Co-founder and CEO of Miss Jessie’s, Miko Branch, has been a household name in the Black community for as long as I can remember. She and her late sister, Titi Branch, are no doubt pioneers that serve as factors of why the beauty industry is poppin today for women of color after they launched the amazing Miss Jessie’s more than 20 years ago. Since then, Miko has proven to be a successful businesswoman, beauty guru, and so much more.
She stopped by the Aspire.TV studios while in Atlanta for the Sistahs in Business Expo and dropped some life-changing gems we can all follow. From how she keeps Miss Jessie’s at the top of the list of the most popular haircare products to how she’s balanced being a mom and entrepreneur from the beginning, she definitely didn’t hold back when she shared the ins and outs of her business. Check it out!
Aspire.TV: Since launching in 1997, Miss Jessie’s has been going strong now for more than two decades. And is still known as one of the best haircare products for women of color. How do you keep the brand relevant with the ever-changing beauty industry?
Miko Branch: I think one thing that’s been consistent is our desire to be helpful. Before Miss Jessie’s was on the shelves of Target, Meijer, and Walgreens, it was my sister Titi (Branch) and I that decided that we were going to offer solutions for women who didn’t even know that they had a wonderful head of curly hair. That desire remains intact and we still lead by that.
But also, us having a salon gives us intel. We were able to test products, able to understand what’s next, you know? We try not to over skew and we try to bring products to the market that are needed.
aspire.tv: Speaking of products, you have new products on the shelves right now, which I can’t wait to try. Can you tell me about those?
MB: We have five new products that are really exciting. Miss Jessie’s is known for our styling products. But as we all know it doesn’t just stop with styling products. We like finishing products to complete the whole cycle of the style. Hold Me Down is an excellent product. It does exactly what it says it’s gonna do. It holds you down. But it holds you down in such a nice way. It’s not crunchy, it’s not hard. It’s actually shiny. It gives a lot of hold but at the same time adds the softness we need. I love the combination of Hold Me Down.
Also, Curls So Fresh… Many of us do wash and go’s and some people think natural hair is easy, and it’s just shake it out and go. That’s not necessarily the case. Second day hair is something that we really want to maintain the look, but we don’t want to put in the work. So just being able to spray a mist of Curls So Fresh to freshen up your curls is something that’s key. What I love about it is that it has tamanu oil, not only to keep our hair refreshed, but our curls moisturized.
The Honey Curls is a popular one. The application is so easy. It’s so glossy, so spreadable smooth, it smells so good, and is really great for a natural with a nice coil to her curl. And it dries quickly!
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aspire.tv: You’ve been really busy! Recently, you opened a location in Miami. How did that come about?
MB: I’m a native New Yorker. I’ve been in New York for over four decades. After my sister Titi passed away in 2014, it became clear to me that I just needed to try something different. New York is such a wonderful place. It’s where we built our business, but it became melancholy for me. I decided that I wanted a change. I chose Miami because it’s a place Titi and I both love. It’s not too far away from New York, but it’s actually very different. I especially enjoy the winters of being in Florida, but I’m able to get back to New York as often as I can, because I still have Miss Jessie’s salon in New York City.
aspire.tv: You’re in Atlanta for the Sistahs In Business expo. This event proves we live in the age of the entrepreneur, and African American women are opening businesses at record amounts. What advice do you have for the aspiring Black female entrepreneur?
MB: I definitely think putting a focus on the female entrepreneur, the woman of color who has an interest in something that she’s good at. The entrepreneurial journey is a rewarding one, but at the same time it’s a challenging one. You know, the stresses and challenges of being an entrepreneur, they will come. If you’re able to land on your feet when those challenges come, land on your feet doing something you love and something you’re good at. I think that’s going to take you through the long-haul of the journey. I believe that staying the course is the key of being an entrepreneur. Many of us experience failure and disappointment. It’s really about getting back on the horse.
We live in an Internet age, and information is right at our fingertips. We’re able to research and gain a lot of knowledge. But I think after you gain the amount of knowledge that you need, I really encourage you to do it. Because in the doing of it, there’s so much experience and knowledge in that.
aspire.tv: Being a successful woman in business, who has proven you’re not slowing down anytime soon, what would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
MB: To forgive myself. If I’ve done something wrong, for me not to be hard on myself, for me to understand and tell myself, ‘you know what, you did your best.’ Then there are sometimes you didn’t do your best. But I think that honest conversation is one that luckily I’m mature enough to have. I think those kinds of experiences are ones that I tap into.
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aspire.tv: You were named one of Family Circle magazine’s Most Influential Moms of 2018. You’ve shown that you can have it all from career to a family. How do you balance everything?
MB: It kind of just happened that way. I actually wouldn’t be here as a woman in business in this capacity with this wonderful brand if it had not been for my son. I’m a single parent and I was a single parent from day one. I decided to go ahead and have my baby. I had a really strong connection with him. I really wanted to provide for him, knowing that I wouldn’t be with his dad. I had concerns about that, knowing that there’s no better way for me to be able to provide than for me to be my own boss. Luckily my son was able to witness the building of Miss Jessie’s from scratch, and balancing motherhood and business was doable because we did it one place. We did it in our brownstone in Brooklyn. I would give my son a bath on the fourth floor and then run to the second floor to do hair. So with that proximity, I was able to multi-task.
aspire.tv: Switching gears a little bit, how would you describe the state of beauty when it comes to how African American women are perceived and represented?
MB: From my standpoint, I see a lot of progress. Music videos were very popular at the time [we started Miss Jessie’s]. We saw a lot of weaves, we saw a lot of the European standard. I believe now, the second generation of children who are rocking the hair in its natural state, or I can walk down the streets of New York and see natural hair, I can open a magazine and see representation of us and our texture, it really lets me know there has been a lot of progress made. And not only in terms of the beauty standard, but also the entrepreneur. Titi and I setting up shop in stores like Walmart, Target, and Walgreens, also played a role in inspiring other people [letting them know] if we can do it you can too.
aspire.tv: You’ve been hair goals for as long as I can remember. I remember seeing magazines and ads and saying, “I want her hair!” So what’s one hair ritual you swear by?
MB: When it comes to texture, moisture is the key. Our hair probably wouldn’t be able to grow and be healthy without moisture. It starts from within and drinking a lot of water. And once it comes out, moisturize it. Many of us need to take time to deep condition it. Although our hair has a lot of texture, it’s also very fine and fragile, so we need to take care of it. I think with that kind of care, we can see the results that we want.