Problem Solving + Innovation = Waeve!

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2021 issue of Views from the Hill.

When most people search for a product online, only to find it either nonexistent or just not right, they toss up their hands in frustration and move on. Mary Imevbore ’14 took a different track—she started her own company. Waeve (pronounced “wave”), co-founded by Mary and her Williams College classmates Tiiso McGinty and fellow Hopkins alumna Susana Wilson Hawken ’13, is “a Black woman–owned beauty brand offering high-quality, beginner-friendly wigs.” It provides a stylish, increasingly popular, and in-demand product in a rapidly growing segment of the beauty market.

The Problem: Combining Style and Practicality

As with most entrepreneurs, Mary and her co-founders saw a problem as an opportunity for growth and went for it. Mary said the idea was born out of her own personal experience, going natural and learning how to take care of her afro-textured hair during her years at Hopkins. “My hair was just a really big part of my Hop identity,” she said. “I actually wrote my college application essay on my hair and how it became this thing that defined my identity as a person!” When she got to Williams, Mary found that the hairstyles that worked well for her at Hopkins were no longer practical, and began wearing wigs as a way to style her hair without too much fuss. “I realized that I didn’t have the time I had before to spend on my hair—it was just not conducive to my lifestyle.” Once she incorporated wigs into her personal wardrobe, she quickly caught on that they were becoming the hairstyle-du-jour among women of color in her age group. “All of a sudden, I was seeing them everywhere! Women were wearing wigs in a fashion sort of way.”

The Solution: Creating your own opportunities

Dilemma solved! Not quite. Wigs could only be purchased on a couple of websites; there was very little selection and poor customer service. “I was seeing literally the same pictures of women with the same wigs, over and over,” Mary said. It was a disappointing experience that might have made someone else give up. But it got Mary fired up. She approached Tiiso with her idea for starting a beauty company, and the two began researching anything and everything about the wig market, including the intricacies of wig-making and manufacturing, the cost of materials versus quality, and more. That was the summer of 2017. By that winter, the two had approached fellow classmate Susana with their idea. “They were wondering if there was a way to grow hair in a lab (I was doing biology research at Williams College at the time),” Susana recalled. “I said ‘not quite,’ but as we got more to talking about it, I realized what an amazing idea [Waeve] was and knew I needed to be a part of it!”

The three developed a business plan that they subsequently entered into the Williams College Business Competition, and ended up winning $15,000! While not a huge amount of money in terms of starting a business, it added fuel to their fire. Within the next two years, the three partners pitched their ideas and product to several potential investors and raised more than $2 million in seed money to start the company.
Each woman brings her unique background and expertise to Waeve. Susana, who is currently working on a Ph.D. in computational biology at M.I.T., is Head of Product, responsible for overseeing all the products, both physical and digital. As Head of Brand and Community, Tiiso is in charge of interfacing with the women in the Waeve community in order to drive brand awareness and engagement. Mary is the CEO, overseeing all aspects of the business. Mary credits her Hopkins experience as one of the primary reasons for her success in raising the funds needed to get Waeve off the ground and turning a three-and-a-half-year dream into reality. While the skills she learned at Williams certainly helped, she said it was the self-confidence and resourcefulness she developed at Hopkins that made the difference. “Hopkins helped me feel like I was important enough to say and ask for the things I wanted. I felt people cared about my opinion.”

Mary, Susana, and Tiiso did a beta launch of Waeve in March and are officially launching their website, thewaeve.com, this summer. Their Instagram page can be found at @thewaeve. As the world continues to open up post-COVID, they are also planning to host community-building events. “There is no company like what we’re starting, and we are super excited to bring it to people,” Mary said. “People are so excited about having their world open up!”
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