Author: Jacob Took
Photography: Schaun Champion

A few years ago, Iyonna was looking for a manufacturing and retail space for her business, Fancy Free Hair & Skin. Today, she and her team run things from her recently-renovated basement. The setup includes industrial lighting, gleaming countertops and plenty of functional space for processing, as well as a break area, bathroom and external entrance for her team. It’s an incredible space — and was years in the making.

“You have to plan carefully,” she says to those considering similar steps to grow their business. “But it’s worth it.”

Iyonna styled braids for The Wire and knows her way around natural hair care. Growing up, her mom was a cosmetologist, and she worked summers in her great aunt’s salon. Despite this, she pursued a career in healthcare, a background which gives her unique expertise in her craft and which she weaves into the branding of her business. Wearing a white coat, she explains, can make her pitches more effective. 

“In order to sell my product, I have to sell myself and my story,” she says. “I am a scientist creating personal care products.”

For years, she struggled to find quality hair and skin products which met the care needs of Black people, so she decided to make her own, and started getting more compliments and questions about what she used. This led her into entrepreneurship — she sold product and also charged for consultations. Things started small — in 2015, the budding business made a few thousand dollars. She had minimal marketing or dedicated space, and also still worked a full-time job.


“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says with a laugh. “But the product was good.”

Quitting her job after preparing her whole life for a career in healthcare was a scary moment. She was working 18-hour days, growing her business with business-to-business sales — oh, and was also pregnant. In 2017, she and her husband made the call — they’d have to adjust their budget, but she would quit to spend more time with the family and the business.

Around this time, she first had the idea to convert the basement. Based on initial quotes, she estimated the required renovations would cost around $15,000. But unexpected structural changes, plumbing and electrical upgrades, plus the rising cost of materials and supply chain snarls caused by the pandemic pushed the project bill higher. Still, with a microloan from the Baltimore Development Corporation and federal pandemic relief, she continued to grow her business while turning her basement into a space perfectly suited to her needs.

Looking ahead, Iyonna plans to scale up her private label portfolio with an eye on healthcare, and is excited to introduce a steroid-free eczema cream. Meanwhile, it’s a blessing to have her family close. Her son helps her with production, and she is proud to set a strong example.

“You can have a STEM career, and you can make your own path,” she says. “You can create your own life, however you want to make it.”

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