The entrepreneur shares how she turned her signature satin-lined products into a multi-million dollar brand.

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grace eleyae alongside her signature silk-lined turban, scrunchies, and slap hair care products
Credit: Grace Eleyae

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

When it comes to hair care, Grace Eleyae knows best—not only from developing her self-titled brand over the past six years, but from the personal experience in managing her own hair that first inspired her to take on the beauty industry.

Today, the Grace Eleyae brand has made its mark in the beauty industry by providing customers—including celebrities like Viola Davis, Gabrielle Union, and Aja Naomi King—with quality hair products. And the brand is still just getting started. Founded on the principle of making confidence look effortless—Eleyae is continuing to design new products that take the stress out of daily hair routines, which allows her consumers to live freely and confidently.

Sewing "the Slap"

Before starting her own business, Eleyae considered herself to be an everyday consumer of beauty and hair products. But after too many items in her beauty regimen—including everything from different shampoos and hair-growth treatments to various scarves and bonnets—she knew there had to be a better way to care for her hair. "Doing my hair in the morning was a pain. It sometimes required taking down twists or braids, taming hairs that had folded up in the night, or curling it; it was always something," she says. "And since I was already wearing a satin scarf to bed to prevent dryness in my hair, I just wanted something that looked cute enough to wear out and hide disheveled strands."

During a car ride in Kenya in 2013, she recalls how the friction from her hair rubbing against a headrest caused a patch of breakage. This moment inspired her to create her signature product—the original Slap ($22, graceeleyae.com), a satin-lined cap. "At the time, I was taking sewing classes at night, and I started to look seriously into beanie construction," says Eleyae. After trial and error, she realized that just a satin-lined cap wouldn't be secure enough to wear without slipping off. After taking her last sewing class, she learned how to sew a hidden elastic band—the final piece she needed that would help her launch her signature product. "In February 2014, in a moment of divine inspiration," she explains, "I went to my sewing machine and sewed the first prototype."

Launching a Full Collection of Products

Today, Eleyae's brand has expanded beyond the Slap to feature everything from silk-lined turbans ($43, graceeleyae.com) and headbands ($35, graceeleyae.com) to hats ($45, graceeleyae.com) and scrunchies ($38, graceeleyae.com), and more­—all putting hair care needs first. "The key to hair growth is adequate moisture; not too much and definitely not too little. For that reason, the main materials we use in our products are silk and satin because they are not moisture-absorbing materials," explains Eleyae. "Cotton pillowcases and other plant-based bedding fabrics suck the moisture out of the hair when we sleep, causing tangles, frizz, bedhead, and even breakage. Silk and satin have a smooth to the touch feel, and although it doesn't add moisture to the hair, it does help us to keep expensive products that we purchase to maintain healthy hair right where they belong—in our hair."

She notes that while women have been sleeping on satin and silk for generations, the brand is bringing a fashion-forward approach to allow them to wear the materials on an everyday basis—no matter the occasion. "I wanted to create products that can be worn on a date night, on vacation, or—especially during this time—on a Zoom meeting," the entrepreneur shares. "And we like to provide options in our color story each season—from bold and vibrant prints to neutral and versatile colors. I'm a first generation American—my mom is from Kenya and my dad is from Nigeria—and I love to incorporate African prints in our designs, as well."

Continuing to Pave the Way in the Hair Care Industry

When it comes to creating a company that lasts, the company you keep makes a big difference. Eleyae notes that this is a pivotal part of her success: "I live by two quotes. The first is: 'If you find your people, you find your destiny.' I was blessed to have an initial team, 'my people,' right in my own family." In fact, her mother was the very person who gave her the inspiration to make the Grace Eleyae brand a true business. After her mom supported her—and other friends and family became her first loyal customers—when she was still making the Slap one by one herself, she built the confidence to turn the brand's potential into a success on the market.

Eleyae's advice for entrepreneurs? To keep pushing—even with setbacks—and avoid perfection in the process of growing a business. "The second quote I live by is: 'Fear and faith have the same thing in common in that they both require you to believe something that hasn't happened yet,'" she says. "I always encourage entrepreneurs to keep going. I think every major roadblock we had, especially in the beginning, felt like the final roadblock; like it was time to close up shop. But each time we surpassed a challenge, we built strength for the next one!"

And as the media world continues to evolve, so are the opportunities for businesspeople to get the word out about their brands. "Before, the only way to effectively reach consumers on a large scale was to get into a national chain," Eleyae says. "We partnered with influencers who helped us explain the product to their audiences. And similarly, entrepreneurs are just as capable of reaching wide audiences."

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