"This is one of the most exciting moments of my life," Tracee Ellis Ross tells me as we take a seat in a downtown Manhattan penthouse. For a woman that's won a Golden Globe and interviewed former First Lady Michelle Obama, that's saying a lot. But this particular moment rises above the rest because she has created something that she's been dreaming of for 20 years. As we sit on a snug sectional, her brand-new line of hair products — packaged in bold colours of yellow, white, and black — surrounds us. Meet Pattern Beauty.
It's a product range that's focused specifically on curly and coily hair types. And during our interview, I can't help but stare at Ross' gorgeous head of curls. It's bouncy and perfectly shaped — everything her 7 million followers have come to love on her Instagram. But don't get it twisted, it takes work to get her style just right. "That expression 'I woke up like this' doesn't work for me. I did not wake up like this," she says with a chuckle. "In order for my hair to be like this, there's stuff I do." Lately, that "stuff" includes co-washing with the Medium Conditioner from the Pattern Beauty lineup. It's a product she's been working on for years.
When she first thought up Pattern Beauty, Ross was working on Girlfriends. While the cast and crew of the show were predominately Black, the hairstylists weren't trained to work with natural hair. "They knew how to put heat on it," she says. That's why she took matters into her own hands. In the first two years of filming the series, she woke up three hours before call time to do her own hair, so that it'd look "poppin' and cute," as she put it. "I've worked on jobs where there was a lot of support, celebration, and understanding of my blackness," she adds. "But when it came to hair, I've been my own little, lone ranger."
At a young age, Ross grew to become an expert at styling her own hair. While she might be the daughter of hair icon Diana Ross, she admits that her hair journey wasn't as effortless as one would assume. "As a teenager, you don't look to your mom to see what's cool. You look to music, entertainment, magazines, and the people that the world is saying are cool," the Black-ish star tells me. "And there were so few people that wore their hair natural. I didn't have a lot of examples, so I was susceptible to the beauty norms that we were all subjected to." It wasn't until tenth grade — when she started running track —that Ross started embracing her curls, mostly out of practicality. "I started testing all different kinds of [natural hair] products and discovering what worked for me, what didn't, and what I needed," she says.
That early start on product testing and Ross' time on Girlfriends served to be the perfect foundation for the years of trial and error it takes to create a product line. "They don't teach you in school how to take a dream and turn into it into a real thing," she says. Despite certain "entrepreneurial struggles," nothing ever stopped Ross from pursuing her vision. And three years ago, Ross finally found herself working directly with chemists to develop the formulas that would become Pattern Beauty.
In the formulation process, Ross saw that product efficacy was based on thin, straight hair — which is not her target customer. "It is a huge blind spot within the community of chemists of how to determine what it is that we're looking for when you're dealing with different kinds of porosity in the hair, different kinds of the hair shaft, and how moisturising and hydration penetrates for our textures," she says.
After plenty of testing, Ross was able to finally create what she dreamt up in 2008. The Pattern Beauty offering ranges from $9 (£7) to $42 (£34), includes three tools (hair clip, shower brush, and microfibre towel), and has seven products (a shampoo, conditioners, a leave-in, and oils) for multiple curl types (medium, coily, and tight-textured). Each of the products, minus the oils, come in various packaging sizes, from 3 oz to 29 oz, so that you never have to be restricted to dime-size portions.
Pattern Beauty is just getting started, according to Ross. Hair masks with old-school remedies and styling products are coming down the line. It seems like those decades of work were worth it. As she says, "In the same way that my hair has been a journey, this has been a journey that has reflected that."