Started By Hairstylist Maya Smith, The Doux Returns To Its Roots With CosmoProf Partnership
Textured haircare brand The Doux’s distribution, already encompassing Target, Walmart, Sally Beauty, CVS and Walgreens, is getting a major boost with a launch at Sally Beauty Holdings-owned professional beauty supply chain CosmoProf. The partnership harkens back to founder Maya Smith’s beauty industry roots as a hairstylist.
“The biggest pat on the back comes from the professional community, the stylist community, because their approval for me personally as a cosmetologist is invaluable,” says Smith, who opened up her first salon, The HoneyComb, in 2008 in Germany, where her husband Brian was stationed in the military. “I feel like I’ve officially done something. I’ve officially made it because I have the approval, affirmation and validation of the licensed cosmetology service provider community. It’s a big deal.”
Smith started The Doux in 2011 and relocated her salon to Macon, Ga., in 2014. The Doux’s products landed in Target in 2017 and Walmart two years later. Today, the brand has reached a seven-figure sales total, and its business has quadrupled in the past four years. The Doux’s bestselling Mousse Def texture foam has sold more than half a million units. The brand’s complete assortment contains 30 stockkeeping units, and it has another 10 in development.
Ahead, Smith discusses The Doux’s trajectory, the importance of its partnership with CosmoProf, the deepening of its relationship with existing retailers, and her ambitions for the brand’s future.
Where did your love of beauty stem from?
I actually started my beauty journey in high school about 30 years ago. I completed my cosmetology education while I was still in high school. By the time I started my senior year, I was already a licensed cosmetologist working half the day in a salon.
When I went to college, I decided that I was a lot better at it than I thought I was. It started off as something I was inspired to do so I wouldn’t be a broke college student, and I ended up being the youngest person in every salon I went into. I was an understudy in a way. I decided that it was what I was meant to be doing, and it’s really been the only profession that I’ve ever had.
Eventually, I got married and my husband was stationed in Germany in the U.S. Air Force, and most of our clientele were active duty military. There was this need to create a space for Americans in Germany that had textured hair. Of course, I did service clients that weren’t American, but for the most part our clientele was military spouses. We had families who were coming in with a lot of different textures.
At the time, I couldn’t find any products that were versatile enough to use on people who wanted to wear their hair straight, like a blowout, or people that were transitioning from chemically treated straightened hair to their natural hair, which was kind of emerging around 2008 when we opened the salon.
I started to work with a group of chemists to figure out what I wanted. It was really important to me to solve problems instead of just creating more of the same. To save time when I was styling curly hair, those products needed to be multifunctional. My clients didn’t have to layer several products to create one result, which is what, traditionally, natural haircare looks like. Also, I wanted to produce results on several different textures because my clients were everything from bone straight to wavy to what we call type 4 hair.
I also knew that, as a stylist, the services for curly hair clients tend to be really disruptive to the traditional appointment book. If you’re doing a blowout, I can have you in and out in 45 minutes to an hour, even if you have curly hair. But when someone came in and they wanted their hair styled in its natural texture, it would take a lot longer. So, I created our bestseller, Mousse Def, to solve that problem.
My clients were active duty military, they didn’t have two, three hours to style and dry. I wanted to create one product product that would style, condition, detangle and define in one step. Once I started working with that mentality as a stylist from behind the chair, both to save myself time and to make their life easier, every product that we’ve created since then has followed those values as far as improving the quality of life of a person with textured hair by making that process easier.
How much money did it take to launch the initial products?
It was hilarious because my husband and I had this Nike Air Max box, and we literally just put money in a shoebox. We were operating in Euros at the time, and I saved probably 5,000, and we’re parents of five. In military life, you start with a pretty meager existence.
The first two years we were just saving our tax returns. I think we started the development of the salon with maybe our first tax return, and then we spent the next year developing the brand. Our first run of the products, I think it was a 5,000 investment.
What really built the brand are the people that were in my chair. Using our clientele as our focus group is what helped us make sure that, even though we started with almost no capital, what we created really did perform well and was approved by the people that we were servicing.
What were the first products that you came on to market with?
We started with a range of six, and our bestseller started out being Bonita Afro Balm, which was a texture cream. That was our bestseller for a long time and transitioned into our Mousse Def texture foam, which is still, today, our No. 1 seller. It is the No. 1 Black-owned mousse in the category.
Mousse Def launched in 2014 as soon as we came back to the States. I started working on it in 2010, but I wasn’t happy with the performance. Again, my clients informed all of my decisions, and I didn’t want to release it until I was really, really confident that it would work for all textures. So, we launched it officially just in our salon in 2014, and then when we went into mass, the whole line basically relaunched with new branding and packaging in 2018.
Our top sellers are what we call our core four, so that is Mousse Def texture foam, Big Poppa defining gel, there’s also Crazy, Sexy, Curl, which is our other setting foam and is also in the top 10 of all foams in the category, and Bee Girl styling custard.
How did the brand start gaining momentum?
We were in Germany, and the media attention started to happen. I was in Jet magazine for a month before I even knew about it. When you’re in a whole other country and you’re not exposed as much to American publications—this is before everyone went online—you just don’t know.
We had also been approached by a lot of distributors and brokers, even though we were still in Germany, who wanted to bring the brand to mass retail drug. I wasn’t sure at the time what that meant for my company. I still was more focused on being a hairstylist and building more salons than really seeing myself as a product developer or thinking about the brand in that way.
Was there a defining moment for you when the brand really took off?
It had already, like I said, begun to take off, but I pumped the brakes on it several times before we went into Target. I really wanted to build more salons. Then, once we got back to the States, there were people flying from all over the country to little old Macon, Georgia because they had heard about The Doux salon. At that time, we were just direct-to-consumer from the salon and our website. We could not meet and schedule all of these people.
That was a light-bulb moment for me when I realized that there was still a need for great textured haircare that was developed by stylists more than marketers. So, we decided, hey, I want to see a professional voice at shelf, and I want to be able to service more people than I would ever be able to service in my little salon.
How did you approach wholesale in those early days?
We started off in Target in 2017. Our distribution strategy has been a little different than a lot of textured brands. Most brands start in independent beauty supply and work their way into larger retailers, but we were fortunate enough to gain distribution at Target really early.
Our success there afforded us opportunities at other retailers like Walmart, Sally Beauty, CVS, Walgreens. Now that we’ve established our brand as a leader in the category, I would say the strategy has shifted into a multipronged approach. In domestic retail, we’re really strong, but the focus is a deeper penetration into more doors, and we’re really focusing on establishing our top items as mainstays, not just in the texture category, but the beauty category as a whole.
Instead of seeing this whole thing as horizontal, I see it more vertical where we’re digging deeper into the distribution channels that we have and growing more organically because we’re able to really touch the people who are looking for us and let them tell our story. I think it’s really important for me as a CEO to dig deeper into my community to make sure that, wherever we put our products, we are really, really focused and invested in those retailers first.
“It’s been just as important to me to bring my voice to the professional aisle as it is to bring it to the retail aisle.”
What makes CosmoProf a good fit for your brand?
One of the reasons I hesitated to go into mass first was because I’m a professional hairstylist, and we’re really, really selective about what we want to have on our shelves. It’s really difficult for many stylists to trust products made for textured hair because very few of them on the market, whether it’s professional or masstige or whatever, are actually developed by stylists.
So, it was really important to me that I was able to bring my brand to CosmoProf. I was really thinking about why I created The Doux in the first place. Stylists need superior performance and multifunctional products that reduce our service time so that we can maintain our bottom line. It all makes sense when you can do your services faster. So, being in CosmoProf really helps me to expand and not just expand the brand, but extend what I’ve learned and developed to help people that are working with textured hair make more money faster.
It’s been just as important to me to bring my voice to the professional aisle as it is to bring it to the retail aisle. I know that, as a stylist, you really need whoever is providing those products to be able to support you, educate you, show you how the products are used behind the chair and help you understand what it means to you specifically as a stylist versus a consumer. So, the professional sector is a big deal because now we’ve grown enough as a brand to really be able to invest that time and do more to support the stylist community.
How is your approach to being successful in CosmoProf different than at Target or CVS?
It’s easier for me to share The Doux story and philosophy to people who are actually doing what I’m doing. They get it instantly. We have our Doux Gang Pro program, which will start to roll out more videos and an exclusive back-end part of our website to speak directly to them.
I’ve been so fortunate to build a following and almost a sorority of textured hairstylists who use the product already. They were buying six to 12 Mousse Defs and three Big Poppas at a time. So, we’re really bringing accessibility to them. They understand, for the most part, what the products do, but what the Doux Gang Pro program does is help interpret what that means specifically to you as a stylist, how this makes you more money.
I want them to understand not only how important the Doux philosophy is to their day-to-day styling, but also how our products are integrated into the other services and products that I know they’re using behind the chair.
How have you funded The Doux?
We’ve been putting everything back into the business since we started. We’re really strategic about our growth, and we’ve been really fortunate with distributors and brokers that have leaned in. The growth that we’ve gotten just with the two of us, myself and my co-founder and husband Brian, it’s remarkable, and it’s only getting started. This year is a really, really big year.
We’re aware that capital is super important. Raising more capital for the brand to be able to expand, especially on the distribution side, is really important. We’re keeping our eye on the financial wallet at all times, and depending on our need and comfort, fundraising and loans, there could be a possibility.
I think it’s important to only borrow once, so we want to make sure that our strategy in fundraising is healthy for the business and that really goes back to what I was saying about our growth being more vertical, building deeper relationships with our retailers as they are, and letting that organic growth on the horizontal side tell us more about what we will need as a brand. We’re learning this year that we probably want to start taking a look at more fundraising.
What are some short-term and long-term goals for The Doux?
Just going deeper into the communities and to the retailers that have supported us at the beginning. I definitely want to see more global presence. As a person that’s lived abroad, I understand the significance of finding products that serve the needs of a person with hair like yours. It is very, very valuable to people all over the world to have access to products for people with all textures of hair and for those products to be created by someone who’s actively using those products.
The Doux is a lifestyle brand. I know that sounds like a buzzword, but it really is informed by the culture and informed by cosmetology. I see myself as a brand bridging the gap between the professional world and the retail world, and really building our brand more on those in-person conversations, on customer activations. This corporate stuff is very new to me, I’m really better face-to-face. Tell me how you are, tell me what you need. I want to see us more engaged with our community.
We want to expand things from the educational side as well, hopefully creating more brick-and-mortar spaces for them to do what it is that they do and empowering them to do exactly what I did. It’s my belief that there needs to be more people with real experience with textured hair who have their products represented at shelf. We need to be leading the conversation in textured hair. Our voice needs to be the loudest in the textured haircare aisle. I want to be not only an inspiration, but instrumental in leading that charge and making space for my community to do that.