Alexandra Cristin started Glam Seamless with $1,500 in her pocket and a mission to bring high-quality, affordable hair extensions to the masses. Just short of a decade later, the brand is an eight-figure business with 25 employees and a flagship salon in New York City. Today, on International Women's Day, Cristin is launching a self-funded foundation and giving away $100,000 to women and girls for educational and professional pursuits. Through the 2021 Women’s Empowerment Fund, 40 women will be chosen to receive $2,500 and mentorship from Cristin, who explains how the rare opportunities she was given as a youth from a low-income community informed her entrepreneurial drive and inspired her to give back. This interview was told to Rachel Krause and has been edited for length and clarity.
I was 23, the year was 2011, and I was a recent college graduate. I lived in New York City at the time and it was really tough to get a job after the financial crisis. I got an offer to work at an advertising agency, but I ended up turning it down because I just felt intuitively that being stuck in the corporate world was not for me. I wanted to keep in the gig economy. I grew up with a single mother who was in and out of jail on small charges; she had two to three jobs at all times, and she was always hustling, so I think I picked that up from her. (She's since turned her life around and we have a great relationship — we even work together.)
I was looking for every side hustle there was to make money on my own schedule, doing plus-size modeling and appearing on reality TV — anywhere I could get cash. I just knew I didn’t want to subscribe to the same day-in, day-out life, but I was like, What am I going to do? I have to make money. I've got to figure this out.
I went to a hair salon one day to get a blowout and they were talking about a new type of hair extension, the tape-in ones that hide seamlessly under your hair. I love very big hair and I love extensions, but these were something like $800. I couldn’t afford that, but I went to see if I could buy something similar online. To my surprise, with a little bit of research, I found that you couldn’t. I had $1,500. I used $500 to build a website, $500 for product, and $500 for marketing, and started Glam Seamless with no other resources, no money from anyone. I didn’t even have a business plan or any of that — I just knew that I loved the product.
I really didn’t have any money, so I did a lot of free marketing tactics. I’d write blogs and do YouTube videos talking about different types of extensions, how to wear extensions, which extensions are best for you… What I didn’t know was that when you’re an entrepreneur, you actually work double what you would have in a corporate job. I know it sounds very cliche, but in those early years, I was working 80- or 90-hour weeks and didn’t even realize it because I had so much fun writing articles about extensions. I chose something that I was super passionate about, and I think my customers understood that. We didn’t overcharge for really high-quality extensions that you could previously only get in salons, and people were just thrilled.
What started as a side hustle quickly became a multi-million-dollar company. Now, if you Google my name, you’ll see the phrase “self-made” pop up all over the place, but that doesn’t capture the whole truth. None of us become ourselves without the help of others. When I was nine, I was given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend a boarding school for low-income kids. Opportunity is the one thing that helped me escape poverty, so when I look at my life and what really matters here, it’s not the money, it’s not what magazine my company was featured in. What really matters is the impact of giving back.
I’d been working on a non-profit, and then COVID-19 hit. I thought, How am I going to do this? How am I going to get women together and hold seminars and events and mentoring? So I came up with the Alexandra Cristin Foundation, where women-identifying individuals who want to further their education or professional skills can get need-based grants, scholarships, and mentoring by me. This foundation is really about providing opportunity — it’s a hand up, not a handout. This past year has been so crazy, and a lot of us are reevaluating our lives. I want to bring a group of women together to provide support and community.
The core of our mission at Glam Seamless is to empower women, and I want to inspire confidence and resourcefulness through both funding and mentorship, because I know those are hard to find on your own. We all admire beauty, but what we really see is the energy a person carries through their confidence. I don’t really think it has anything to do with how you look — it's about how you feel. We’re going to be doing two rounds of grant scholarships a year to women ages 15 and up within the US. In this first round, we’re giving out 40 different scholarships for $2,500 each. That’s enough to get a business off the ground and change the course of your life.
The financial fallout of the pandemic highlights the deep disparities of our country. The bitter irony of poverty is that we feel the least freedom to use our resources creatively when we are in need, but our times of need are the ones that call for creativity most. My dream as an entrepreneur is to see businesses emerge in, by, and for low-income communities. For this to happen, the entrepreneurs will need to come from low-income communities, not outside of them. And these entrepreneurs will need to be resourceful, even courageous, with what little they’ve been given — perhaps a small grant, or even a stimulus check. Even as poverty creates barriers for those trying to escape it, opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship remain, born out of necessity.