Down To Business: SilkeLondon

Jenessa Williams 22 December 2020

We spoke with Mother-Daughter duo Maria and Christine Sotiriou to find out how they built SilkeLondon into one of the year’s most covetable haircare brands. 

How did Silke London get started, and how would you best summarise what you offer?

Maria: I’ve been a hairstylist for over 35 years, and even with all my experience and access to products, I still couldn’t find anything that helped my hair to grow, hold its style or prevent
breakage. One morning, staring at yet another pillow strewn with broken hair and split ends, and faced with another morning spent restyling my hair, it hit me: the damage was happening in my sleep! 

Looking to the traditional afro hair wrapping methods of my Caribbean heritage, I discovered that wrapping my hair specifically in 100% silk delivered incredible transformative results, but there were only very limited bonnet styles, typically manufactured of synthetic satin, to choose from. Silk is remarkably different to other materials - not only is its surface completely smooth, but it's far less absorbent too, so it won’t strip away the precious moisture and essential oils from your hair like synthetic bonnets do. So that’s when I decided to create the SILKE Hair Wrap. I put years into the careful development; handmade of the finest 100% silk, beautifully designed for optimum fit, slip-on, slip-off ease and fashion-forward style. So that all women, of all hair types, whether they’ve wrapped their hair before or want to begin wrapping now, can experience the beauty of their own naturally strong, healthy hair.

Christine: We are focused entirely on the health of your hair. I think more than ever people are focusing on health in every aspect of their lives, and with hair, that means we are encouraging women to move away from spritzing and spraying to mask damaged hair, and instead work on actually improving it. That’s why the SILKE Hair Wrap is so incredible, as it transforms hair from the inside out. Conditioning your locks to promote growth, boost thickness, extend time between washes and blow-dries… All while you sleep. I don’t think you could ask for more!

Christine

 

Maria's hairstyling experience has set you up perfectly; have you undergone any other formal training or experience that has helped you on your entrepreneurial journey?

Maria: Coming from a family of hairstylists, it was a natural progression for me to follow the same path and I started as an apprentice at just 15. But what really made me want to work with hair, was that no-one knew how to manage my own mixed heritage hair. What made me continue on my journey as a hairstylist was seeing that moment of confidence my clients would feel when they stepped out of my salon chair. A client might come to me struggling with her hair, or after a bad day or going through something emotionally draining. But that moment at the end of an appointment, when a client steps out of my salon chair and admires her hair, the small smile they might give themselves, the little hair flick – that confidence beams from within. And this is why I wanted to start the SILKE London brand.. I want every woman all around the world, to feel that same confidence they feel when they step out of a salon chair, each and every morning.

Christine: I was still working for one of the big four financial firms at the time, but I always knew I wanted to start my own company and work more creatively. Seeing how incredible the hair transformations were, for not only myself, but other women using the hair wrap my mum created, I realised this was something we had to get out there. So, one Sunday, sat on our living room sofas in our pyjamas, I said to mum “I want us to build a hair care company together” and she said, “let’s do it.” The next day, I went in to work, handed in my notice and quit. And that was it. Just like that! Coming from a finance background has helped me invaluably, as whilst I love all the creative aspects of my job most, finance is the crux of making your business a viable success.

 

How does your work compliment your personality?

Christine: I am very methodical, and I am obsessed with design. I like to work through a process, perfecting each step before taking the next one. There is nothing I love more than putting something together that looks and feels visually beautiful. There are so many moving parts to creating products and building a business that being methodical and organised really pays dividends. But getting to make it beautiful? That’s what makes my job feel like my hobby.

Maria: Whereas I’m all about my gut. I follow whatever my instinct tells me.

Christine: She has an incredible instinct, and her decisions are made in a flash, which means we work so well together. I’ve usually gone through a million different ideas and iterations, turned out two results that I can’t pick between, and she will step in with her decisiveness and make a final call. And I will always trust it, because her gut is very good.

 

Working as a mother-daughter team sounds wonderful - what are the greatest joys and strains to this kind of partnership?

Maria: The joy of our partnership is that I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter as often as I do now given the chance to work together. We are able to be honest with one another when discussing business plans and ideas, in a way that potentially other business partners might not be able to be for fear of offence. As we’re mother and daughter, there really is no doubt of our motives, or our underlying feelings for one another, which means getting on with business is a whole lot easier… and faster! I guess it also means we can really blow-out with one another when we disagree… which you can put down as the strain. But we get over it so quickly, it’s all part of the fun isn’t it?!.

Christine: Building your own company, especially when it’s self-funded, the hours you put in and the stress it can create, can be tough. But, through all of that, I had a business partner who was an ultimate comfort not only in making business decisions, but also in the essence of being my mum. I absolutely love my mum, we are so close, and I trust her implicitly, having someone like that by your side when you’re in some of the most stressful moments, really is joy. The strain would be that there is no one whose opinion I hold higher than hers, so I always want her to be completely impressed with everything I do. Which makes for a lot of hard work!

 

Silk haircare has been a huge part of Black communities for generations, but is slowly
becoming more commonplace in other diasporas too. How do you go about reflecting diversity and inclusivity within your business?

Maria: The foundation of our brand and its mission is grounded in inclusivity. Hair wrapping is a hair care method that has been used for centuries. It’s stood the test of time for a reason, because it works. And now it is gaining traction outside of Black communities, because it works. I always noticed growing up in the hair care industry that there was such a huge gap between hair care for different hair types. Something I was acutely aware of as a mixed-race girl with a mum that didn’t know how to cater for my hair type; my dad was Jamaican, mum Greek-Cypriot. There were little to no brands to go to that catered for your Type 1s to your Type 4s. We want to close that gap. We want to be a brand that every woman of every hair type can be a part of. We have always focused on ensuring our marketing and branding welcomes all women of all hair types. And not in a shallow way, as this is something we consider at every level. From our brand photoshoots down to the hair care tips on our Instagram stories, we want to present and be present for every woman.

Maria

 

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Christine: A typical workday would start with me getting to my desk and “settling in”. I have a coffee, I check my WhatsApp, Instagram and emails. I don’t check my phone first thing when I wake up, it just feels bad for you. And checking this way without opening my laptop yet, means I catch up in a way that feels relaxing. Then I go straight into emails on my laptop, respond to anything urgent I see come in, then I begin working on whatever task is at hand. It’s really important to how I feel that I don’t just spend my entire day doing “bitty” tasks. I like to dedicate a chunk of time to a specific piece of work, because it makes me feel like I’ve achieved something. Otherwise, you look back on your day with nothing really to tick off and relaxing in the evening doesn’t feel rewarding. I can’t successfully relax if I haven’t successfully achieved.

Maria: My work schedule is an intricate maze of things. SILKE London, meetings, my private hairstyling clients, my kids, keeping a home, and flitting between the various locations of all these things. Any workday can be completely different!

 

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

Maria: The reviews we receive are what make this all so worth it to me personally. We’ve had women go out of their way to write messages of thanks to us. Women who have struggled with their hair for years - from bleaching, severe dryness, hair breakage or just simply not being able to tame their hair, all the way through to women suffering with alopecia or growing their hair back after chemotherapy. We’ve so often had women tell us “you’ve changed my life”. Now, I know that might seem so extreme, or some kind of ‘marketing message’, but as a woman who suffered with her own hair always seeming out of place, not looking like the ads, not glossy enough, not long enough…when you finally love your own hair, it’s one less thing to talk negatively to yourself about. Because god knows as women, we tell ourselves so often how we are not enough. So, it becomes one less thing to worry
about, and one more thing to accept and love about ourselves instead.

My least favourite part is the avoidable issues that usually come from outside interruptions. We take so much pride and precise care over every aspect of our products, it can be so hard when mistakes are made that would have been avoided if everyone took that same care too.

Christine: My favourite part of the job is seeing the growth. Just a few weeks ago we sent out a SILKE London newsletter that made me feel so proud. To see that we’re a brand that has enough content to fill an email, not just about selling our products but about hair and hair care, it was incredible. We’re a self-funded, self-made business; our family home was an office-come-warehouse for the first 2 years of this journey, and we would often have to watch TV over a tower of boxes. So now to be at a stage where we have a brand-new huge London office, where we have a voice that people value beyond just buying our products, where we have campaign imagery I would gladly hang on my wall…it really is something.

My least favourite part would be dealing with the mountain of admin that comes with it. It can often be so challenging to get on with your “real work,” when you are battling an inbox or questions and decisions have to always filter through you. That’s why it’s really important as a founder and CEO to take time out to be alone with your work. You are the driving force propelling your brand forward, and it’s so easy to be bogged down in the day-to-day admin. I know I’ve been guilty of that. It’s also important to realise that the traditional 9am – 5pm isn’t necessarily the most productive. You can restructure how you work and where you work from to make you most efficient. And if that’s having a day away from your team to have some uninterrupted time to have ideas come to you, because they always come to you in those moments, then do it. The whole point of starting a business is you get to do it your way. Sometimes it can be hard to break away from what working life is “expected” to be and do what actually works.

 

What do you like to do to switch off?

Christine: I love seeing my friends for dinner. Sitting down and just having a good chat and laugh - progressively more laughs with more wine! I don’t switch off well in front of the TV at all; too much stillness makes me feel lazy and my brain very much stays thinking about other things. I love ‘doing’, because that’s when my mind can really clear. Making pottery or cooking huge meals with my boyfriend, playing my drums (I have a drum kit in the SILKE London office!), reading, and just being with people I love, that’s definitely the most
important to me.

Maria: I love being outside, even when it’s really cold. I’ll wrap up and go for long walks with my dog. Meet friends for coffee or dinner. Pre-covid, I’d have my three children and their partners over nearly every Sunday for a big meal. I just love staying occupied and active. Although I don’t mind some cheeky easy reality TV-watching too - I recently loved Selling Sunset!

 

What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what has been your most tangible achievement?

Maria: Starting a business and entering new business arenas means you will come across a lot of people who are more experienced than you. Whilst they are more experienced, it doesn’t always mean they have the right answers. Believing in your natural instinct is key to your final decision making. You can spend thousands on someone else’s opinion in the hope that their experience means their decision is right, but that’s not always the case and that kind of financial hit when it goes wrong is harder to bear than when it was your call. You learn a lot, but you recover quicker.

Christine: The most tangible achievement for us so far would be seeing the SILKE Hair Wrap featured in a cover shoot for British Vogue. The shoot was styled by Edward Enninful, the Editor-in-Chief, and was worn by actress Jodie Comer. It was just so huge for us to have a hair care product, transcend the beauty arena and be deemed fashionable enough for a shoot by an institution like Vogue. We went wild!

When you start a company, you feel vulnerable. You’ve invested all this money and given up on what would be a more stable career path, and other people’s experience or position can make you feel pressured into their ideas. But what I learnt very quickly is it takes a lot of strength to start something on your own; that’s not to be underestimated. So, I believe in that strength and in myself enough to go with my direction. I’m never passive in any decision, because I figure, if it doesn’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be and at least it was my choice.

 

In five years’, time, where would you like to see the business?

Maria: We want every woman to be wrapping their hair at night. We’ve got a huge list of what we want to do to transform the approach to hair care, but once we achieve that, we’ll get back to you with the rest of our list! 

 

If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?

Christine: A creative director working in beauty and fashion.

Maria: I recently realised I would have loved to be an interior designer!

 

Lastly, an important question—what colour wrap is each of your favourite?

Christine: The Lila! It looks how our silk feels, so creamy and smooth.

Maria: In the winter, I am The Kate and, in the summer, The Poppy.


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