How $800 and kitchen experiments helped Stormi Steele create a hair care brand that booked nearly $20 million in sales last year

Stormi Steele
  • Stormi Steele is the founder of the hair care brand Canvas Beauty, a company she created from her kitchen experiments.
  • Canvas Beauty booked nearly $20 million in sales last year after Steele used paid social media advertising.
  • Steele shares the steps necessary for scaling a haircare business, including how to carve your own entrepreneurial path.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As a child growing up in De Kalb, Mississippi, a small town 193km west of the state capital, Stormi Steele felt her aspirations were feared instead of encouraged.

“No one pushed you to be ambitious – if anything, they’re more afraid of ambition,” said Steele, 32, of her childhood. “But as a child, I was always a dreamer.”

Steele’s dreams led her to launch Canvas Beauty Brand, a 3-year-old hair care brand built on products she created in her kitchen. Steele booked nearly $20 million in sales last year, according to statements viewed by Insider, and described 2020 as one of the most rewarding years of her life.

Steele shared how she grew from humble beginnings, stayed resilient, and how she scaled her brand from an experiment to a multi-million dollar burgeoning business.

Carve your own entrepreneurial journey through apprenticeships and resilience

Steele’s entrepreneurial journey started in the late 2000s, at Mississippi State University, where she studied art. With less than a year left to go, however, Steele dropped out. Academic stress left her nearly suicidal. “I was really lost and frustrated,” she said.

In a dream, Steele realized she should pursue hairstyling. “I actually woke up in the middle of the night,” she said, adding that the idea of starting her own business came to her then. “That was the beginning of the journey.”

Stormi Steele

Around 2011, Steele enrolled in a nearby cosmetology school. However, a few months later – just a semester before she was set to get her license – she got into a physical altercation with her father and fled Mississippi for Huntsville, Alabama.

With no plan and just $800 in her pocket, she started an apprenticeship at a local salon, working under a master stylist who gave her credit hours toward her license.

In Huntsville, Steele was exposed to entrepreneurship – it was something she’d never seen growing up. “I felt like I could do it too,” she said of seeing so many women run their own businesses. “They put a fire inside of me to go hard and make a name for myself in this city.”

Invest time and money into your dreams to see them grow

Steele started concocting her own hair products around 2012 in her kitchen while styling full-time. She’d mix over-the-counter ingredients, such as flaxseed oil and vitamin E, in an effort to create a solution that would help her hair grow. After about seven months and around $300, she said she perfected the serum, which she started using.

Steele isn’t the only hair-focused entrepreneur to start out in the kitchen.

Janell Stephens, founder of Camille Rose, and Monique Rodriguez, cofounder of Mielle Organics, also began their businesses from home by mixing ingredients on the kitchen counter.

In 2013, Steele opened her own salon. By 2015, she was using her hair growth serum on customers and receiving rave reviews- including encouragement to sell it online. She went back to the kitchen, and in 2018, she left hair styling full-time to officially launch Canvas Beauty Brand. In the company’s early days, she released a new product each month, including shampoos and deep conditioners, which range between $11.99 to $50.00.

Paid social media advertising can expose your business to billion-dollar markets

Business was slow in the first year, so in 2019, she began investing in paid social media advertising. Steele spent $100 on her first targeted ad, a glossy promotion she shared across Instagram and Facebook, which led to nearly $15,000 in sales in just a few days. In two weeks, she went on to sell nearly $440,000 worth of products.

“Discovery on Facebook and Instagram is powered by personalization – it’s what helps people discover products and services that they love,” said Christina Cua, director of product marketing on the Instagram Business team. “People coming to Instagram and Facebook expect to see content from brands – over ninety percent of accounts on Instagram follow a business.”

Stormi Steele
Canvas Beauty Products Stormi Steele

Steele targeted the Black hair care community, which had an estimated market value of at least $2.5 billion in 2018, according to market research firm Mintel. The community centered on Black people embracing their natural hair grew in the last decade, which is a big deal – for centuries, Black hair has been a source of controversy, where the need to assimilate into Eurocentric societies saw the rising usage of harmful chemicals relaxers. “To have longevity in this industry, you really have to understand the weight of what it is you are providing,” said Maya Smith, founder of the natural hair care brand Le Doux. “There’s no other cultural group that has to fight to show up in the world the way they were born.”

After the success of her first campaign, Steele kept posting ads with before-and-after photos of what her products did for hair. Two months later, the company hit $900,000 in sales, she said. One month after that, she reached $1 million in sales.

Steele continues using paid social media advertising, which helped her company stay afloat in the pandemic. Originally a team of two, she and her husband hired 24 more people last year and moved from a 50-square-foot depository to a 17,000-square-foot factory. After booking nearly $20 million last year, she expects to make another $20 million this year.

Often, she thinks back to those small-town days, where people always told her to be more realistic with her dreams. “There’s something about always being told to be more realistic,” she said. “But I’ve always wanted to show people what real really is – anything you can imagine is real.”