sienna naturals

This Clean Textured Hair-Care Brand Caught the Eye of Issa Rae—She’s Now Co-owner

Founder Hannah Diop is blazing a trail for Black women in the green beauty space.

By: Faith Cummings

Although a Black business boom followed the racial uprising of spring 2020, allowing Black entrepreneurs more visibility and popularity among mass audiences, 2021 will prove whether or not these diversity efforts, like the 15 Percent Pledge, on behalf of retailers, will hold fast. It will also be a year of even bigger and bolder steps forward on the part of said entrepreneurs, who are now courting more customers, bigger social media followings, and more eyes on their brands. Such is the case for Hannah Diop, whose naturally derived, ingredient-focused hair-care line Sienna Naturals has swiftly become a beauty industry darling, catching the eye of none other than Insecure creator and Emmy award winner Issa Rae.

“I’ve known her for many years, and when I was living in New York City she would stay or come by, and she really got to see the development and the evolution of Sienna Naturals over the years,” Diop says of her long friendship with Rae. “She’d always try the product and always buy [it]—she loves the product. She’d always ask, ‘How can I help?’ If you look back a couple of seasons, I think we have some products in the bathroom on an episode of Insecure, with a different look and feel to the brand.”

That support eventually led Rae to come on as the co-owner and face of Sienna Naturals in 2020, an asset that will hopefully allow Diop to secure even more funding as she formulates naturally derived hair-care products that cater to a Black female audience (a too-often-overlooked demographic within the clean beauty space).

With all the added visibility Rae has brought to the brand, it’s not surprising that both she and Diop have fielded dozens of requests for partnerships and collaborations over the last few months. But it has been important to the duo to prioritize brands that are actually making tangible, positive changes on behalf of Black entrepreneurs. It’s why they both agreed to work with American Express on their new “Built to Last” podcast, not long before the brand pledged $2.5M to a hundred Black-owned businesses.

“When you see an institution like that, doing the homework and actually putting the resources behind documenting Black businesses past and present, and then choosing these emerging Black woman-owned brands to highlight and focus on, they’re helping to establish and really bring credibility and awareness to the history of Black businesses for a broad audience,” Diop affirms.

Here, we talk with Diop about her love for holistic beauty since childhood, the lack of clean, natural options for textured hair (and how Sienna Naturals is striving to fill that void), her partnership with Rae, and more.



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On her early love for holistic beauty:

“I feel like Sienna Naturals has been inside of me since I was a child because it really goes back to my childhood experience. My family was very nature inclined, so I had a lot of allergies and sensitivities as a kid, and I would see a naturopathic doctor in addition to traditional Western doctors. I also had acupuncture, I had chiropractic care, I had the naturopath, and massage therapy. My mom’s approach to health care was very holistic, but that of course trickled into our everyday lifestyle.

“We would shop at the natural food store and her instinct was to buy our hair care and our personal care there. I remember we’d bring our refillable tubs and we’d get our conditioner and our shampoo. I’d bring it home, take a shower or bath, try the product, and I couldn’t comb through my hair. That sent a message to me that there must be something wrong with my hair type. So just the fact that there wasn’t an offering for me [at these stores] really stuck with me. My mom was white, so she had very different hair from mine. I also grew up in Minnesota, so I was one of very few Black children in my school. So my goal with Sienna Naturals was really to bring this wellness focus to the textured hair-care space and to look at what our actual needs are.”

On why her brand has a wellness focus:

“I had eczema as a child, but I know that our lifestyle and the day-to-day personal care items were moving the needle on how I felt. I know that you have the power to do that with a wellness focus. [Now] I do see a lot of natural-focused products and brands using natural ingredients that aren’t necessarily focusing on ‘clean.’ Taking it to the next step and actually adding this wellness element to the products was very important to me. The longer you use them and the more you use them, the better your outcomes—the healthier your scalp feels, the healthier your hair looks and feels. So you have this sort of freedom and flexibility to style your hair however you want, [and you can] return to your healthiest hair and scalp using products with ingredients that are safe for your body and hair.”


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On the importance of creating a naturally derived hair-care line for Black women:

“The focus and the process that we go through for product development has always been focused on solving a health issue like eczema, dry skin, flakes, itchy scalp, and approaching it in a way where all the ingredients are very safe. I was initially inspired because my sister was pregnant, [and when] she was shopping at Whole Foods for hair care and personal care, she was still disappointed with what she was seeing. And I thought, wow, this offering hasn’t improved in the health food store yet? What is going on there? So initially, I was really focusing on making a product that pregnant women could use and that was also safe to use on their children and their babies.

“The research is now emerging that as Black women, our day-to-day hair-care practices are potentially contributing to a higher rate of breast cancer for us in particular. There was an article I read in Fast Company about how Black women who dye their hair every five to eight weeks are contracting breast cancer at 60 percent higher rates than Black women who don’t dye their hair at all. Silent Springs Institute, which is a breast cancer research organization, also found that the majority of products Black women purchase in mass retail still contain endocrine disruptors and potential cancer-causing chemicals. We’re also scrutinized for our hair and how it looks. Eighty percent of Black women still feel the need to alter their hair from its natural state in order to progress and advance in their careers. That’s why we have the Crown Act now, which has been passed. And so when you look at that, you say, OK, well, if she’s scrutinized and literally her job depends on how her hair is perceived at work, then of course the outcome is going to take precedence over the ingredients.”

On the process of creating clean hair-care products that actually work:

“It’s hard to formulate a clean product that actually feels good in your hair. It’s got to have some slip. Our coiled and curled natural hair needs to detangle, and it’s more fragile because of its anatomy. So you have to make sure that performance is ranked just as high as the composition of your product. I think a lot of clean beauty products have gotten away with not focusing on composition because they weren’t necessarily in demand from textured hair consumers. Every Sienna Naturals product has gone through tons of trials and iterations. I’ve developed them myself in partnership with a cosmetic chemist who’s also a woman of Nigerian descent with very curly, kinky hair. So we are making products that are for us.”



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On innovation in natural beauty:

“I use language like ‘naturally derived’ a lot, and we use some of the ingredients in their raw form. The thing about beauty, personal care, skin care, and food even, in the natural and clean spaces, is that there’s a ton of innovation. So you could take an ingredient and you want to get x benefit from shea, but you want to leave out y and z factors from that shea butter ingredient. So then you fracture the ingredient, or it goes through a chemical change to extract what you want and leave behind what you don’t want. And some of those transformations involve combining it with something else which could be plant derived and that could then change the name of the ingredient. The innovation is never going to stop—you always have to do the homework.

“I was sort of forced to create my products from scratch from the beginning because I couldn’t find a manufacturer that would work with me and create products in the small volumes I could afford to produce. I was completely bootstrapped in the beginning, so I found a chemist who I was referred to through a friend. She was very passionate about this, and we spent Saturday mornings in my New York kitchen for many years developing formulas. I call myself the Chief Foraging Officer at Sienna Naturals because I love to go and talk to the chemists at these various chemical and natural companies bringing raw materials and ingredients to bear that are innovative. I have to grill my chemist on everything that we’re looking to include and understand—what happened to this ingredient? Where did it come from initially? Is this clean? Did Eco Cert call it clean? You have to do your own due diligence.”

On how she’s practicing self-care right now:

“I was practicing yoga on a regular basis. I found a hot yoga studio that I loved here in Los Angeles, which is such an incredible moving meditation for me. I do have the apps and I do practice, but I don’t do it as frequently. What I have done is I still have a virtual guided meditation that really keeps me grounded. Then I also have virtual Reiki with a woman who I’ve been receiving energy healing from. And I incorporate a lot of spirituality into my day-to-day life. I start with a morning prayer, I light a candle, I bring my children into it. I really find that staying grounded is actually the most important thing in this time of high anxiety, high uncertainty, high visibility, to remember that I am safe. So for me, wellness is really bringing those daily practices of grounding through meditation, yoga, eating foods that are right for my body, and trying to get sleep.”


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On the Black business boom of 2020 and what she’s learned from it:

“I hope that America has learned that Black women are creating products for ourselves that work for us, but by doing that, we’re actually serving a much broader constituency of customers. Sienna Naturals, for example, was started for me, with this clean wellness focus on products that perform and are solving problems like the damage and loss of protein when we use heat on our hair and the scalp irritation that might come from using extensions and braid styles. If you have straight hair and you blow-dry it regularly, or you color or bleach it, the anatomy of your hair starts to look like the anatomy of textured hair. So you can actually benefit from a treatment-focused product line [designed for textured hair].

“I think the attention and the opportunities that have been given [this year] are great. Everything starts with the consumer. The consumer has to demand it, and then that trickles up to brands and the retailers. It can be hard to make these adjustments, but when you see it and you hear about it being in the strategic plan from the CEO down, then I know that this is going to last longer than just 2020 for many players. There might be some virtue signaling out there, but I think that this will have a lasting impact.”

On her friendship with Issa Rae and how she brought her on as a co-owner of Sienna Naturals:

“Issa sent me a text message and said, ‘Look, hair-care brands are trying to holler at me and I’m about my bag. So at some point, do you want to do something?’ I thought, OK, let me take a step back. If I’m actually going to do something with Issa Rae, then we have to go about it the right way. So I raised a seed round of capital for the first time and formalized the partnership with her. She’s come in as a co-owner and the face of the company, and it’s been really incredible.

“Issa is beloved by many, many people and has many opportunities. She has a good center and makes decisions about what she wants to be a part of or not. For me, it is asking, does this align with our values at Sienna Naturals? Does this align with what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go for our customer and society? How is this going to be beneficial?”


Photos: Courtesy of Sienna Naturals


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