Ceata Lash, Founder of PuffCuff, holding the PuffCuff hair band.
Ceata E. Lash, Founder of PuffCuff, is the first and only African American woman to hold four U.S. patents in the natural hair accessory industry. — PuffCuff

Why it matters:

  • Retailers are increasingly adding products to serve the needs of America’s Black population, which spent $9.4 billion on beauty products last year, according to NielsenIQ.
  • PuffCuff answered a need for what its founder said is the 65% of the world’s population who say they have textured hair. The self-financed brand is on track to surpass $5 million in sales in the next five years.
  • Ceata E. Lash, the founder of PuffCuff, is the first and only African American woman to hold four U.S. patents in the natural hair accessory industry.

Ceata E. Lash noticed instant improvement in her dermatitis when she transitioned from chemically straightened hair to her natural tresses in 2006.

“I had my hair relaxed since I was 10,” she said, adding that she experienced hair loss and scalp irritation from the relaxing process. When she cut ties with relaxing her hair she felt “like my body exhaled,” she told CO—. She realized the process was the root cause of her constant scalp and skin health issues.

That was the positive. However, Lash was challenged to style her natural tresses as her hair grew out, especially in her career as a graphic designer in higher education, at a time when the natural hair movement had not caught traction. Existing, traditional elastic bands to secure her hair in a high puff damaged her hair, were bound too tight, and resulted in headaches.

“I used to take a boot-size shoestring, tie it around my neck, cinch my hair, and hope it would stay in place,” she said.

A business inspired by an unmet need and her 99-year-old grandmother

She scoured beauty supply stores, department store shelves, and the internet for a solution. “Nothing would work,” Lash said. That's when she decided to build a better hair clamp, she called PuffCuff. The name came to her in her dreams.

Although retailers and brands are increasingly adding products to serve the needs of America’s Black population, which spent $9.4 billion on beauty products last year, according to NielsenIQ, the market is still underserved.

PuffCuff answered a need for what its founder said is the 65% of the world’s population who say they have textured hair.

Her inspiration to start a business also came from her 99-year-old grandmother, who lived with Lash as her health failed.

“In our quiet moments together, I often wondered if she did everything she wanted in her long life. Did she pursue all of her dreams? The answer for her was yes. Knowing I might not get 99 years and that if I put my idea on the shelf and left it there, I might regret it,” Lash said, “I decided to at least try. If I failed, it wouldn't be for lack of trying.”

A friend and carpenter carved her prototype out of wood. She networked with engineering professors at the college where she worked to draft renderings and connect her with a CAD engineer.

Leveraging access to the Small Business Development Center through her job, she devised a business plan. “I didn't know what that was, but I was told I needed one,” she chuckled. Her first loan was $16,000, which covered a little over half of the tooling cost to make her PuffCuff.

“I'm not a Goody; I'm not a Conair,” she said, referring to the behemoths of the accessories category and the challenge of finding funding, mentorship, and access to opportunities as a Black female entrepreneur.

She didn't have lavish capital, but she stumbled upon a product that didn't exist on the market and addressed the unmet needs of people with curly and textured hair.

Michelle Breyer, Chief Marketing Officer for consumer products accelerator SKU, and author of The Curl Revolution, said Lash brought innovation to a saturated market. “I have always loved when founders create a product to solve their own problem — creating something they wish existed. That has been especially true in the textured-hair market. Because of her own difficulty finding accessories for her texture, Ceata Lash created an innovative alternative,” she said. “There are few hair accessories designed specifically for textured hair.”

PuffCuff answered a need for what its founder said is the 65% of the world’s population who say they have textured hair. The self-financed brand is on track to surpass $5 million in sales in the next five years.

Testing her designs on friends and family while tapping Facebook and Indiegogo for marketing and funding

Lash tested her design on friends and family to finalize it. She launched it on Amazon in 2014 and then expanded to Shopify in 2017. With little marketing muscle, she turned to Facebook for exposure and Indiegogo for funds.

“I got more than 1,000 followers overnight. People really identified with the product,” she said, adding that PuffCuff attracted fans across ethnicities and genders. She patented her designs to protect her against copycats, as many tried to mimic them.

The hurdle she didn't expect was that once people purchased PuffCuff, they didn't know how to use it. "I was too close to it. I thought it was intuitive," she recalled, adding that the mechanism differs from traditional banana combs and claw combos.

Education was needed, and in pre-social media times, printed material was the only tool, so she added instructions on her packages.

The advent of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok was a watershed moment because people could easily view tutorials. Demand swelled in more than 80 countries. "It was all word of mouth from social media," she said.

Cracking big retailers from Sally Beauty to Walmart.com and eyeing more shelf space

PuffCuff caught the attention of Sally Beauty, which added the brand to its online sales, U.S. stores, and select Canadian doors.

Lash expanded her assortment to different sizes and accessories like detangling brushes, spray bottles, and carrying cases. Prices start at $18 for the original five-inch clamp and go up to $40 for a pack of seven.

When the Apple privacy update made it harder to acquire new customers through social media marketing, Lash swiveled to an omnichannel strategy consisting of online—Amazon.com, Target.com—and physical retailers like T.J. Maxx in addition to Sally Beauty, with hopes to secure shelf space at Ulta Beauty, Target, and Kohl's.

Recently, Lash crafted a clamp to fit with discount-market price structures. Called Kuffitt, it retails under $8. Kuffitt is available at H-E-B, Walmart.com, and CVS Health. She has her eye on securing shelf space in Dollar General and Walmart stores.

 PuffCuffs of all sizes in black and white.
Founder Ceata Lash stumbled upon a product that didn't exist on the market and addressed the unmet needs of people with curly and textured hair with the PuffCuff. — PuffCuff

A pandemic windfall: ‘People grew out their hair, and I did $2.3 million in sales then’

The pandemic raised awareness for her thick hair solution when people were stuck inside and couldn't go to salons or even buy products at professional stores. “People grew out their hair, and I did $2.3 million in sales then," she said.

Lash remains self-financed and debt-financed without the deep pockets of her competitors. She is actively looking for investors to take her business to the next level and eventually a buyer so she can pursue her next act.

“I want to be a professional mentor,” said Lash. “My passion is to travel the world, speak to people of color who may not have examples in their lives, and show them they don’t need to walk this road alone.”

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