Beauty influencer and fashion entrepreneur Freddie Harrel is a French-born, honorary Brit and founder of the game-changing afro-hair extension brand, RadSwan. Her well-rounded portfolio career also boasts digital marketing queen, confidence coach and stylist to the stars. Having raised around $2 million in funding from a board of all-female investors (despite recent figures showing that just 2.2% of US funding goes to women and 0.2% of that to women of colour), we meet the woman on a mission to revolutionise the light and dark sides of the market.
Tell us a little bit more about your role within the company and why you came up with the idea of RadSwan?
As the CEO and Founder of a start-up, there isn’t a set role that I do day-to-day. One day, I could be focused on finances, talking to investors, doing interviews, and the next I could be creating content with my marketing team. It is very fluid, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m able to work across so many facets of the business as it continues to grow and that’s what is exciting about it. RadSwan is the brainchild, or more like the big sister, to ‘Big Hair No Care’ which I initially launched in 2017. Due to the unforeseen success and interest, (I was working on it solely with the help of my husband as a partner at the time) I had to pause and come back with reinforcement to deliver a brand that I believed in, with the support it deserved.
RadSwan is a hair and lifestyle brand that is dedicated to providing premium synthetic wigs for black women, primarily hair novices, like me! Taking back the narrative – we are creating a revolution for black hair, hair that is made by black women, for black women.
Share a little more about the unregulated and ethically exploitative side of the market – and how this is best impacted?
The human hair trade is an unregulated and ethically exploitative market. This exploitation has underpinned the hair industry since the hairpieces became popular back in the UK during the Edwardian Times.
Oftentimes, the high price points of human hair have benefited middlemen and unethical suppliers but have been at the expense of the disadvantaged women in Peru, India, China, and many other southeast Asian countries.
Hong Kong actually exports 52% of human hair worldwide, followed by India. A full head of human hair extensions in a salon costs between £600-£2,000 whilst we are only paying women in Peru £10 for their whole head of hair.
The ultimate beneficiary of human hair are the middlemen who trade between the 2 countries and suppliers. RadSwan cares about its black diaspora of women and we also care for all the other women around the world. We believe our synthetic hair wigs can offer you a similar experience without the “dark side” of the industry and the wavering price points.
As a lifestyle brand, it can be hard to communicate these points, as well as your philosophy, to the consumer in a crowded market: how do you go about this?
Part of our M.O. is co-education and whilst we want to share this information with our community, we also want to learn ourselves. The consumer is more receptive to a new philosophy when they aren’t being preached to, but rather, are discovering in a co-educative space and this is how we approach changing the conversation.
Explain the concept of being a shapeshifter
A shapeshifter is having the ability to effortlessly, confidently, and beautifully shift between hairstyles, looks & interests. It is so innate to us that we don’t realise, as black women, how much we change up our looks – it’s fun, liberating, and a definition of freedom in our eyes.
As a serial entrepreneur, how and why did you first decide to enter the world of business?
After graduating from university, I began my career in finance, but I soon realised this wasn’t for me. I needed a change, I needed to explore. I launched my blog in 2013 and tapped into a side of me that allowed my career and interests to flourish.
The concept for my company started when I was initially blogging. I did hair stories about relaxing my hair when I was working in banking and wearing a weave all the time. I remember I started to look into human hair extensions and found that human hair is not only expensive and high maintenance, but I was put off by the sourcing. I also found that coming across wigs with Afro hair texture required a lot of manipulation and was particularly time-consuming.
On this journey, I stumbled upon a gap in the market: Affordable yet quality synthetic wigs with afro hair texture. This marked the start of a challenging yet rewarding business journey from designing textured clip-ins with a contact in China in 2014 (for my own usage) to launching Big Hair Don’t Care in 2017, which then became RadSwan in 2020.
Why did you decide to fundraise from an all-female VC group?
When developing RadSwan, I listened and took on board stories and advice from our future customers to help shape the brand through pop-up shops, focus groups, and social media conversations… As explained earlier, RadSwan is about co-creating with our community.
This community of black women appealed to female investors and it just came together naturally in this way. RadSwan speaks to a woman who owns her own identity and is proud of it!
How did you initially get traction and momentum, and what methods haven’t worked so well?
From the very beginning, I have engaged and kept in constant dialogue with my followers who were to be future customers. This community of women is very involved and helped to decide product styles, shapes, and even the name of the brand.
I continually communicate with my community to create a personal service. I take on board their stories, feedback, problems, and issues. Being approachable, being present, transparent and honest has been what worked the most. I guess it brings a breath of fresh air to the current market.
As to what methods worked the least, the first thing that comes to mind is to partner with companies or agencies that thought they weren’t in a place of learning together but more so teachers to us and therefore didn’t do the extra work needed to learn about our market, or our product and were not understanding of the fact that we are introducing a new concept entirely.
How did your previous roles in digital strategy help launch your career?
From the beginning, my role as a digital strategist has played an important part in my business journey. From launching my blog in 2013 to also becoming a public speaker advocating women’s empowerment.
My confidence just grew along the way and I used my digital platform to advocate for women’s empowerment. I set up SHE Unleashed, a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism, and sexism. All lessons and experience have built me and my career.
What motivates you?
Being the founder of a brand like RadSwan… It’s not like you apply for a job – you have to design your own role! Seeing our team, customers and brand grow is the biggest reward and motivation, you have no idea! My family motivates me so much as well in a whole different way, they help me to grow into a woman my young self would have been very proud of.
What have been your sacrifices?
I have learned so many lessons on this professional and personal journey!
There have been setbacks and disappointments: it’s not easy launching a brand during a pandemic! You can’t count your hours, your brain is switched on constantly, it’s a never-ending hustle. I would say the sacrifice of time – the extra time to nurture myself, time to enjoy my pregnancy, or time with my family has been a major sacrifice.
Do you have a mentor or people you ask for advice?
I don’t have a mentor as such, I keep myself grounded by journaling and meditating – really indulging in my relationship with myself and my spirituality. It keeps me grounded and creative.