Every Black girl knows the ‘swivel’ moment at the salon—the moment before the moment of truth when your chair turns for the final time towards the mirror and you review the stylist’s handiwork. She (or he) often studies your body language to gather your thoughts, and sometimes your face tells it all. Sometimes you love it and sometimes it’s “fine” and sometimes you flat out hate it, vowing never to return to that stylist again.
Jihan Thompson and Jennifer Lambert co-founded the Swivel Beauty app to eliminate those horror stories that sometimes follow that final turn in the salon chair. The app—created for Black women by Black women—allows users to find and book appointments with stylists in the New York City area that cater to specific hair types and desired styles. Since it serves naturalistas as well as those with relaxed hair—expect to find stylists who can slay a bomb twist-out, style dreadlocks and sew in a fantastic weave. Users may also rate the stylists, give them reviews and submit before and after pictures. Basically, Swivel Beauty app aims to ensure you have hair goals on a much more regular basis.
Each salon listed has been Swivel-approved. “We pride ourselves on only having people on our app who we are proud to recommend,” says Lambert. “I’ve personally tried out at least 75% of the salons on our app or we send other people.” The vetting standards? It’s what all Black women want to know before we hop in someone’s chair and let them dig into our tresses for the first time: How long was the wait? Did the stylist turn an expected trim into a big chop? How was the overall experience?
As the app grows (they’re currently working on bringing it to Android phones), the childhood friends turned co-founding business owners hope to add other cities and countries into the mix. “We want you to be able to go to Barcelona and if you get caught in the rain, to “Swivel” your hair appointment,” says Lambert. The hope is also that the app could one day expand to Black men and other women of color, because really, we all have some sort of hair struggle. But Thompson and Lambert are putting on for Black women first. “Because we deserve it,” Lambert says. “We spend so much more on our hair and it is such a critical thing for Black women. There is just really a huge need in the market for something that enables Black women to tap into the tech world for their beauty needs the way that white girls can.”
That’s facts only. A Nielsen study shows that African-Americans have a $1 trillion buying power, with Black women spending 9 times more on ethnic beauty products than other groups.
Still, Black women remain underserved in a market that we should actually be financially dominating. From Black representation in the beauty supply stores, we frequent (be real: The Asian community has had the beauty supply store on lock in our neighborhoods for years), to the amount of Black hair care products that retailers make available on their shelves—we still have quite a ways to go.
And what better, more convenient a way to service these needs than with technology? As more hair apps for Black women crop up—there are more digital offerings like Bantu (iOS only), Natural Hair Tips, Curly Nikki.com’s forum and a few others that service Black women in various capacities—it’s clear that we are a group that consumes and creates.
But in the tech world, apps come and go. Remember the Candy Crush craze? Temple Run? Angry Birds? The cycle usually begins with buzz, plenty of downloads and then apps gets deleted once curiosity has been satisfied. Few apps retain their first-week download numbers. Thompson and Lambert plan for the Swivel Beauty app to push beyond the initial buzz and become part of Black women’s daily lives à la Uber and Yelp.
“We want to help women re-shape their beauty routine and their beauty lifestyle so that Swivel becomes part of that lifestyle.”
In this industry, it’s rewarding to be able to bask in the beauty of Black representation and Black ownership. “If we didn’t, at some point someone else would have created it,” says Thompson of their decision to start the business. “And we’d be using it like, ‘Damn, we had this idea and sat on it and didn’t take it anywhere.’ We decided we didn’t want to live with that regret so we wanted to make this happen.”
Could it be that the Swivel Beauty app means “the struggle is no longer real” for Black women’s hair care needs? We certainly hope so.