Career Diaries: How Whitney White’s YouTube Subscribers Inspired Her to Create Melanin Haircare

September 29, 2020
Sarah Ferguson
By: Sarah Ferguson | by L'Oréal

Whitney White first came onto the beauty scene in 2009 when she started her YouTube channel Napturals85, which now has more than a million subscribers. On the channel, she became known for her DIY hair-care recipes and her styling tricks for natural hair. Starting Melanin Haircare, her own line of affordable non-toxic products, was a natural progression, but one that required hard work to get just right. We chatted with White about her early YouTube days, how DIY recipes inspired her product formulations and her favorite Black-owned beauty brands to shop (aside from her own, of course!). 

What made you want to start vlogging?

I started my YouTube channel back in 2009. I was growing out my chemical relaxer and transitioning to natural hair, and I wanted to share my experience with the small natural hair community that I had found on the platform. I hadn’t seen anyone with my specific hair type and felt that my experimentations and solutions could help other naturals out there.

How do you think the YouTube beauty community has changed since you started?

I think the YouTube beauty community has become much more confident and outspoken over the years. There’s definitely a lot more voices and opinions present, and the culture has become a bit more direct — at times confrontational — but I think in general, it’s great that people feel free to share their true opinions and thoughts about the industry without it being taboo or fearing consequences for sharing their truths.

How did you get into DIY-ing hair products? 

I’m a natural born DIY-er! I’ve been DIY-ing hair products, hair tools and clothing since I was younger with relaxed hair. I just love creating things with my hands and coming up with solutions to my common problems. They just work so well, and keep my hair happy and healthy.

What inspired you to start your own brand, and how did you know it was the right time? 

My community inspired me to start Melanin Haircare. They loved my DIYs but just didn’t have the time or resources to make the products themselves. At first I fought it because I wanted my DIYs to motivate my community to be self-sufficient with their hair care and not rely on expensive hair products and/or services to succeed in their natural hair journey. But after countless inquiries, I realized that it would be a service, not an exploitation, to provide my creations ready-made. I made sure that my original recipes were enhanced for shelf stability, elevated performance and undeniable value. We wanted to help grow and nourish the hair, be all-natural and non-toxic and remain affordable. This challenge took us six years to master.

What were some of the biggest challenges and most rewarding moments during the creation of Melanin Haircare?

Creating Melanin Haircare was a trial-and-error process. It took us six long, hard and expensive years to get it right; we certainly paid our dues, emotionally, mentally and monetarily. The hardest part for me was not sharing my journey online because I couldn’t let anyone know what I was working on, while sharing literally everything else unrelated to what I was creating. It was such a huge part of my daily experiences during those years, so all I could ever say was, “Woo, a long exhausting day, guys!” but no one ever knew why I was so exhausted. Our biggest challenge business-wise, was putting our team together and finding the right balance of support. You need people who you can trust and who get and trust you and your vision.

How do you balance working on Melanin Haircare and working on your channel?

It’s a daily, weekly, monthly, non-stop challenge to balance my daily responsibilities while running Melanin Haircare with my co-founder/sister, Taffeta. But I’m like a duck, smooth sailing on top when you see me on social … and paddling like hell on the bottom when I wrap and log off. I also have two school-age children, so it really is a juggling match of what is the most important fire that I need to address each day. And trust me, there are always at least three fires to address each day. 

My online community is my second family. I truly love them, as weird as that sounds. I’ve had a relationship with them for more than ten years, I’ve met many of them in real life at events or in everyday life, and they just feel like my extended family. I care about them, and I’m so blessed and thankful that many of them truly care about me, too. I can’t, nor do I want to, just walk away from my family. I think I’ll always be here to connect in some way, shape or form. 

How are you feeling regarding the beauty industry and the Black Lives Matter movement? How has it impacted your brand?

It’s been a hard year all around. I feel a mixture of sadness, frustration and fear for the safety and positioning of our community in this country, along with empowerment that, finally, the world outside of our community is starting to acknowledge the truth of our experiences. While it’s been a sobering year, we’re thankful for the rise of Black voices and Black businesses that is a byproduct of uplifting the Black community as a whole.

What do you hope to see in the beauty industry in terms of diversity, representation and inclusion?

I think we’re on the right track. The past few years have been amazing for the Black and Brown communities regarding increased representation on screen, in product development and in media and advertising. Going forward, I think we’d all appreciate seeing the representation to also happen behind the scenes, on the executive and creative levels. We need more people directly from the Black and Brown communities getting the opportunity to sit at the table and to help build and shape the stories and projects that we’re seeing — otherwise it’s all just a façade.

What are some of your favorite Black-owned beauty brands? 

I have so many, honestly, I’ll just rattle them off: For hair care, I obviously love my company, Melanin Haircare, along with the BrushWithTheBest's detangling brush and HennaSooq’s natural henna and ayurvedic products. For beauty, I love Habit Cosmetics, Pat McGrath Cosmetics, Plane Jane Beauty, The Lip Bar, Mented Cosmetics, Danessa Myricks Beauty and Fenty Beauty. For clothing, it’s SammyB Designs, FeNoel and ElevynThirty. I’m sure I’m missing some; I’ve literally been exploring and discovering so many great new Black-owned-brands, not just for beauty, but for everything!

Photo: Courtesy of Whitney White; Design: Hannah Packer

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