Kimberley Cowans: Queen of Curls
Kimberley Cowans induces curl envy everywhere she goes, so much so that she gets stopped several times a week by people asking how she styles her lustrous locks. Her tresses may look effortlessly cool, but there are years of experimentation that went into them. She is the founder of SKIMDO, a revolutionary seven-day hold, curl styling product made without parabens, sulphates or formaldehyde. We spoke to the London expat about what motivated her to create this product and how she finally learned to embrace her curls.
Heritage: Jamaican and Russian
Job: Founder of SKIMDO
You grew up between London and Koh Samui. How did that influence your world view?
Kimberley Cowans: It exposed me to so many different cultures. My mother moved there when I was ten, so I’d be there during the school holidays such as Easter. In Thailand that’s Songkran, which is their New Year’s Eve and a festival of washing out the old year and bringing in the new. Lots of different tourists would come for that, so I was exposed to a lot of different cultures — Germans, Italians, Israelis, Malaysians… I remember I didn’t even know about the country Macao until I met someone from Macao. I never felt aware of my skin color. I felt like it was a harmonious upbringing being there, the main struggles I had and where I was bullied the most, was in England.
I went to boarding school and I was one of two brown girls when it first started. I was quite a plump girl, I had really frizzy hair and developed really early. I also had very spotty skin, a lisp, and I needed to wear glasses. I wasn’t welcomed and I knew that instantly. It was a daily struggle for me to find out how I was going to be accepted. I would study the girls who were, and I would try and figure out their formula which became a daily fascination. My mom would say to me “you should just work on your personality. You’re really funny, you’re very aware, observant and you should just stick to that.” I hated hearing that — what I wanted her to tell me was that I was going to be beautiful, and that she would take me somewhere to make it happen for me. My grandparents were very conscious of it and tried their best to make me feel comfortable in my own skin. At some point I wanted to get my hair blowdried straight and my granddad who was a hairdresser did it for me. I felt like a princess but things like that don’t last. It’s like Cinderella, you feel like the belle of the ball for a night and it sort of magnifies the fact that you weren’t that person when you are, your curly, frizzy self. So, it was really difficult for me. I was bullied a lot by the boys and the girls. Left out, just called names and things like that. Thunder thighs, frizzy. Frizzy is like an F word for me, I hate it!
How did this eventually lead you on the path to create SKIMDO?
I had this underlying thread throughout my whole existence that I was never happy with my hair. It held a lot of emotional and spiritual power. I knew that it could be great, but there was nothing available for it. One day I just decided that I was going to make the best curly hair product in the world. I started googling labs and then designing my own packaging. I just got really, really creative. I spent a year, taking on design teams, working with the lab, until I had the texture I needed it to be.
How did you know to achieve the right formula?
When I had all these products that didn’t work I would mix them up together and then they worked quite well. It was best when it wasn’t greasy or oily — I looked for a more gluey texture. I didn’t want it to have any parabens or sulphates in it, of course, but it needed to be laced with something smart, like protein.
Does your product work on all types of hair?
My customer base is half Caucasian and half mixed race. The smart formula means you can manipulate it and style it how you like. I finger twist once a week, because it suits me and lasts a long time. Some people blow dry with it, others flat twist, twist out, wash and go. It’s an extremely versatile and multi-use product that is a fabulous dry conditioner between washes to refresh and deodorise your ‘do. If you live in a city, you know! Life is thrown at you.
How do you bring your brand to life in images?
Having full control of the image of my brand is incredibly satisfying. The first campaign was about putting the incredible mixed heritage girl into focus. I was fired up from feeling ignored by the industry, and I wanted to blast beautiful, racially ambiguous, boldly curly young women all over the internet and in the press. Each of the models (Zezi Ifore, Rudi Salmon, FKA Twigs and Martina) had a different type of curl pattern, and personality. All strong, attractive and unapologetically talented. This is the very essence of SKIMDO. Strong, soft, confident, natural, mysterious and timeless. The images will always reflect this. The next campaign will have more input from loyal customers. It’s always wonderful to hear how someone achieves their style, and it’s even more exquisite when you click with someone’s story. I’ll be pushing these through our social media handles. When I first started, Instagram didn’t exist!
What made you decide to come back to New York to sell SKIMDO here?
A decent share of the orders coming through in the UK were from New York-based customers, and after five years of keeping a low-but-steady profile in Europe, I decided it was time to make a seismic shift and explore the possibility of launching in the States. Yes, I believe in the American Dream. It’s still clearly a thing in 2017.
Where and when can they buy SKIMDO?
SKIMDO will be launching in New York in April 2017. You’ll definitely be able to purchase from the website skimdo.com and select independent stores and salons where you can actually smell it! It has an extremely unique clean redolence that I spent nearly a year creating. I’m obsessed.
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