For many women, a trip to the hair salon is a small break from reality. Hairstylists pamper clients as they wash, condition, and style their clients hair. Once a woman leaves the salon she often feels refreshed, renewed and brand new.
However, one trip to the hair salon was much more for Shawna Stepp-Jones. Her time at the salon inspired an idea that would launch her company, Divaneering Lab.
Depending on what hairstyle a woman wants it might call for extra steps. “I needed to get bundles installed so I would have to take the bundles a day ahead of time just to get them colored and completely dry. So this is where the idea of Spundle, which is our innovative beauty tech product that we’re building now, came about.”
Stepp-Jones created Spundle with the intention to create a product for drying hair bundles quickly and efficiently, “we needed to create some type of tool that has evolved with the way that we’re now.”
Bundles are a vital piece of the hair industry for black consumers and there is a lack of styling tools to service this type of style. Bundles, also known as extensions, come in various lengths, textures and colors to create the hairstyle a woman wants.
Stepp-Jones is creating a product that will help revolutionize how women get their hair done. However her journey to start the company wasn’t a walk in the park, it came with challenges.
As with many tech founders of color it was difficult explaining how a product for African American women would be a good investment to those that don’t understand the hair care space and products that target Black women.
“So my journey actually began in terms of me having to step out on faith. With me pitching to several investors, several investors that didn’t understand the products and all that I was building because they’re not a part of the community. And most investors are middle aged white men and people that, you know, are just not exposed to our problems within the beauty tech space and within our communities,” Stepp-Jones said.
Nevertheless Stepp-Jones didn’t let the lack of money for her company eliminate her vision or dreams. Instead she came up with the funds on her own and decided to become a surrogate.
“I was presented the opportunity to become a surrogate. And I just did it. I did it because I needed the money I needed the money to invest and to spend and I needed the money to walk away from my job,” Stepp-Jones said.
According to the American Fertility clinic, IVF clinics in the US have a surrogacy success rate of about 75%. Once the surrogate is pregnant, the success rate for a healthy birth is as high as 95%.
In addition, the fees associated with choosing surrogacy can be nearly $100,000 dollars or more. And the compensation for the surrogate is an amount that the involved parties agree on in some cases it ranges from $20,000 dollars or more.
“So for me, it was a very daring thing that I did. It was a very tumultuous experience, the surrogate experience. So I don’t want other women who have great ideas to have to do something, you know, so risky out of desperation because we don’t have access to capital. Capital that other communities have so much access to,” Stepp-Jones said.
Nonetheless, Jones has no regrets and says the experience was definitely worth it. “It was truly me putting the skin in the game, you know, and investing in showing the world. This can happen and I’m willing to, you know, risk a lot to show people that they should just give me an opportunity…we can innovate,” Stepp-Jones said.
The product is slowly getting off the ground and Jones says there’s a strong market for it. She just needed an opportunity to show people what she could do and the problems her product will solve.
While Divaneering launches an innovative technology product for the hair industry they are also working to impact and inspire communities. Divaneering was built on a strong foundation with several missions, “the meaning had a lot to do with the fact that you can be audacious and brilliant at the same time. You can be beautiful and have brains, we can have both of these. We don’t have to assume the traditional stereotype of geekiness or quirkiness because we’re engineers and intellectuals. And so that’s what Divaneering is empowering at this point,” Stepp-Jones said.
Currently Stepp-Jones and her staff host various mentoring events and workshops for children. She hopes to provide resources and a foundation for young girls in STEM. “I actually want to inspire a pipeline of young, diligent, audacious, brilliant women that are equipped with the tools to solve our problems,” Stepp-Jones said.
She added, “I think it is very important, mainly because we have to solve our own problems within our community. And if we’re not equipped with the tools, the technological tools, the innovative tools that other communities have access to, then we’re not going to be at the best advantage of healing our community and providing innovations to our communities.”