“I came to this country not wanting anything from anyone, just a chance to make it. Ascendus helped me do that.”
When Sayblee was living in her home country, Liberia, she would do her neighbor’s hair for fifty cents. Her neighbor told her that she would pray for Sayblee to go to America and do hair. She said that in America people make money off their gifts, and Sayblee would make a lot of money because she had a gift of doing hair. Eventually, Sayblee fled Liberia to escape from civil war and for the hope of a safer future.
MOVING TO AMERICA
She enrolled in college and in her classes her peers would always compliment her hair and were shocked when they heard that she did it herself. This is where Sayblee found her first client. She invited one of her classmates over to her house to do her hair. She spent 10 hours, cooking for her, feeding her, and making her hair perfect. “I earned, $50, more money than I ever could have imagined.” Her husband’s friend walked by and told her that she should enroll in beauty school instead of college. She started to think that maybe she could make a living out of something she loved. She formed a goal of going to beauty school and making a success out of it.
It would cost her $5,537 to enroll in beauty school. Since she wasn’t a citizen at the time, she wasn’t eligible for financial aid and would have to pay out of pocket. The money would not be easy to come by, but she would have to make it work. She thought about her father, and how he would think she was crazy. He would tell her to become a doctor or a banker, that if she wanted to do hair she could have stayed in Liberia.
On her first day of beauty school her teacher stopped the class and looked directly at Sayblee. She told the class that she had been teaching hair for almost 30 years and there were few students she saw with the finesse to do hair and succeed; she told Sayblee that if she stuck with this she would do well because she has a gift.
DISCOVERING A PURPOSE
Sayblee grew up seeing images and shows of Black women in America with unnaturally straightened hair. When she moved, she decided to relax her hair because her hairstylist did not know how to style her thick, beautiful, curly, hair. After a few sessions she realized that her healthy hair was thinning incredibly quickly. Her hair was being destroyed, and if she kept it up, she would lose her hair permanently. She decided to create her own formulas for what would work best for her repairing her hair and enhancing its natural beauty. One day a woman walked into her salon with a dermatology problem on her scalp. Sayblee looked at her hair and knew exactly what was wrong. Although she loved styling hair, what truly drew her attention in beauty school was the science behind hair. Sayblee gave her client the product she had created, and it worked immediately. The client stopped having to go to the dermatologist. Sayblee decided that maybe this was a product she could provide to more people. She formed a goal of creating her own product line of natural hair products and being able to fully support herself on just her business.
When she started, she would spend 15 minutes pounding the raw materials together per client because she didn’t know how to preserve the product. She thought there had to be a better way. To open her own factory and have a study to prove that her product worked would cost her over $100K, something she couldn’t feasibly afford. Instead, she went to California to try and manufacture and trademark her own cosmetics. She gave them a guide on what she wanted, but they said that they knew better. She listened, and they sent her the completely wrong product. She lost $28K.
She left the office and started crying in her car. She had wasted so much time and money. But she heard a voice in her head that told her she could do this on her own. For the next five years she would go to work, eat, and then work on her product until it was time to sleep. Eventually she had found a way to preserve the product and wanted to brand it. She knew nothing about branding and lost almost $20K in trying out different branding styles that didn’t end up working. She was frustrated, all her hard work had gone into the product, but she was afraid no one would see it. Her daughter turned to her and said she could design something. Sayblee didn’t believe her at first, but in the end her daughter’s design was perfect and all she needed.
THE IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
In January 2020 Sayblee was able to finally retire from doing hair and focus solely on Sayblee Products. She started selling her product at the farmer’s market. In her first month she made $6K, in her second month she made over $10K, and in her third month she made $6K in the first two weeks and was on track to make another $6K by the end of the month. Then the pandemic hit, and the farmers market shut down. Sayblee’s main source of income had vanished.
She quickly pivoted to selling her products online, but she immediately realized that she needed a lot of money for marketing to build a solid presence in the huge, competitive, e-commerce industry. She reached out to Ascendus and was able to secure a $10,000 loan for marketing on her own. She was able to increase her profits and build the base of an online presence, but she realized that she did not know enough about online marketing and would need to hire a social media and digital marketing professional to effectively compete in the industry. She reached out to Ascendus again and was able to secure a $30,000 Southern Opportunity and Resilience loan for raw materials and hiring a temporary worker to further her marketing efforts. The loans helped her get back on track and fill out a backlog of orders. Without the loans, she wouldn’t have been able to provide products to her current customers or find a new source of customers outside of the farmer’s market.
Today, Sayblee is back on the farmers market and in addition has a thriving online store due to the money she invested in online marketing from her Ascendus loans. She still does everything herself, but she hopes to be able to hire two teams, one that can help her to create the products in her lab and another that can specialize in e-commerce marketing so that she can continue to expand her presence and be well known in the online industry. “I am very grateful for the success of where I am so far because of the funds I received from Ascendus.”
To learn more about Sayblee, visit: https://saybleeproducts.com/