Stormi Steele, founder, Canvas Beauty Brand
“Anything that you can imagine is real. Someone’s doing it. And just because no one around you is doing it doesn’t mean that you can’t be doing it,” shared Stormi Steele in our recent interview. As the Founder & CEO of Canvas Beauty Brand, Steele is an expert in bringing dreams to fruition. Having dreamt up her signature product, business name, and mission statement all in one night, the road to Canvas Beauty began with an imaginative spin and has blossomed into a real life success story. When the key ingredient, Cayenne pepper, came to her in that now life-changing dream, Steele began using her unique formula on her own hair. When she introduced the formulation to her clients’, they eventually convinced her to share their results on social media and offer the serum for sale. “It just ended up having a life of its own after that,” she resolved.
Today, Canvas Beauty Brand’s Hair Blossom Serum has hundreds of positive reviews, is the leading product in its market category, and has a unique infusion that makes its blend 100% proprietary – leaving little to no issues with competition. With the signature serum leading the pack, the brand has spent the last few years rolling out products and campaigns that customers can’t get enough of. “ People always take to anything new that we drop, honestly,” said the former stylist who spent years doing hair before dedicating herself full time to the business. Developing quality products with a purpose has allowed for brand trust, fast growth, and a loyal following.
Currently shipping within the U.S., Canada, and Australia, Canvas Beauty reached fast success in an oversaturated market and continues to climb the ladder. I had the pleasure of speaking with Steele about the growing pains of this process and her advice for fellow entrepreneurs on the same path. She was kind enough to share here a few trade secrets and her vision for the future.
Grow Fast, But Only If You’re Ready
In 2019, the company went viral. But the unexpected push from less than 6,000 orders per month to 30,000 in four days led the two person team of Steele and husband and business partner, Courtney Beasley, to fall months behind on orders. “Everything was a challenge. We had to build a complete fulfillment center, and we had to build a complete customer service team. I even had a struggle getting inventory because we were making it by hand, so now, having to find a manufacturer to help mass produce it,” said Steele in a previous interview with Voyage ATL. Though she revealed this was a period of loyal customers, the brand has bounced back phenomenally. This past Black Friday, they did better than ever with their smallest team of the year, even extending cyber Monday sales to a full week. “Talk about growth and optimization! Last year even though everything was growing tremendously the backlash from not being prepared was gut wrenching,” shared Steele in an Instagram post. Now, Steele says, with the exception of a few shipping hiccups from time to time, processes are now seamless.
Steele recounted taking notes as the brand reached thousands of new customers with the help of a marketing team in 2020. With a $100 Facebook ad featuring a promotional video created two years prior, the brand brought in $15,000 in sales. “From there, I just started researching,” she explained. Figuring out why the video converted so well, Steele says she began creating content with those principles in mind, and continues with the strategy today.
Though the boost of paid media resonated highly with new and old customers, Steele remains adamant about building the strength of a brand’s capabilities before deciding on a partnership. “I laid the foundation,” started Steele, speaking of her marketing strategy up until sales began to plateau. “It was easier because I had all my social proof already,” speaking specifically on the transition to paid media. “I had built the audience and I knew how to make content that converted,” she said of early successful grassroots campaigns. “I decided to go with a marketing company because I had reached everybody that I could use in my network. I wasn’t climbing anymore… and I knew it wasn’t my product or my marketing, said Steele. “I needed to get with people who knew how to get my content in front of more people,” she concluded.
Approach The Process With Patience & Keep It Proprietary
When asked how she’s been able to protect her dream formula for her fastest-selling and most popular product, Steele shared a saying from the hair care world. “No formula is truly protected.” Mentioning the fact that anyone can bring leading products from the shelves to qualified chemists to have them reverse-engineered, Steele says the focus shouldn’t simply be on ingredients. “I always try to have a proprietary process, especially when it’s a signature product, like my serum,” she revealed. “We’ve had chemists try to reverse engineer that product all day, and they can’t because they don’t know the process that we [use to] infuse the ingredients together. So they know what’s in it, they know how much is in it, but they don’t know each step that makes it what it is.”
Formulating Canvas’ first product herself, Steele remains hands-on in overall development. “I research everything before I even go to a chemist,” she says of her process. Coming to the meeting with which product she’d like to create, what ingredients it’ll include, and even what hair type it’s meant to work on, Steele is big on being involved in the minutiae. Once samples are completed in the lab, Steele first uses them on her own hair. “I use it on my hair because I know my hair type, and because I know how my hair responds, I can pretty much tell how [the product] responds to other textures as well.” Steele wants fellow hair care entrepreneurs to know that product development is a gradual process, sometimes taking 6-8 months to get one formulation off the ground. From lab testing for stability to staff and influencer community first-takes, it all includes patience and honest feedback. “And if they say something different from what I want them to,” noted Steele of the feedback, “I go back to the drawing board and start over.”
Manufacturers Are Your Friends
Steele’s advice for building a relationship with a manufacturer begins with a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to protect your formulation. “You want to make sure you get an NDA signed so that you can openly discuss ideas and products and make sure that what you have going on with them is protected, and they don’t go and try to sell your formula to someone else.” Next is gaining access to a detailed tour of the facility for gaining a better understanding of processes, like sanitation procedures for example. Steele asserts that founders should also be very clear about turnaround timeframes and that the facility is properly insured to protect your product(s). Then, be sure of the terms on the table and don’t be afraid to negotiate if needed.
“As a new business owner, it’s very hard for a lot of people to get into manufacturing with a manufacturer because of the MOQ [minimum order quantity],” explained Steele of certain manufacturers holding MOQ’s of 10,000 SKU’s per order. “To somebody who’s just started, that’s insane,” she exclaimed. “Come to the table with what you have, express that you would be a good client, and know that you can negotiate. And don’t be afraid to, because that’s what I had to do.”
Lastly, Steele says to get everything in writing. “I know from experience – things can change and things can change quickly. And once they do, you won’t have any control over it if you don’t have those proper measures in place,” she shared. Generally, Steele says, the development of a good, working relationship is of utmost importance. “Always respect the next business owner because the people who are doing manufacturing, they have a business model too,” she concluded.
Follow A Greater Vision
In place before she ever found riches for herself, Steele’s non-profit organization, The Dream Girl Society, reminds women of their value and limitless capabilities when it comes to transforming this world with what they have inside. Steele admitted that it wasn’t until she moved to Huntsville, Alabama and witnessed the successes of other women that she actually believed she could achieve it for herself. Expanding on the concept she remarked, “Now that I have learned so much and know so much, I want to be able to help female entrepreneurs build their own businesses and not have to go through all the growing pains that I went through. I want to act as a resource so that they can have the answers that I didn’t have.”
For Steele, her greatest vision remains giving women dream lives to aspire to. As one of less than 4% of Black female entrepreneurs who have surpassed the $1 million mark with their businesses, Steele wants others starving for the same success to know that it’s not about the money, but how many lives you can change with your journey. “I always believe in the saying that your obedience is connected to so many other people’s destiny,” she declared. “I think if you focus on that, you’ll always be successful.”
I am the founder of New Girl on the Block, a mentorship platform for millennial women who are dealing with major life and career transitions. I use creative education to