Nancy Twine’s grandmother had ten children to care for on a small farm in West Virginia. To stretch the family’s money, she took to making their personal care products -- soaps, lotions, and hair care concoctions -- in her bathtub. Decades later, Twine, a former vice president at Goldman Sachs, is at the helm of her own hair care line, Briogeo, equipped with her grandmother’s recipes and other special combinations of natural ingredients. Here, Twine, 29, the youngest African-American woman to have her line carried by Sephora, talks taking risks and branding a beauty tradition.
xoJane: The beauty marketplace is saturated with thousands of products. What makes Briogeo different from everything else that’s out there?
Nancy Twine: My mom kept my grandmother’s journal of all her recipes, and we would use her formulas as the basis for creating some of our own products. Briogeo is a line of texture-specific products that resonate with a diverse array of hair types—curly, straight, chemically- or color-treated. We’ve segmented our line into three different categories (curly, wavy, volumizing and repair), and with such a small numbers of SKUs, we’ve been able to create a well-rounded line.
We’ve pioneered some blends of natural ingredients that haven’t been used in hair care. For example, our Curl Charisma line focuses on rice amino acids for control, avocado and shea for hydration, and tomato fruit ferment for curl definition. For our volumizing line we used a unique ingredient called maltodextrin, which is a sugar derivative that coats the hair to increase the diameter of each strand. And for our repair line, we use this blend of oils—we coined the term Rosarco, which stands for rosehip, argan and coconut.
What is your daily hair regimen and your favorite Briogeo product?
I only wash my hair a couple of times a week and I rotate between a shampoo and a cowash. My hair tends to get oily and I like a good shampoo to get my hair super clean, but I don’t like to shampoo every single time. My hair is on the finer side and mixing it up with a cowash is a good routine for me. My ends tend to be dry, so I use our Rosarco oil every other day. It helps to prolong my haircuts. And if you keep your ends hydrated, you’ll see less breakage and more length.
You didn’t know anyone in the beauty business before you got started. How did you forge those connections?
Not having any real chemistry background, I knew that I needed help from a chemist. So, I started going to different industry events and learned about contract manufacturers. The fact that I could outsource the R&D (research and development) team was perfect for me, because I didn’t have the capital to hire someone full-time or to run my own lab. All of the formulas are inspired by the ingredients we used when I was growing up. I’ve taken avocadoes, shea oils, rosehip and we’ve blended them with scientifically proven natural botanicals, like the rice amino acids, or the maltodextrin.
I read that you financed Briogeo largely from your savings, but you also received some seed funding. What advice can you offer to budding young female entrepreneurs about financing their own companies?
You have to look at financing your company very holistically, because you still have to be able to support yourself. You don’t want to leave your job and go into a business and have to carry the weight of your financial situation. Ultimately, that could distract you from running a company if you’re so concerned with how you’re going to pay rent or buy food. You don’t just start making money on day one, and even when you start making money you still have expenses. I definitely waited [to leave my job] until I felt like I had a good cushion and I made it a priority not to use my entire life savings toward the business. Sometimes people fall into that because they believe in what they’re looking to create so much that they’re willing to put everything on the line.
Did you have any mentors along the way? Who did you look to for guidance in creating and launching Briogeo?
Believe it or not, I didn’t really have many mentors. A family friend who’s very senior at Estée Lauder gave me some great advice, but someone who held my hand along the way, not so much. I had the vision for what I wanted and I was able to find the right people to help me create it.
What would you say is the most crucial skill you’ve transferred to running Briogeo from your finance background?
Being able to think critically and strategically is one of the biggest assets. And relationship management. Sephora is my biggest account and I feel like when I manage them it’s like managing my biggest client when I was at Goldman. Goldman really teaches you how to be diligent about putting 100 percent into everything you do, even when it’s really small. And because I started my career there, that’s become ingrained in how I operate in my own business.
Do you think you’ll expand beyond hair care?
Every day I come up with new ideas, but I want to keep that core focus and not spread myself too thin.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of starting your own company?
I’m still getting my business off the ground, so I don’t have a real staff. Even though I am the founder and president, I’m very much doing the minute detail work that an intern should be doing. It’s hard for me to focus on the big picture stuff, because I’m doing so many things. But I’m also able to have free range and execute on my ideas. I don’t have anyone over me telling me “You can’t do that” or “That’s not your role.” Anything that I think of, I can do.