Tracee Ellis Ross fought for 10 years to build a brand that would honor Black and textured hair

January 27, 2023, 1:53 PM UTC
Tracee Ellis Ross, founder and CEO of Pattern Beauty.
Courtesy of PATTERN

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A Fed vice chair could become Biden’s top economist, European conservatives align themselves with Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, and Tracee Ellis Ross has been building her haircare brand for a decade. Have a relaxing weekend.

– Pattern recognition. Ten years ago—long before it began to seem that nearly every celebrity had a beauty brand—Tracee Ellis Ross saw an opportunity. Over the thousands of hours she spent in the hair and makeup chair as an actor, she didn’t see the kinds of products and tools she wanted for Black and textured hair. “There were things we did with our own hair in our own bathrooms that were not being supported with products,” she remembers.

Ross had a busy day job, but she couldn’t let go of that insight. She connected with some potential partners and investors but didn’t get any bites. “They didn’t understand why an actress would have anything to share in the hair space,” she says.

Instead, she used her own money to go to a chemist and find a manufacturer who could develop the hair products she envisioned. She chose one near her in Los Angeles and had her hypothesis confirmed. “I discovered that formulations were built on the efficacy of white hair, or straight and silky hair—not textured hair,” she says.

Tracee Ellis Ross, founder and CEO of Pattern Beauty.
Courtesy of PATTERN

Leaning on the business-minded side of her brain she developed as an executive producer, she learned how to articulate to skeptical backers how much money they were leaving on the table and why she had the right expertise to execute her idea. She told them that “So many people in the curly, coily, and tight-texture community had not been serviced by the industry, to the point that we had all become our own best experts—including myself.” She shared her belief that “Haircare is a portal into our souls.”

By the time Ross connected with Beach House Group, the operational partners who ended up helping her build her company, she already had an initial product and a brand. They launched Pattern Beauty in late 2019.

Pattern sells hair products like conditioners, gels, and masks and accessories like satin caps and combs direct to consumers and through retail partners including Sephora, Ulta Beauty, and Amazon.

This month, Pattern debuted a $189 hair dryer, its first heat tool. The process of creating that tool is much more complicated than developing perishable beauty products, requiring the company to commit to making a dryer before receiving its first sample. “To make something that plugs into a wall—it takes a really long time,” Ross says. But the payoff is worth it to her. “Heat is part of so many of our stories, and one of my dreams is that we reframe our relationship to it,” she says. “It’s a new frontier—the possibility that we can continue exploring our hair without damaging it.”

Ross holds the title of CEO at Pattern, and she’s a highly involved founder. “I got a lot of disappointment, but I never had a doubt,” she says of her 10-year journey. “[I knew] you should have access to your most beautiful self in your own bathroom.”

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Kinsey Crowley curated today’s edition. Subscribe here.


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