Miko Branch Co-Founder, Creative Director and CO-CEO of Miss Jessie’s
Miko Branch was born to an African American father and a Japanese American mother in the early 1970’s. During her childhood, it became apparent that she was drawn to visual presentation and beauty. Beauty was important to her.
This image of aesthetics was manifested in a variety of areas which included: what clothes she chose, how her room was decorated and how her hair was fixed. Miko’s mother had little time to participate in the activities that Miko enjoyed. Her mom attended art school in NYC at the School of Visual Arts and worked fulltime to help support the family. Some of the activities Miko enjoyed were tea parties, dressing up, doing make up and experimenting with different hairstyles. At the time, Miko enjoyed hair and make-up sessions because this enabled her to emulate the iconic beauties she saw on television growing up. The beauty idols that stood out to her were, Cher, Donna Summer, Lola Falana, Diana Ross, the “Asian Lady” with long black hair from Soul Train, Thelma from Good Times, and Jayne Kennedy to name a few.
Miko adds, “I thought my mother was very stylish and beautiful. Although I saw my mother in me, I did notice that our hair was extremely different. Her hair was really long, straight and black. Mine was multi-textured, kinky and shrunk up. I wanted my hair to look like hers and did everything I could to slick it down.”
Miko’s favorite grandmother Jessie Branch always made time to indulge Miko about her hair. Jessie made sure to get Miko’s hair washed, conditioned, braided or blow-dried straight during her visits with her in Poughkeepsie, NY. When Miko had to go back home to Queens, she found herself experimenting with lots of grease, water and Dippity Do gel. Fascinated with hair, Miko’s classmate allowed Miko to cut her ponytail off with a paper scissor. The next day, the little girl’s mother came to school furious about her daughter’s new “do”, remembers Miko. Continuing her love of hair, Miko perfected her young craft. Eventually, all family and friends received their first Relaxers and haircuts from Miko. “Growing up, I was always the go to gal for hair and beauty”, she chuckles.
In her early twenties, Miko went on to study Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and realized (the day she graduated) that it was not the path for her. The projects took too long and she wanted instant gratification in her finished product. “Why not hair?” Miko thought. She was good at it, it came naturally to her and it did not take a long time for a finished result. She enrolled herself in beauty school the day after she graduated from FIT.
In the early nineties, she worked in a variety of salons and went on to start her own hair practice in her Brooklyn studio. Miko freelanced, did photo shoots and advertisement campaigns to build up capital to start her first storefront salon (Curve Salon) on Bond Street in the Boreum Hill section of Brooklyn with her sister Titi in 1997. Eventually, the salon was moved to the parlor floor located in the stately Brownstone section of Brooklyn, Bedford Stuyvesant in 1999.
In 2000 a lot changed in Miko’s life. She welcomed the birth of a new son into the world. With his new arrival came changes in the way Miko thought about hair. Ever the innovator, this was the time that she began to experiment with wearing her hair in more textured styles because it was impossible to keep her hair straight now that she was giving baths to a new baby boy. The more she wore her hair in textured styles the more her clients noticed and started requesting this new look. After awhile the salon started to attract natural haired clients and a lightbulb went off in Miko’s head. Her innate ability to know what looks good came naturally and served as the precursors of what would become a very relevant movement in Black haircare. Miko made Black textured hair look good. The “looking good“ part of it is what sparked women to join this movement. In the Black haircare industry (just like any other industry), if doesn’t look good, it doesn’t catch fire. Miko showed women “how” to make this hair look good.
This new movement in Black haircare not only encompassed textured hair as a viable alternative to straight styling but at the same time encouraged women to present a more natural self to the world.
Call her a magician and a visionary, Miko’s new approach forever changed the black haircare industry. At the helm of this movement Miss Jessie’s Salon formerly known as Curve Salon, (named after her grandmother) was the first salon to specialize in BLACK CURLY HAIR. The strategies and techniques honed in the salon became the building blocks and organized principles of how to handle this new hair category that Miko identified as – BLACK CURLY HAIR. Before Miss Jessie’s, natural hair was simply known as Afros, Braids or Dreadlocks. Black girls with highly textured Afro Curls was simply unheard of unless you had a Jerri curl, Weave or your texture was silky smooth to begin with. But Miko changed all of that. Her decisions early on to showcase textured hair and the possibilities of what it could be were mind-blowing. Her pioneering use of endless amounts of “Before and After” photos on the website set the standard as to what was sexy and desirable in this new category. It was those images that spread throughout the natural haired community like wildfire that provided the hopes and aspirations for so many women to confidently go natural or wear their hair with texture. Photo after photo after photo, Miko was singlehandedly countering the straight- haired Eurocentric standards of beauty with image after image after image of how beautiful textured hair is. Not only did she showcase these images but Miko also created techniques on how to achieve these looks. Its amazing how many women have come to know www.missjessies.com intimately page by page studying it for years, using it as their bible and natural hairguide.
What Miko did was truly groundbreaking. She redefined the standards of beauty by presenting a brand new option to women who thought that highly textured hair could not be beautiful. Women who were too afraid to embark in the unknown area of Curls, Kinks and Waves now had a point of reference in what to expect from their hair over time. Miko created and developed the ever popular chemical approach (which turns kinks to curls) called the “Silkener” and the effective “Angle and Balance” cutting method.
With this new market Miko identified the need for products to sustain it. From the very beginning, Miko was clear that she wanted the products to “not” be just another ethnic product overlooked on the shelf. It had to be positioned differently. The psychology behind the performance, the design, the look, the marketing, the names and everything down to the smell of Miss Jessie’s products were all her brainchild. Her audacity to adapt a new approach extended from the innovative strategies formed in the salon, to the Miss Jessie’s product line. It was her decision to do things in non- traditional ways that were foreign to the “beautry biz” that proved to be the seeds of success for Miss Jessie’s products. At that time the traditional way one would bring out a new product was that it was marketed through stylists. It was Miko’s intuitive approach to market directly to the consumer. With text heavy instructions on the jars, Miko knew that this new niche of women were doing their hair at home so she purposely designed the jars to speak to this group. She wanted Miss Jessie’s to be a coveted item and made key marketing and positioning decisions to make that a reality. She identified a new niche, created strategies and products that helped to support this new niche and gave women an organized game-plan and language on how to maintain and sustain their Curls, Kinks and Waves.
Looking around today, Miko’s crusade and vision for how beautiful textured hair can be has been realized. The market has shifted away from the Eurocentric beauty standard of straight hair to a more inclusive global beauty standard that includes textured hair. With God’s blessing, Miko takes pride and credit for showing women how change is possible. They now have the confidence and education to support their switch from Relaxers to Curly, Kinky and Wavy textures. More and more have freed themselves of the regular six week salon visits that have bound them for so many years.
This whole journey has brought forth certain discoveries. Although Miko’s focus was mainly BLACK CURLY HAIR, what was learned through Miss Jessie’s Salon and Miss Jessie’s Products was that, it’s no longer about BLACK CURLY HAIR. Its about CURLY HAIR. Texture is something that unites us together with a common set of issues. Its more about texture and less about race. How wonderful is that?!
Miko and her sister Titi continue to share a passion for Curls, Kinks and Waves. They work together in the salon and continue to bring out products for the curly haired market. Together, their product line and salon are viewed as one of the market leaders in the curly hair category. The salon and product have been featured in countless media: Marie Claire, Elle, Essence, Oprah, Time Out, Lucky and the Tyra Show. In addition, Miss Jessie’s products have won awards from Allure, Essence and Redbook for being the best in the industry.