Kaylan Tanner ‘21 serves as the 85th Miss Dillard University and is known on campus for her quick-witted debate skills, intellectual aptitude, and majestic ‘fro that crowns her head. This fall, she received recognition for her commitment to community service and reproductive healthcare advocacy from Seventeen Magazine. In an interview with the Office of Communications and Marketing, the graduating senior shared how she launched Kurly Sistaz Hair Co., a vegan hair care company, as a college student. Tanner notes her parents for having the professional acuity to shape her and little sister Sabrina’s (Tanner’s business partner) goals. Find out how Miss Dillard was prepared to go “where the money resides,” with her non-toxic products for Black women.
Dillard University (DU): What pulled you to start a hair-care business?
Kaylan Tanner (KT): I’ve always had a fascination with growing natural hair and I wanted to turn my passion into a business. While watching Youtube videos, I noticed that the natural hair influencers’ techniques and products they were promoting weren’t working for me and weren’t completely natural. So my sister and I decided to start our own natural hair company to teach and empower young Black women and girls to grow healthy natural hair.
DU: Your products are vegan. Why is it important for Black women to not use or minimize the amount of toxic chemicals (relaxed or natural) in their hair and skin?
KT: We pride ourselves on hand making 100% vegan and natural products. It’s important that Black women limit the amount of toxic chemicals they apply to their hair because it can damage their hair by altering their curl pattern and stunting growth.
DU: How did you learn to make your products?
KT: I learned to make products by watching “Do it Yourself” YouTube videos. Since 10th grade, I’ve been educating myself on how to formulate natural recipes using ingredients you may already have in your kitchen. Now I’ve expanded my knowledge to different oils, herbs, seeds, powders and butters from Africa and India.
DU: Your younger sister is your business partner; what has that experience been like for you?
KT: Working with my younger sister Sabrina, is truly a blessing! Our relationship has grown stronger as I am able to coach her on how to make products, [create] effective marketing strategies, budgeting and shipping. At only 14 years old, she oversees our operations in Los Angeles with the help of our mother, as do I in New Orleans.
DU: What is it like building a business while in undergrad? How do you balance your time?
KT: Building a business in undergrad has been extremely difficult because sometimes I want to dedicate my full attention to Kurly Sistaz Hair Co. but realistically I can’t. I continuously have to check myself to keep myself on track with being a full-time student-athlete, Miss Dillard University, handling multiple internships and being a business owner. To balance my time, I plan certain days of the week and hours in a day to dedicate myself to my business.
DU: Your hair is your most recognizable feature. How do you maintain it on a college budget?
KT: Maintaining natural hair can be expensive however, I am a stickler for using natural products in your kitchen. For example, egg, mayo and honey can be used to create an amazing mask to promote stronger hair. When it comes to getting my hair trimmed, I make sure I save up at least $60 to get my hair professionally cut at natural hair salons in the city.
DU: How did you develop your ecommerce site and what advice do you have for those who are interested in launching a business while in college?
KT: My father invested in us by hiring a web developer who taught us the ins and outs of designing our ecommerce site. I used inspiration from other natural hair brands to build our content for our website. However, if you aren’t able to hire a web designer or developer, you can easily access information from Google, YouTube and website builder programs. If you are interested in launching a business in college, do it! Use the resources from your connections at your respective college or university. I utilized my connections with other HBCU Campus Queens by making them brand ambassadors for Kurly Sistaz Hair Co. Just remember that you’re a student before you’re an entrepreneur.
DU: Who is your hairspiration and why? KT: My hairspiration is Yara Shahidi, she is the queen of natural hair styles.