Adwoa Beauty has secured $4 million in seed funding from Pendulum Holdings, the company announced Thursday. A non-toxic haircare company founded by Julian Addo in 2016, adwoa carries a mission that extends beyond hair styling to further shift the conversation around naturally curly hair and marketing to be inclusive and also encapsulate “the modernization of Black people,” according to Addo . Adwoa quickly garnered a following before Sephora began carrying its 11 products across its US and Canada stores. Now the company aims to prepare for more growth at Sephora.
“We have so much exciting innovation coming,” and the funds would allow adwoa to market faster and “get ahead of some of the supply chain Covid-19” issues, she said. Until now, Addo had funded the company herself.
Adwoa’s business journey, a one-woman success story about a young girl who immigrated to the United States from West Africa, illustrates the passion, ambition and dedication of Addo, who always seemed to find her way back to hair no matter which professional detour she took in life. Now, years after discovering her talent in the sector, building business and entrepreneurial skills she’s working to change the approach to textured hair while aiming to challenge implicit biases and racial disparities that she felt had plagued Black women over generations.
The team at Pendulum Holdings is “excited to see the adwoa team enhance the brand’s digital and in-store presence with the growth capital provided by Pendulum,” Pendulum Holdings managing director Ron Mackey said in a statement.
Mackey pointed to a growing trend of clean, inclusive and sustainable beauty, as well as a rise in the prestige haircare category, which adwoa falls into, and “according to NPD, the category grew 32% in 2021 to reach $2.6B and is expected to double in size over the next two years,” he said.
Addo chose the name “adwoa” in honor of her heritage and her father, who is from Ghana. Adwoa means “female born on a Monday,” and in the Ghanaian culture, children are named after the day of the week in which they are born. Even more broadly, Addo sees the word as connecting those of African descent “in a non-stereotypical way,” bringing together Ghanaians from West Africa, the Caribbean, the transatlantic slave era, the diaspora and beyond.
Culture and Addo’s early life shaped her business journey. As a teen she would style her friends’ hair after school, then rented a chair at a salon and studied cosmetology at a vocational school in New York. Addo emigrated from Liberia in 1982, and without a green card, she couldn’t hold a “traditional job” that her friends had, but she wanted to work. When her family relocated to the Midwest, Addo opened her first salon in Minnesota but found that she still “yearned for more.”
Addo took a job at Citigroup, and as her entrepreneurial spirit would have it, she kept her salon business on the side for a while, juggling and succeeding with both. It took a few more years for Addo’s hair journey to come full circle. After reconnecting with a childhood friend, absorbing hair tutorials of Black women on social media, and attending a related event, Addo was drawn to the idea of embracing her natural hair rather than opting for relaxers. After the event she returned home, “cut out my relaxed hair, I shaved it completely bald in my bathroom and I started my natural haircare journey,” she said.
Over the next few years Addo made a platform to highlight products and foster conversation around natural haircare through educational events, and began freelancing for Sally Beauty and digesting beauty publications “to understand the industry top down.” Her goal was to change the approach to textured haircare. Addo felt marketing and packaging were “antiquated” and “loud.” “When people advertise to multicultural communities and specifically the Black community, it almost comes across as caricature to me,” she said. The disconnect she felt as a consumer told her that there must be a disconnect for others as well. She aimed to design a brand “that appealed to anyone.”
In 2016, Addo had ingredients in mind, as she handpicked oils with an emphasis on scalp health. Adwoa’s key ingredients today, such as baobab oil, are sourced from Africa. She reached out to cosmetic chemists and laboratories but didn’t have much money to work with—about $25,000. She began working on formulations with a lab and went through numerous iterations, and then hired graphic designers and photographers to spearhead the marketing side.
But the more challenging part of the journey was creating the brand—“how do I want it to feel like, how do I want it to sound like,” she asked herself. She settled on “making it feel like me.”
Adwoa launched online in 2017 before finalizing the contract with Sephora in 2019. Later, Addo was introduced to Pendulum by a contact at an advisory firm. By 2022, when Addo felt she had gained enough knowledge and could scale it, she and Ron Mackey took their funding conversations to the next step. Addo looks forward to more growth and raising brand awareness together with Pendulum.