These Black-Owned FemTech Companies Brought Retail Innovation To Essence Festival of Culture 2022

Big data has long had a big inclusivity problem.

Often, AI algorithms are built with systems that can contain racial and gender biases that leave a large group of people unseen and unheard.

That’s what led Jessica Couch and Brittany Hicks to found their data mining tech startup Fayetteville Road–the name is a play on their North Carolina roots. Graduates of North Carolina State University andNorth Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University respectively, they both learned about the inner working of retail management and recognized some of the blind spots.

“I worked in tech as a product manager for several years for a lot of retail tech companies, and I had also gotten my experience for data and site management during my time obtaining my master’s degree Cornell University,” explained Couch. “I conducted a really big research project which changed the way I thought about insights and data collection, especially in fashion and retail. And so that kind of helped me to leverage my experience into our business.”

Similarly, Hicks shared that she was looking for like-minded Black women in retail tech.

“Jessica and I actually met on LinkedIn in 2010 and we were trying to meet other women who were working in retail technology,” Hicks shared. Working at Amazon at the time, she said her experience there greatly shaped the way that she viewed data and insights and analytics.

“All of those different pieces of feedback from customers really feed into the supply chain and kind of inform or shape the customer experience.”

Ironically enough, the idea for the firm was born from brunch of all things.

“We wanted to find an organic way to gather Black women in retail tech so we launched a brunch series that eventually grew to span the US,” Hicks explained. “Then, after so many people asked about data mining and e-commerce support, we realized that launching the firm was the next best step.”

One of their client partners is Myavana, an innovative haircare tech startup that uses deep data to accurately pair customers with their ideal haircare product lineup.

“I actually came up with the idea for my company when I was studying computer science at Georgia Tech in college,” said Myavana co-founder and CEO Candace Mitchell Harris. “I was going natural at the time, and I really could not find the right products to use on my hair. My natural way of solving this problem was to first understand all the variables that are involved with hair products and how they react on your unique texture and type. And so I said, ‘okay, there should be an app for this that can tell me what to use for my hair.’ And so that was literally a thought in class one day because as a Black woman, I was actually feeling very disconnected with my identity at the time. I wanted to do something so other women didn’t feel the way I did.”

A shared dream for all the founders was connecting with Essence Festival-goers and showcasing their skill set for the exact audience they are so passionate about: Black women.

This year, the Fayetteville Road and Myavana partnered with Nordstrom Beauty for a large scale activation at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture. This was a huge win considering the event boasted hundreds of thousands of attendees over the July 4 holiday weekend. The activation allowed patrons to work with experts to find the perfect product lineup using the Myavana platform, powered by Fayetteville Road’s data.

“The experience was incredible and really centered innovation and empowerment,” Mitchell said. “We wanted every guest who came to the activation connect and improve their personal hair journey.”

Hicks also shared that although they’d worked with Essence in previous years, 2022’s Festival felt different.

“The Fayetteville Road team is constantly working with different brands and retailers like Myavana to identify strategies, best practices and even technologies that can improve the experience in stores for customers,” Hicks said. “I think what also made this really special for us in terms of a partnership opportunity is that my Myavana is a tech company founded by and run by Black women. And so, obviously, speaking further to the partnership that exists between the app and Essence, I just think that it’s a really beautiful example of how when we support ourselves right when come together. Not only can Black women do anything, we can do it beautifully.”

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