Illustration: Olivia Fields
It’s all too rare to find a business coach whose business isn’t just coaching, but Myleik Teele has built an empire of her own — while teaching others how to craft theirs.
If you’ve seen a Curlbox package show up on your front door, you can thank Teele: the subscription-based business catering to women with curly hair has been growing steadily since she founded it in 2011. By now, the Atlanta-based, former public relations executive has partnered with companies like Target, Shea Moisture, and Procter & Gamble, all of which were eager to cater to Curlbox’s loyal fan base. (Seriously, the monthly boxes sell out like they’re Jordan retros.)
“I can’t say too much, but there are men who are still adjusting to a Black woman being in charge.”
In spite of her success, there’s no bravado here. A conversation with Teele showcases a “you can too!” attitude that makes you appreciate her journey as well as your own. Prepared to be inspired.
Well, unless you’re wearing straight back cornrows.
LEVEL: In the least surprising news possible, we’re totally confused by our wives’ and girlfriends’ hair. There are so many products! What does it all do? Do you really need all those different things?
Myleik Teel: You have to understand, a Black woman’s hair is often joyless and stressful. It looks amazing, but it takes work. When we go to the salon it takes a long time; pressing combs hurt. It’s just a lot. So I wanted to figure out how to put the joy Black women deserved into a box, and that’s what we did with Curlbox.
There’s also a magazine inside each box. Why?
I love magazines and sought out women who looked like me on them. So every box has a mini-magazine that features all types of Black women so everyone can be seen.
Subscription-based companies and products are becoming more and more popular. How sustainable is this as a business model? What happens when everyone has every product?
We have a limited number of subscribers, and our boxes have sold out for eight years—usually in under 20 minutes. So many of us love the convenience of it. I subscribe to a vegan meal subscription just so I can have food in the fridge. You don’t run out of new foods to try.
It’s not just the brand that folks find aspirational — it’s you too, for your personal and business growth. How intertwined are those for you?
I think my personal and professional brand are one and the same. I’m fortunate that I get to do things I love. People who follow me know I started this business with no personal contacts and no experience, just a deep desire to serve women of color. And after eight years of being in business, I think we nailed it.
Between Curlbox, the blog, your podcast, and events, how do you figure out what’s worth pursuing?
I just try to do things I like and want to do, and I try to make sure the people who follow me are getting an exchange of value.
What was the most fulfilling moment in your career so far — the one when you just knew that it was all meant to be?
In the course of building my business, I started getting these random checks, and I didn’t know why. One hundred dollars here, a $125 there. It turned out it was coming from people who listened to the podcast. They’d say, “I listened to your advice and now I have a new job,” or some other achievement, “and I want to thank you.” I never cashed those checks, but it was an incredible feeling.
When we hear success stories like yours, we often ignore the hard part that got you here — the trial and error, the failures. What has your biggest challenge been?
Just being a Black woman. Every time you have to make a phone call or show up in a room, you’re questioned. When I first started, I had to go through so much compliance because the banks didn’t believe that we were getting so many people to pay so far in advance for our product. That was — and still is — my biggest hurdle.
What can men of color learn about working with women of color?
Ohhhh! [Laughs] I have had some great experiences with men of color on this side of the business. People like Rich Dennis of Shea Moisture and others have been great. They have been welcoming and working with them has been amazing. That said, we just opened a new warehouse and… well, I can’t say too much.
Tell me without telling me.
I’ll just say, there are men who are still adjusting to a Black woman being in charge.
Men in general? Or men of color?
Both. Men of color have to get used to the idea of women in power and respecting those women. Don’t assume that you know more just because you’re a man. I have not worked with a lot of men overall — I’ve just found women who could knock out everything. So why are we having this conflict?
On a lighter note, you deal with women’s hair mostly. But I’m sure you have opinions on men’s hairstyles.
Is there a men’s hairstyle you miss most?
I’m going to say no. I’m more into classic hairstyles. Baldies, locs, even an occasional ponytail…
Like… a man bun?
Tell me a men’s hairstyle you wish would go away?
I shouldn’t say. I don’t want the fellas to get mad at me.
We can take it. We need to know!
[Laughs] I think I’ve grown bored of the braids. Some of y’all are still hanging on to the cornrows, and it’s not that they can’t look nice…
It’s really over?
They’ve had their time.
What is the most important thing the “Level” man needs to do with their hair?
Moisture! Moisture! Moisture! I saw Diddy deep conditioning his hair and I thought that was great.
What’s the most important thing the “Level” man needs to do if their hair is on the way out?
If you don’t have hair or your hairline is struggling, just let it go. The sooner you let it go, the more comfortable you will be.
Easy for you to say.
Black men look the best bald! If you have to shave it off, you can trust that it’s going to look good!
Again, easy for you to say.
Look. Do not drag this out. If you have a beard, just focus on that. It’s all good. Confidence over struggle hair.