Smita Sharma, a D.C. native and first-generation Indian-American, is personally contributing to this trend with her latest entrepreneurial venture: SnoBee Chic. Pronounced “snobby chick,” Sharma’s online beauty shop specializes in ethically sourced hair extensions and false eyelashes produced in India, which is the largest supplier of human hair in the world.
Sharma’s sorority sisters would often ask for hair extensions from her family’s native country, and as a “serial entrepreneur,” Sharma says establishing SnoBee Chic was the natural next step once she realized the demand for Indian hair extended past her circle of friends. It was time to hit the streets and do some research of her own.
She soon discovered that India was the largest global supplier of human hair because of a sacrificial religious practice followed by Hindus that involves shaving the head, and with Hindus making up more than 80% of the religious population of the country, a mass amount of hair is readily available.
“There’s a standard of quality and authenticity for me, and that’s what I like my brand to focus on,” Sharma says. “If I know it’s coming from India, people know it’s a voluntary process – having my own head shaved, I know it’s a cultural practice we’ve done for generations.”
Ethically and authentically sourcing SnoBee Chic’s products is the most important value to Sharma, so on one of her research trips to India, she vetted 15 vendors. Only two met her standards.
“The hair was coming straight from the temples,” she says. “It was hung up outside and air-dried outside. Those were the types of vendors I was looking to source the hair from.”
But the act of research is only one part of the puzzle – the other is actually sharing her process with her customers.
“[T]he hair extension business [has] been established enough so people know what they want. These are usually people who are seasoned buyers, so it’s more about showing proof that your quality is good. That’s why I’m so intent on showing the brand’s process with people. I think the more we do that, the more we’re able to gain more clientele.”
Another reason she chose India as her source is the quality of Indian hair. She says it tends to be thicker, holds a curl better and has a natural weight to it because of how well Indian women take care of their locks.
“In India, hair is everything. It’s one of the main staple signs of beauty there. Even when I was little, it was a practice in our home to oil our hair and make it grow long and thick.”
Ten years before SnoBee Chic’s launch, Sharma pledged to Delta Sigma Theta, a predominantly Black sorority founded in 1913 at Howard University. She says that because she grew up in a predominantly caucasian environment, being surrounded by women of color made her feel like she belonged.
Sharma says her sorority sisters played a huge role in the creation of SnoBee Chic, because they were the ones asking her to bring back hair from India in the first place. And through them, she was better able to learn about the universal importance placed on hair in Black culture. In business, Sharma her identity as a woman of color makes her feel empowered.
“It’s definitely a challenge at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says. “Lately, I think we’re moving into this culture of really supporting women-owned businesses, especially women-of-color-owned businesses.”
While she is passionate about her work with SnoBee Chic, Sharma says she has greater goals in mind. She dreams of one day starting a nonprofit to teach entrepreneurial skills to women in India who are survivors of domestic violence, or perhaps providing wigs to cancer patients – maybe even both. In the end, though, Sharma says her mission is more than just supplying beauty products. She wants to give back.
“I don’t want to only sell hair. I want to really help empower women and help women feel and look their best.”
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.