"Beauty should not be acquired at someone else's expense."
These are the words Freddie Harrel lives by. The UK-based Parisian fashion blogger and self-proclaimed confidence coach turned a frustration within the hair care industry into a booming, ethical business of its own. Freddie was on the hunt for synthetic extensions for her own big, bold, beautiful hair, but was disappointed by the quality of the products available. She started experimenting by making her own synthetic extensions and a few years later, Big Hair No Care was born.
Since beginning her foray into the business side of hair, Freddie has used her platform to advocate for women’s empowerment with SHE Unleashed, a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism, and sexism. She was also the Cosmopolitan Influencer of the Year in 2018 and is a renowned TEDx Talk speaker.
Harrel’s brand is so much more than ethically-sourced hair products—it’s evolved into a community of women who want to take back the confidence that the patriarchy robbed from them. At the helm of this movement, Harrel is a fierce force who wants to inspire a generation of women to embrace their true selves.
When did you realize you could make a business out of your presence online?
It took me a while and each time it was accidental. I had had my blog for just under a year when I left my career as a digital strategist to be a personal stylist for ASOS. There we were basically full-time bloggers; there was no job like it. It taught me to take blogging seriously and showed me the financial side of things. When they let me go, I knew I didn’t want to go back to digital marketing—the exposure I got online really made me want to work with women on confidence, so I knew that after that job I would need to create the next steps myself. I trained as a coach and launched the SHE Unleashed workshops the following year, in 2016. I wasn’t making a lot of money from the blog at this point, so I really had to build everything up, whatever I was going to be. Around this same time, my husband got offered a job out of the blue in Geneva, and it was such a good opportunity we had to seize it! But I was very worried it would put a stop to my career, as there was nothing going on in Switzerland for me. So I launched Big Hair No Care! I had already developed the product years before, when I got grossed out by human hair and tired of the horrific synthetic alternatives you find on the high street. I found this lady in China, we created this style, and that’s what I was wearing when I launched the blog. It was never my goal to launch a beauty brand, let alone a hair one, but with such a short notice, BHNC was the quickest business idea to set up.
What are some of the biggest challenges and rewards you’ve faced by displaying your life online?
I’ll start with the rewards because they outweigh the rest by far! The biggest reward is the community! All these like-minded ladies who follow me online and share their stories and journeys with me. By making myself vulnerable, I’ve found people who’ve been through the same things as me, and it has been extremely cathartic in some occasions. As for challenges, they’re mostly around people sharing their unsolicited opinion.
How do you decide which brands you do and don’t work with?
I mostly work with fashion brands, but also services and tech brands. When it comes to fashion brands, I try to stays away from super fast fashion retailers with very low prices, because you know they’re probably taking shortcuts when it comes to their workforce of the environmental consequences. But I realize that this is now a privilege I have, to be able to turn down offers from brand I don’t agree with. I also decide based on the message of the campaign, be it around self-love or supporting young entrepreneurs.
Tell us about Big Hair No Care. What was the inspiration behind it?
Big Hair No Care started because I absolutely love a huge Afro. My hair has so much less volume, so I add extensions to it. I used to use human hair but wasn’t a huge fan, so I starting doing a bit of research in to synthetic options on the high street—none fit my criteria, so I found a supplier and designed the the extensions I wanted. When people kept asking me about my hair and I would tell them they were extensions, they kept asking where from and I had nowhere to direct them to. I eventually launched it as a brand when we moved to Geneva, and extended the range with another texture. Everything happened so quickly—I had never planned to have a hair business.
My line offers clip-in extensions, which are made to match your texture. You don’t need to wash, condition, or detangle them, so they are really great for people who don’t have much time or experience. The aim is to make the natural hair experience faster, easier, and more inclusive. This idea that black women are “extra” and spend senselessly on beauty needs to stop, and hair care needs to be made easier. I wanted a brand that would allow us to save this time and money for things that uplift and empower us so we can put this time and money towards therapy, travelling, a mortgage, evening courses, etc.
Big Hair No Care is a hair business, but it’s also a self-confidence business, a self-love business, and a business by and for black women. I’m hoping to help change the culture of black beauty and make it so much easier, be a culturally-aware brand striving to be ethical, equal, and social, ensuring more and more black people make money from this industry.
What characteristics make you successful as an influencer?
I think my vulnerability. I’m very positive as a person, but positive doesn’t mean happy. Happiness is a full time job, and I share a lot of my lows with my audience. In an age where social media gives us the impression that everyone else is living their best lives, it’s nice to be able to come across people who make vulnerability comfortable, and I hope to be one of these people.
What does it take to build your personal brand from the ground up?
I wouldn’t really know to be honest. I still don’t understand how I got there, but you can’t really compare circumstances. Working as a personal stylist definitely helped in the early days, and having big hair too, ahah! But I’d say consistency is key! That’s why I’m so honest online, because I would have given up a long time ago if I was portraying an ideal I couldn’t keep up with. I guess if you’re doing you, you’ll always find inspiration on what to share (eventually, there are moments I wonder what this is all about). Engaging with your followers, listening and talking with them—I’ve made great virtual friends since this IG journey! Then there are all of these specific tips you can find on how to grow your brand, but I wouldn’t really know—I hate myself for worrying so much about these things sometimes, so I’m just doing me. At some point they said videos are the future, I tried and beat myself for it, but YouTube isn’t for me, and that’s okay.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
Speaking with other women, and entrepreneurs, getting together with them! I’m also having so much fun (and panic!!) dreaming of the future of BHNC and putting things in motion. As mentioned earlier, I really intend to change the culture. There’s no OPI or Essie when it comes to black hair, there’s no big sister like Glossier. Who’s talking to young girls? Our hair is one of the things that sets us the most apart, especially when growing up and trying to find your spot. Who tells them they’re enough? Who says their hair is beautiful and fun to play with? I want to be on their side for the rest of the journey. 63% of black women wear protective styles—what brand is honing the conversation around that? I want to be that brand.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
You are what makes your business different! It always boils down to you. No one can copy who you are, how you think, how you see and perceive things. You have to be your very best friend through it all, because you’ll hit the floor countless times.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
So many! Being featured in most of the printed press, being awarded Influencer of the Year by Cosmopolitan this year, being at a stage where other brands share my vision of BHNC and want to help, so so many highlights!
You have a large presence on social media. How has it impacted your career?
Well, it’s been the best marketing tool to build BHNC, without my own personal brand it would have been impossible! It allowed me to meet and/or befriend people I would not have had access to had I not been popular online. It opened so many doors for me.
Where does your passion/drive come from?
I’m intense!! I speak too much, I’m loud, my laugh is loud, I get super excited, I don’t rest easy, I don’t know—I’m just intense! But I LOVE to feel helpful. I still can’t believe that a lot of people look up to me, you ought to have seen me growing up! I was never a cool girl! So now that I have these people rooting for me, I don’t want to disappoint. I want to create things they’ll be excited about. I was born as a black woman for a reason, and I just want to make sure I don’t miss it.
What are the common misconceptions you’ve heard about influencers?
Easy money. To a certain extent, absolutely! But you also pay with both your sanity and self-esteem.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road and switch gears to find success?
My dad would always tell me whenever I’d tell him I was hitting rock bottom, that it was actually exciting because it’s when I fall that I find all my resources. When I go low, I go really low, and it’s very painful. I think it’s my survival mode that kicks in. I usually grant myself a small pity-party then I rush to the drawing board. I just have to, I can’t afford to sink (Did I tell you I was intense?)
Who’s career really inspires you?
Sophia Amoruso! Talking about someone who’s hit bumps and turned them into successes! I love her attitude!
What’s next for you in 2019? What are you most excited for?
Expanding BHNC, moving to NYC as result. New life in a new place, I absolutely can’t wait!!