By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa
When Covid forced everyone inside, Joy Hankins had only been in Des Moines for six months. She was at the end of her master’s program in education but knew it wasn’t her true calling. What really excited her was caring for natural textured hair. Textured hair refers to growth patterns like waves, curls, and coils. She had recently learned to love her own curls after years of harsh chemicals to straighten them and wanted to help others do the same. Around that time, she and her husband were in the process of becoming licensed foster parents in Iowa to continue the work they did in Arizona before moving to the Midwest. Hankins knew there was a need for Black families to care for kids in the system but had no idea how dire the situation was in Iowa. “They lose their families and everything they know, including their culture,” says Hankins of the Black kids in care who are put in non-Black foster homes. Often the only Black foster mom in the room, she was frequently asked about products and techniques to care for Black skin and hair. She spent time teaching other foster parents and caregivers how to braid and twist hair, but finding products she felt confident about was a different story. She wanted clean products that were effective and gentle enough for babies and young children. She wasn’t comfortable with what she found. When the world shut down, she decided to do something about it.
In May of 2020, Hankins used hashtags on social media to find a chemist who could help her enhance what she knew about plants and oils that were healthy for hair. A Black female cosmetic chemist responded, and they clicked during their first call. “I told her the ingredients I wanted for my products, and she got excited and knew just what to add to enhance them, things I never would have known.” Hankins dipped into her savings to start with some of her favorite ingredients like jojoba oil, the closest oil to the sebum created naturally by the scalp that helps moisturize and thicken hair by keeping the scalp healthy, and pumpkin seed oil that helps prevent hair loss. The chemist helped her find chemical-free options to compliment her ideas and her vision began to take shape.
Once she had some samples, Hankins’ sisters volunteered to test the products and continue to be her biggest fans and loyal customers. All natural hair care products were just the beginning. Hankins was a teacher by profession and hadn’t planned on becoming an entrepreneur. But she knew she had something that was lacking in the market and badly needed, especially for all the foster families she had met. Her husband encouraged her to talk to someone at the Evelyn K. Davis Center in Des Moines where she learned about running a business, and The Joy of Curls was born. She went on to be selected to the One Million Black Women: Black in Business program created by Goldman Sachs. The 12-week program covered what she needed to know as a sole proprietor, came with a stipend, and exposed her to a helpful community of other Black female business owners. Joy of Curls stood out among the thousands of applicants and Hankins was off to New York to be part of the program’s inaugural class.
Once she returned, Hankins hit the ground running, selling out at the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market where she can still be found on the first and third Saturday of the month. But she didn’t stop there. Hankins revamped her hair care classes and worked with Four Oaks, Iowa’s foster parent recruitment and training agency, to make her course eligible for continuing education credits as part of relicensing foster and adoptive parents. “You have to take six hours of classes [a year] and there weren’t classes about hair care and Black culture.”
The class, called Curly Hair, Loving Care are about more than how to shampoo, condition and style Black children’s hair. Hankins teaches from a trauma-informed lens, covering topics like grief, loss, and self-esteem. The two-hour interactive virtual class includes a tutorial where caregivers can practice a new styling technique and sample some of Hankins’ products. “The classes are a passion project, something I want to do. The teacher in me knew the format that would work. I revamp the materials after every session because of the wonderful discussion that happens during the class. Everyone has questions but are afraid to offend, but these conversations are necessary. I let them know that nothing is off limits.” Hankins, who is bilingual, hopes to create the classes in Spanish to help a wider spectrum of parents and caregivers.
Every foster parent who attends the class receives a bottle of Pumpkin Baby Curl Care Oil that Hankins created for her own baby. For every two bottles of Pumpkin Baby sold, she donates one to foster parents. It’s one of her best-selling products and is beneficial for more than just kids. She found that although the oil was formulated for textured tresses, customers loved it for taming gray hair, stubborn frizz, and softening beards.
Recently, Hankins entered the Black and Brown Business Summit’s pitch contest where she won third place and a ten-thousand-dollar award to put towards her business. Hankins, a self-described introvert, was nervous to present in front of hundreds of in-person conference attendees and countless others tuning in virtually. “It was such a pleasant experience; I know I will do it again. I’m so glad I didn’t let fear get in the way.” The prize money will help Hankins expand her product line, create more virtual courses, and get her products into retailers across the country.
You can find Joy of Curls products, including the Pumpkin Baby hair and body oil online at: www.thejoyofcurls.shop. Shipping is free for local, economy and orders of $50 or more.