Miss Jessie’s natural hair products have been a staple for Black girls embarking on their natural hair journey from the moment it hit shelves and scalps.
From their best-selling Pillow Soft Curls or Curly Pudding, chances are you have some Miss Jessie’s in your bathroom cabinet.
The premium trailblazing and award-winning hair care company exclusively caters to the diverse spectrum of all hair types from curly to wavy to kinky-coily. Co-founded alongside her sister, the late Titi Branch, the two sisters named the worldwide recognized brand after their spunky, independent and inspirational grandmother – Miss Jessie Mae Branch.
Because of her multicultural background with a Japanese-American mother, Branch and her sister weren’t exactly equipped with the expertise to handle their thick kinky curly locks. “My grandmother Miss Jessie took it upon herself to make sure my sister and I were armed with some of the tools and the products that we needed,” Branch told HelloBeautiful in an candid interview. “At the time in the 70s, we didn’t have products like Miss Jessie’s so my grandmother would actually whip up our own concoction. It was a combination of maybe eggs and mayonnaise and all kinds of things. She would send them home in mason jars and she would make sure we have what we needed to at least try and care for our hair.”
Beyond being a pioneer in the beauty industry, Miko is a well-respected thought leader in the beauty and ethnic hair care space and continues to develop innovative, original and effective solutions for curly hair needs. To add to her list of accolades, she is a national best selling author of her Harper Collins published business memoir, Miss Jessie’s: Creating A Successful Business from Scratch -Naturally and partnered with the New York Urban League to create the The Titi Branch / Miss Jessie’s Award for Excellence Scholarship. I had the chance to make things shake with Miko on behalf of HelloBeautiful about the devastating loss of her sister, her definition of “Black is beautiful,” and what is next to come for the Miss Jessie’s brand.
HelloBeautiful: What inspired you and your sister Titi to create Miss Jessie’s? What was the original vision and mission?
Miko Branch: We kind of stumbled into Miss Jessie’s and the mission for Miss Jessie’s, which was a strong focus on textured hair. It was kind of something that we stumbled upon because my style changed when I was a single parent and it was apparent to me that I could no longer wear my hair styled straight, which was, at the time, my preference. As a single parent, I gave my son his baths and he splashed around and once water hit my hair, it would make my hair go North, East and West – never southbound. I had to embrace it and even though I was doing a lot of straight hair, it actually started a conversation with my customers where I realized this was an opportunity. I quickly became the “curly hair expert” and Titi and I just embraced all things curly, kinky, wavy and finally we made a product to support all that we were doing in our salon.
Now looking back from what you’ve created to where we are today, obviously the brand is a household name. How do you believe Miss Jessie’s has served as a trailblazing pillar of Black beauty throughout the years for Black women and men?
I believe Miss Jessie’s played a huge role in a few different ways. In the early 2000s, many people who possessed a tighter coil curl, or a kink, or a wave, or even a coil, were straightening their hair. That was the beauty standard and that’s how most people were styling their hair. At the time from our brownstone (when Titi and I were doing hair in the house), we were really creating solutions for a customer base that hardly existed. As each one taught one with the help of the internet, and also the good word of Miss Jessie’s with groundbreaking products like Curly Pudding. It was so different, it was so special, it was so unique that the word got around very quickly and it made primarily women at the time want to look into it and see what the possibilities were with their own hair textures.
Miss Jessie’s understood that we needed to share information and not do what normal stylists and salon owners do – just keep the secrets to themselves so the customers would come back. We understood this was way too big of a secret, meaning the discovery of how wonderful, how versatile, how special, how unique textured hair is.
As a woman of color, what has being an entrepreneur in the Black and textured hair space taught you personally and as a professional?
I’ve learned that business has a way of being unforgiving whether I was Black, white, yellow, etc. and in certain areas, I may have been faced with some disadvantages in being a woman of color. It taught me to use all of my God given talents to create a space where I can comfortably have a business where I can go to sleep at night knowing that I’m being helpful while at the same time making a living for myself and my family.
Overall, as an entrepreneur, what were some of your most difficult challenges and most rewarding moments?
I think one of the most difficult challenges that I’ve had in business was the death of my sister Titi Branch in 2014. I think because of the deep love we have for one another and because we were also deeply intertwined in one another’s lives in a way that we were, the loss was really detrimental. As an entrepreneur, many of the responsibilities and just about everything really falls on the entrepreneur. When you’re experiencing a personal loss as well as a professional loss at the same time, it could actually cost you your business. That has probably been the most challenging experience I’d ever had in being an entrepreneur. The other challenging experiences outside of that would be creating a business without any cash. [It’s] one of the most challenging things you can do because when something goes wrong without a savvy or sophistication to get loans or have special contacts or have an investor, my sister Titi and I had to figure out a way to stay in business when we didn’t have the capital to do so. I’m still amazed at how we did it and I definitely think God was on our side building a business without any money.
Let’s talk about what’s going on in the world right now. Obviously, there’s a lot happening for the Black and brown community. How have you used your platform and Miss Jessie’s platform to amplify Black voices and voices of color?
As women of color with a Black grandmother, a Black father, and a Japanese mother who is ethnic as well, we are what’s happening. I have a son, I am someone’s daughter and no one whether you’re an entrepreneur [or not] is protected or immune to what’s happening in the world. Miss Jessie’s is a platform that is here to be helpful and we would be remiss if we didn’t share our thoughts and our disappointments with the injustices and all of the atrocities and back-to-back killings that are going on, particularly in the country that we live in, and we’re losing people for no reason at all. It’s so unfair and it’s so unjust. It’s hitting me personally – I’m sad, I’m scared, I’m concerned, I’m hurt. Tears come to my eyes when I think of all of the things happening right now. I can’t just sit back and let it happen without me sharing with the world that we will not be silent and we are not in agreement with what’s happening. We, too, believe that our silence in this particular case and the level that it’s at might be detrimental to all the change that needs to happen now.
Miss Jessie’s has used our platforms in a series of ways. We’ve posted, we’ve donated, we’ve had discussions and we continue to make our position known about the Breonna Taylor’s of the world, the Ahmaud Arbery’s of the world, the George Floyd’s of the world and so many others because those are just the ones we know about. I’m proud of it and I’m not hiding how I feel about the matter because I am a woman of color [and] I am the mother to a son who is a young Black male. We are that and to be silent is not the best thing to do particularly during this time.