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Swivel Co-Founder Jihan Thompson on Building a New Black Hair Experience

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In honor of Black History Month, The Tease will be bringing Black excellence to the forefront with inspiring stories from Black tastemakers, innovators, and creatives in the hair industry who are changing the game and inspiring others to do the same. Their impact, power, and creativity in the hair industry is undeniable and we celebrate them!

If there’s one thing that most Black women can agree on, it’s that finding a salon that caters to your kinks and coils is no easy feat. When you have textured hair, you can’t often just walk into any old salon and expect their stylists to be able to meet your specific hair needs. In fact, ask any curly girl and she likely has a story or two of a less-than-stellar experience sitting in the salon chair.

Best friends turned co-founders Jihan Thompson and Jennifer Lambert know this struggle all too well and created Swivel in 2016 to help women of color find talented stylists in their city. As a platform created by Black women and for Black women, Swivel is making it easier than ever to care for our crowns and ensuring that Black women have the in-salon experience that they deserve.

The Tease spoke to Thompson about her journey into entrepreneurship, Swivel’s impact on the hair industry, and her message to other Black founders.

On how working in journalism prepared her for life as an entrepreneur:

“I spent 8 years in magazines, starting my career at Glamour, then Marie Claire, Redbook, and the last four years before launching Swivel at O, The Oprah Magazine. I was a senior editor and a lot of what I was doing was writing about the latest and greatest products on the market. What I found talking to these brand founders is that there isn’t a secret sauce. It wasn’t like you have to be a specific type of person to launch a business. They just made the choice to go for it. These people believed that they had something that needed to exist in the world. Anyone can do it if they feel very passionate about it.”

On how Swivel’s platform works:

“Swivel is a marketplace that helps women of color find the best hairstylists for their hair texture and book an appointment all in one place. So, consumers can come to our platform and pick what service they’re looking for and their hair type (whether it’s natural, relaxed, weaved, or loced) and they’ll receive a curated list of stylists and salons who can do the service they’re looking for. 

With Swivel, we really wanted to keep it authentic to the community. All Black women’s hair isn’t the same. Jenny and I’s hair is vastly different. She has ringlets and curls while I have a much kinkier hair texture. So, when we’re looking for stylists, we tend to gravitate towards different things. We felt that it was very important to honor that with our platform and really cater to the diverse needs of our community.”

Swivel Co-Founder, Jihan Thompson

On how salons and stylists responded to Swivel when it first launched:

“So many stylists were eager to be a part of it and saw value in it. For so long, they had felt overlooked by the salon community and were really looking for something like this. They liked that we were creating a platform with them in mind and that would support their business.  Because of that and the fact that we were creating something so new and different, we found that we were getting a really great reception. We had stylists asking, “Can we partner with Swivel?” and we received an amazing response from customers as well. In fact, our very first customer was actually not someone that either of us knew. That was probably our biggest sign that we were onto something great.”

On the role Swivel is playing in helping the hair industry at large:

“With Swivel, we are a small business that’s empowering other small businesses. Our platform has allowed us to spotlight the amazing stylists working with textured hair. We see our position as continuing to elevate these stylists who are so talented. With all that’s happening in the current hair narrative, we can’t forget that there are exceptional stylists out there and that they have been out there catering to our community.”

On supporting the stylist community during the pandemic:

“It’s been a challenging time for our stylist community with salons closing and some businesses being shut down indefinitely. With Swivel, we want to do what we can to help. We’ve sent out weekly emails providing resources for stylists and their businesses as well as created virtual programs to bolster the community. We actually launched a partnership with Dove and other Unilever brands called #WashDayLive, which connects stylists with free virtual appointments so they can assist clients while still earning an income. It was an amazing opportunity for the consumer to get the hair help they need  and for stylists to get back to doing what they do best. We were able to put $30,000 towards stylists with this partnership which was really incredible.”

On what’s next for Swivel in 2021:

“A lot of exciting things in terms of growth and expansion. We are currently in New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Now, we’re looking to open up in a lot more cities.”

On her advice for aspiring Black founders:

“Start before you’re ready. If you have a solution that can help someone else, you just have to go for it. For us, we knew that if we didn’t create Swivel and someone else did, we were going to be really mad that we were using their platform when we could have done it ourselves. You can’t talk yourself out of it. You just have to lean into creating and bet on yourself. Also, don’t be afraid to connect with other Black founders.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

To learn more about Swivel, please follow @swivelbeauty on Instagram or visit their website. If you are a hairstylist or salon owner interested in partnering with Swivel, click here.

Camille Nzengung
Camille Nzengung
Camille Nzengung is a Features Editor, based in Georgia, covering all things hair at The Tease. You can find her writing about the best hair products, the coolest hair trends, and all the exciting new hair launches.