally exhausted. She wasn't able to do anything for 11 days. Self-care for Tonya comes first, and she always listens to her body.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
I can do all things through Christ that strengthen me.
What is a book and podcast that you would recommend?
Book: Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine
What's your favorite business hack or app you can't live without?
Name one food item that you have a hard time saying no to.
Seafood, specifically spicy crab.
What's next for Strandz Unlimited?
Tonya is releasing two more products, doing more pop-up events, and interacting with the community. She is focusing on raising more capital and entering pitch competitions. She is at a point in her business where she can delegate and bring people on her team to help her execute her vision.
Any last words?
Tonya said, "I would love for people just to look and seek the opportunities. Don't be afraid, you know? If you've never done a pitch before, just enter them. You will never know how it feels until you actually do it. And then once you do it, it's like, you just take that and carry it onto the next one.
Because if you don't enter it, then you'll never know. And so, I'm thankful for BGV and the experience it brought to me and the things that I've learned, and the connections I've made. I'm excited to see where I can go next, where I can be best utilized next."