Miss Jessie’s Founder Says Beauty Will Never Be the Same
The beauty industry is changing during the pandemic but Branch thinks that’s a good thing
Sisters Miko and Titi Branch did not set out to revolutionize the hair care industry when they invented Miss Jessie’s natural hair products nearly 20 years ago. They were simply trying to keep the lights on.
“I had just had a baby and we had closed down our storefront salon. We just didn’t know what we were doing. We were able to think outside of the box and come up with something that would help us pay the light bill,” Miko Branch told ZORA. “We had no idea that the concoctions we were coming up with at our kitchen table would really change the world.”
The creams and butters they cooked up in their Brooklyn brownstone turned out to be just what the beauty industry needed. Miss Jessie’s was born and it has since become a staple in many Black girls’ hair care regimens and a game-changer for women everywhere hoping to embrace their natural beauty.
Even amidst a pandemic that has hit the beauty industry extremely hard, Miss Jessie’s shows no signs of slowing down and neither does its co-founder. After the tragic death of her sister and business partner Titi in 2015, Miko Branch is still on a mission to honor her sister’s vision by creating new products to help curly girls around the world feel beautiful. And these days, she’s learning that true beauty must start within.
ZORA spoke with the Miss Jessie’s co-founder who shared how she’s managing life and business after the loss of her sister and how self-care is becoming the most important part of her own natural beauty routine.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
“I’m less reliant on things like lipstick or perfume to make me feel whole. I’ve found beauty in my physical, natural self.”
ZORA: Miss Jessie’s hair care products are a staple in many Black girls’ hair care regimens. It feels like Miss Jessie’s has been around forever but how did it all start?
Miko Branch: Miss Jessie’s was created by myself and my late, great sister Titi Branch. It started in 1999 but in 2000 that’s when it really kicked off. Titi would work on our formulations and she actually cracked the code to our Curly Pudding formula which was our groundbreaker and game-changer. It was the curl magic in a jar that really set this natural hair movement off.
We had no idea that the concoctions we were coming up with at our kitchen table would really help change the world. I remember in the early 2000s when the beauty standard was really straight hair. That’s not the case anymore. People around the world are preferring to wear their hair in its natural state. I feel so fortunate for Titi and I to have played such a huge role in that change.
The natural beauty movement has taken on a whole new meaning during the pandemic. How has being under quarantine changed your own beauty routine?
Today was my media day, so I’ve been doing some interviews on camera and it’s the first day I put on makeup in nine weeks and I’m finding I don’t really like makeup anymore. Seeing myself for so long with no makeup and not a lot of effort put into my hair, I can honestly say I’m really beginning to like that girl in the mirror.
I’m more accepting of myself. I’m less reliant on things like lipstick or perfume to make me feel whole. I’ve found beauty in my physical, natural self. I like how I look outside watering the plants or with my hands in the dirt. I’m really surrounding myself with nature’s beauty.
“True beauty comes with balance. Finding joy or finding happiness in a new normal, that process can be very beautiful.”
What advice would you give to people struggling to accept their natural selves during this time?
I work in the beauty business and I’ve learned that true beauty comes with balance. Finding joy or finding happiness in a new normal, that process can be very beautiful if you’re not being negative. Although it can be inconvenient, this pandemic time has been very much needed. I wish there were more opportunities for us to close down for a little while and get close to ourselves. People are able to bring things back down to earth and really focus on what’s important.
I’ve come to learn that hair is an accessory and although it’s really personal and connected to how we see ourselves, I really think we should relax a little bit and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. While you’re getting acquainted with your hair or your body, be patient with yourself. It’s whatever you want to do and no one should judge you, least of all yourself.
How does it feel knowing that your products were on the ground floor of changing how women around the world see themselves and their hair?
When we first set out, we led with wanting to be helpful. We started to really see that Curly Pudding performs on its promise. I thought if I had something like this when I was growing up, maybe I would’ve had a better relationship with my hair. We’re able to be there for women who were told maybe their hair was “bad” and not beautiful.
I’m extremely proud. I feel like while my sister was on this Earth, she did a lot of great work and she changed many lives and I got a chance to witness her good intention and her desire to be helpful and because of that, and because of our partnership together, we were able to change many lives.
“I ask myself, ‘What would Titi do?’ And Titi did a lot! I think my sister is proud of the job I’m doing.”
The sudden loss of your sister and business partner Titi must have been really hard. How were you able to move forward and care for yourself and your company after her death?
We weren’t many months apart [in age] but Titi often took the lead in the relationship whether it be through our sisterhood or our business partnership. We also co-parented my son together. When Titi left this Earth, it was very clear to me things would not get done unless I did them. So stepped into a Titi role and I asked myself, “What would Titi do?” And Titi did a lot!
Staying busy is key. Becoming focused and staying busy is a good way to keep the blood pumping and keep the body moving. Having responsibilities kept me focused and kept me from feeling sorry for myself and not getting too deep into the tragic loss of my sister.
How do you think she would feel now, seeing you and the growth of the company you both created?
Titi plays such a huge role in my life. I love her, I feel her, she’s with me all the time. She guides me, she directs me. I didn’t like the passing of my sister but I realized it’s not up to me. I just have to have faith and try to be more understanding of God’s plans. I miss her a lot. I think my sister is proud of the job I’m doing.