On a quest to be more knowledgeable of the creative community in Washington, DC, I parsed through Instagram searching for DC-based collectives, artists and businesses. As I looked through different feeds, the striking image of a black woman wearing a head wrap, large glasses and wooden earrings stopped my swiping finger. I had to learn more about this woman. I don’t think it was just the head wrap or the glasses; it was the confidence behind those glasses, the self-assured persona. Ruby Sampson was tagged on the featured image and I immediately tapped it. For a moment before Ruby Sampson’s feed loaded I imagined that she’d be the quintessential empowered woman, who lived life on her own terms. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ruby Sampson was not the woman but the head wrap brand she wore. Later I reached out to Ashley Powdar, founder and the creative mind behind Ruby Sampson, to fulfill my urge of learning more about the inspiration behind creating an accessory that instills its wearer with such conspicuous confidence.
When I first met Ashley at a coffee shop, I was immediately drawn in by her aesthetic. Her twist out, her light winter jacket and boots imbued the same confidence that I had seen on the woman with the glasses, that lead to my discovery of Ruby Sampson. It was then that it occurred to me that, there was more to Ruby Sampson than just head wraps. Ruby Sampson embodies the self-assurance of its creator and those head wraps are confidence sewn into a utilitarian accessory. I want to be clear that this isn’t hyperbole, the complexity of hair in the black woman’s world, the act of rebellion associated with wearing the hair on your head as it grows is what makes women like Ashley Powdar iconoclastic inspirations. Ashley’s impetus to create Ruby Sampson was more than just to become another entrepreneur.
Why Head Wraps?
“My business was born out of a need that I had,” she says. Ashley discovered her love to travel at a young age and simultaneously learned the frustration of hair maintenance surpassed other challenges of being immersed into a new culture. When she first studied abroad in Spain as a teenager, she recalls “what scared me the most about moving abroad was not that I wouldn’t see my family, was not that I wouldn’t see my friends, was not even that I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. It was what I was going to do with my hair.” Ashley’s experience resonates with every black woman who moves to an unfamiliar place.
To reduce the anxiety created by concern for her hair, Ashley decided to go natural before her move to China for a short period. Little did she know that maintenance of natural hair is far more demanding than that of relaxed hair. Additionally, at the time of her big chop, there weren’t natural hair blogs or YouTube channels dedicated to teaching new naturalistas how to maintain their natural curls. Something that I find very shocking to this day, the fact that Ashley and other black women like myself do not learn how to manage our own hair until adulthood.
With little knowledge of natural hair Ashley resorted to wearing head wraps just as she did as a child to retain her hair’s moisture. However, she confined her head wraps to the home. She confesses that, “I hated that I had to find something to do with my hair when I left the house. So I decided I would make something that I could leave the house with and was not just a rag on my head.” That’s how she started making head wraps and eventually created Ruby Sampson, named after her grandmother.
On Becoming an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship was not a natural state for Ashley; it’s more of a means to an end. Her entrepreneurial spirit is first and foremost driven by her artistic need to create beautiful utilitarian products that reduce the stress of the natural hair care regimen. Her average client spends around 4 hours on a wash day and having a Ruby Sampson head wrap gives them more flexibility to run errands while they are in the midst of their washing period.
In addition to fulfilling a need, Ashley insists that more black women should reap some of the economic benefit of the burgeoning black hair economy. It’s no shocker when she tells me that the black hair market is approaching one billion dollars and most of it is not retained in the black community. Which is a contradiction given that, “there is a very niche population in the world who understands black hair care and that is black women. And the fact that we don’t own it is something that I would like to see change,” she explains.
Having a goal beyond money is vital to Ashley because of the demanding nature of building a startup while maintaining a full time job. “They tell you not to start a business for the money because you don’t know before going into it that you’ll be working 80 hours or 90 hours a week. You don’t know that you won’t see your friends for a couple of weeks, you’re going to be exhausted all the time, and cash flow is going to be a problem,” she exclaims.
The Future of Ruby Sampson
Ashley envisions a full clothing line with the same spirit as the Ruby Sampson’s head wraps, which is allowing women the flexibility to live their lives freely while being fashionable. To Ashley, creating a clothing line would also be fulfilling her childhood desire that she had somehow lost sight of along the way to adulthood. Given what I’ve already seen with the head wraps, I’m sure whatever Ashley chooses to create next will be equally inspired.
All images sourced from Ruby Sampson