All Shades Covered: "We Want To Be A Sephora For Black Women"

"Ultimately, we want to be a Sephora for black women," All Shades Covered cofounder Sanmi Ogunmola, 28, asserts. Alongside his business partner Tommy Williams, 26, he founded ASC, an online haircare destination for women of colour. The cofounders have big plans for the brand, which offers a whole host of tried-and-tested products for its customers in one digital space – a first for the market. "Think of All Shades Covered as your new virtual one-stop-shop for all things hair," the site reads, stocking everything from lace closures and handmade wigs to edge treatments and oils.
Featured on Forbes' 2017 30 Under 30: Retail & E-Commerce list, Ogunmola and Williams are determined not only to help customers with all their haircare needs, but to create an online space for black women to be inspired. Their blog features everything from advice on how to repair thinning edges to street style photos from Afropunk, via interviews with founders of skin and haircare brands. We spoke with Ogunmola about how the beauty industry is progressing, being inspired by his sisters, and building a loyal fanbase.
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As two male founders, how did you come to create a site that would provide a service for women, when perhaps it's not born out of personal experience?
We came up with the idea for All Shades Covered when Tommy asked his sister about her hair; things like, 'How long does it take to get it? How much does it cost?' In the back of my head it was an immediate no because I didn’t have that personal experience, but I looked at my childhood. I grew up around my mum, my aunt and my sisters, with them always focusing on their hair and beauty regimes. When I went to the barbers, I’d get it done in 10-15 minutes whereas the girls would have to find the time to get their hair done on a Monday, on a Wednesday and a Saturday. That process hasn’t changed much – my sisters do it the same way as my mother's generation.
From the initial idea for ASC, where did you go next?
Firstly, we wanted to understand the people that would be using the products, so we were bugging people, doing surveys, asking questions; we wanted to understand which areas we could really improve on. Next, we hired the team around us. The majority of them are female, and people who would use the products. Because all women have different types of hair, we were looking to include the entire spectrum. Then it was about sourcing good quality products and making sure we could provide a very high quality service. The majority of women we spoke to had a wait of about two weeks to get their hair, then it would take another week to book in a stylist, so they were looking at a month to six weeks just to change their hair. So what we wanted to do was find a way for them to get their hair within five working days.
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Aside from the fact you're placing all of these products and services in one e-commerce space, what sets ASC apart from its competitors?
If you look at the physical stores in the UK, the majority of people behind the scenes aren't using the products themselves. If I had a certain type of hair and went into a store to ask what kind of products I could use to grow it out and improve it, the person behind the counter wouldn't really understand. We provide customers with the latest trends and styles, new products, plus first-hand knowledge. Our content is very important because we have a loyal fanbase; they have to see what we can offer them, not just product.
Clearly there is a demand for makeup, skincare and haircare for black women, but it’s taken a painfully long time for brands to see this audience as valid. Do you think the industry is changing?
I definitely think it's changing and I think the most important thing is awareness. It’s how big established brands choose to market to Africans, Caribbeans or other ethnic groups. If you look at the main decision-makers for instance, most of them aren't people of colour. They’re not very diverse and they get used to one way of producing beauty. It's really important that the industry takes the right steps. For instance, with the new editor at Vogue, Edward Enninful.
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And there’s so much hype around it. We hosted a panel about it at one of our events this year, and someone brought up a good point: Why should we be excited about it? It should be the standard. But it is great to see people making headway and shaking up the industry.
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What's up next for ASC?
Our next aim is to expand the product range that we do have, so finding more hair textures and more products. We’re looking into other areas of beauty, such as hair tools, hair extensions, so we're looking into expanding that. Plus makeup...ultimately we want to be a Sephora for black women.
Follow All Shades Covered on Instagram @allshadescovered
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