A cut above: How Lizzie has grown her £5m hair business

When Lizzie Carter wanted help dealing with her own curly hair back in 2016, she quickly realised there was a huge gap in the market and that curly hair had largely been ignored by the beauty sector, especially in the UK. That’s when Lizzie and her partner, Hugo Lewis, created onlycurls.com, a London-based DTC haircare line made specifically to help people manage curly hair. Their business has grown rapidly, with a large and dedicated following on Instagram and TikTok. SME Magazine caught up with Lizzie to hear her story.

I started Only Curls with the goal to inspire others to embrace their natural curls. When I realised that I couldn’t easily find the right products for my curls, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Only Curls was set up to help anyone with curls or waves to embrace their natural hair. So many people grow up straightening their hair and many don’t even know they have curls. So far, we have decided not to take investment and we continue to be a fully bootstrapped, family-run business. Hugo and I are a couple and we were motivated to start our own business to allow us to take better control of our own time and future. We both have completely different skill sets, and often opposing views which (due to our closeness) are never held back. We think this has been key to Only Curls success.

I worked for 10+ years in fashion design (at Abercrombie & Fitch & Nordstrom) and Hugo for 15+ years in marketing and event management (Red Bull & Tech Crunch). I was able to leave full time employment for Only Curls in 2018, Hugo made the move in 2020. The popularity of the brand continues to take both of us by surprise, but we feel the popularity we know is deserved, having spent five years building this business day and night.

How much money did you have when you began? And what are the figures like now?

We started the business with £500 of our savings, which allowed us to produce a small sample run of hair towels and build a website. We began packing orders at our kitchen table in 2016, reinvested profits, and we are well on track for our goal to become the UK’s most loved curly hair brand with a projected £8 million turnover in 2022 (We turned over £5 million in 2021).

What were the main challenges in the early days?

The challenge for us has always been stock. Being fully bootstrapped we are not able to take huge risks on volumes, and that has resulted in us regularly going out of stock on key items. Predicting sales in the early days was impossible and we have struggled to keep the range in stock due to high demand. It’s frustrating as we could have sold more and grown faster, however going out of stock did generate further demand and buzz around the products and may have unintendedly contributed to the success of the brand.

You are a big fan of social media. Which platforms do you use most and what is the secret of success with them?

We see social media as another customer service platform. It’s a place where we can speak to our customers directly. We share information about the products and how to use them, answer customer queries in the comments/DMs, and then the questions customers are asking us on these channels inspire the content we create. We do a lot of user generated style content, which customers respond well to as it’s native to their feed. This style is great for us as it’s quick, easy and fast to produce resulting in us being able to refresh the content very regularly.

How has your role changed as the company developed?

In the beginning I did everything from sewing the towels to packing the orders, running the accounts to creating all branding and answering all customer queries. As the business has grown, I’ve been able to employ a team to help and I’ve been able to step into a position where I manage and oversee all these things I used to work on.

What are your plans for expansion? Where do you hope the company will be in, say, five or ten years’ time?

Next steps are further product launches and international expansion. We want to make Only Curls the most talked about curly hair brand in the world.