Veterans of urban ministry Christina and Alex Smith are engaged in a new challenge to minister to people in another demographic—Black women who need hair care products.
Alex was serving on staff at Church of the Redeemer in Los Angeles, first as a youth pastor, then as a worship pastor. Christina, who had a background as a special education teacher and case manager, was a stay-at-home mom, raising their two children when she found herself drawn to entrepreneurship.
“There are a lot of entrepreneurs in my family,” said Christina. “So I was praying about what that might look like for me, and it just came to me. God gave me the idea for Curly Gurl Luv.”
Curly Gurl Luv is a “modern one-stop-shop beauty supply store for people with curly, coily, kinky, and thick hair.” Christina says she’s always loved her natural hair, and she wanted to teach other women, especially Black women, to love and care for their hair. In so doing, she wanted to change a narrative that she found disconcerting.
“It’s a billion-dollar industry,” said Christina. “And we as Black people don’t really have a piece of that pie.” With Curly Gurl Luv, the Smiths want to be an example of Black people who are not only consumers but also producers and owners. Christina did some initial research, then began meeting with a cohort of 15 other women in a nine-month program where they learned the ins and outs of the business from a beauty supply consultant.
“A real estate agent on her team helped negotiate our lease. She helped us with business plan templates and got us all the way to our grand opening,” Christina said. “She really helped us from start to finish.”
Alex provided business support. “I’m more of a numbers-and-spreadsheet type than Christina,” he said. “She had the vision, but when it came time to present our business plan to the bank and apply for funding, they needed to see numbers that made sense.”
They also got help along the way. The couple had assistance from a small business development center, which walked alongside them with resources and guidance. Christina experienced a new form of Christian community with the other women in the beauty supply training course, many of whom grew up in church and believed in God. That not only buoyed her spirits but gave her a network of people to lean on when it was time to put their plan into action.
Now that they’ve been open for about a year, they’ve been engaged in a process of constant improvement, which included recently launching a crowdfunding campaign to help expand their product offerings. They see the business as a new ministry frontier, as they take what they’ve learned in previous settings and apply it to make a larger, deeper impact.
“In my other ministry background,” said Alex, “I saw all the different ways the church can take business ideas and use them to edify the community, investing in people and helping them to thrive. At New York Covenant Church, under the ministry of Rev. David Holder, we were always asking, ‘What’s happening in the community?’ We weren’t just concerned about a person’s spiritual needs, but also their physical and health needs. At my core I’m really just about, ‘How do we love people well?’ and the numbers become a tool to make that happen.”
Christina feels similarly about the parallels between her spiritual life and her business, especially as she hosts events and tries to be a loving presence in their community.
“When I was working at InterVarsity and learning how to love God, I was also going through a process of learning how to love myself,” said Christina. “But it’s not only about loving God or ourselves—it’s also about loving each other. Curly Gurl Luv is about women helping each other grow in self-love, loving ourselves and how we were created.”
“That’s why when we started Curly Gurl Luv, we based it on 1 John 4:19: ‘We love because God first loved us.’”