[9 MINUTE READ]
Happy Black Friday everyone! We are wishing you the happiest day of online sales shopping and no queues - arguably, the only perk of lockdown (apart from keeping us safe, of course).
In lockdown 2.0, we’ve been on a mission to embrace our natural hair texture, grow out our hair and get it as healthy as possible. For me, personally, that means embracing the curls and finding a routine that works, preferably one that is not too time-consuming and doesn’t require heat.
That’s why we were thrilled to chat to this week’s interviewee Dianna Cohen. Dianna is the Founder and CEO of Crown Affair, a haircare brand rooted in ritual that believes haircare should be a daily practice of love and self-care. If you want to find out more about Crown Affair and how to elevate your lockdown hair game you know what to do...
"I had shared a Google Doc outlining my haircare ritual to a few friends and it was shared far and wide, beyond my own network. From the Doc, it became clear how little guidance and education existed in an industry driven by styling and colour."
Welcome Dianna! We’re so pleased to have you here! Could you start by telling me a bit about your childhood and how you feel it has influenced you today?
So pleased to be chatting with you too! Well, I grew up in a small town in South Florida and moved to New York eleven years ago. I loved the town I grew up in and I’m still best friends with all of my childhood friends. I was a tomboy, I played sports almost every day after school and spent my weekends on a board, a bike, or at the beach. My father was an entrepreneur and worked from home. He’s a risk-taker, incredibly creative, and my biggest professional inspiration. Equally, my mother has been my role model since I can remember— she’s incredibly selfless and generous, and from a beauty perspective, she’s so effortless. She taught me to prioritise the basics for wellbeing, preaching hydration, sleep, and sunscreen daily. She taught me early on how to care for my hair every day, which was really important to me because I was washing it so often when I was younger. She passed onto me the concepts of mindful care and respect for my natural beauty, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
That is so lovely! It sounds like your parents did such a great job with instilling you with your core values. How did you get started in the beauty industry?
I moved to New York in 2009 to study at NYU. I had a remarkable experience there and was able to intern and work for some of my dream businesses while I was in school. My last internship turned into a full-time role at Into The Gloss in 2012. That’s when I fell in love with beauty. I really enjoyed hearing from real people about their recommendations and tricks, especially any surprise products or routines that weren’t covered by traditional publications. What Emily and Nick built with Into The Gloss in the early days was really special and taught me so much about storytelling and building a real, authentic community. Since then, I’ve continued to work with consumer brands over the past eight years as an early team member of Tamara Mellon, Away, Outdoor Voices, Harry’s (Flamingo) and more.
Wow! What a CV you have! So, when did you decide to take the plunge and start up Crown Affair? Was the timing important?
I launched Crown Affair in January 2020 but I had been working on the brand and product for about two years before we launched. I had shared a Google Doc outlining my haircare ritual to a few friends and it was shared wide and far, beyond my own network. From the Doc, it became clear how little guidance and education existed in an industry driven by styling and colour. Crown Affair stemmed from my genuine curiosity to see if I could design tools and collaborate with chemists who could innovate and expand on all the products I recommended in that Doc. I wanted to make them cleaner, more sustainable, and beautifully designed for daily use. The timing was driven by the feedback from our community— we sent out early samples of our launch product and the results were the tipping point. We knew it was time to dive into building Crown Affair full-time.
I love the authenticity of that process! Does Crown Affair consider issues relating to sensitive skin/allergies?
We’re incredibly mindful about all of the ingredients that go into our products. We have a very long ‘No’ list of ingredients that we’ll never touch. It’s also very important to make all of our products pregnancy safe.
As someone with sensitive skin and a particularly sensitive scalp, that’s great to hear! How does sustainability factor into your business?
Being mindful about what we put into the world is one of the most vital parts of our mission. In reality, the most sustainable option is not to have a brand at all, so when we do create products, it’s essential that we’re bringing something innovative to the market, and we’re doing it in a holistically sustainable way.
Holistic sustainability includes not only sourcing compostable packaging, clean ingredients, and ethical materials, but also factors in the wellbeing of our craftspeople and chemists. The health of our world is reflected in how we take care of ourselves and others. It’s crucial to ask questions like: are these people being compensated fairly? Are they taking actions to prioritise their health during a global pandemic? Every step of the process matters and we aim to be thoughtful across all touchpoints; from product development to the customer’s use of the product for years to come. Investing in fewer, better products is one of the best choices we can make as consumers.
Oh, I couldn’t agree more! Nowadays, part of my mentality is: ‘can I see myself using this product in the long term?’ If I can’t picture it, I don’t buy it… With that in mind, do you think people are more conscious of the ingredients in their beauty and skincare products nowadays?
Haircare, as an industry, is behind when it comes to ingredient education. If you hear the words hyaluronic acid or retinol, you know exactly what those ingredients do and how they should be integrated into your skincare routine. For haircare, there’s not as much guidance around what ingredients are best suited for which hair types and when.
Understanding how your hair responds to different ingredients is a journey and something that will change over time. All of my favourite luxury products use sulfates and the ones that remove them often replace them with PEGs, which isn’t great for your scalp. Taking time to educate yourself on ingredients and really connect with what your hair needs (often, it’s more moisture), is so powerful.
Totally! As someone with curly hair, it’s been a real rollercoaster trying to find products that work to keep my hair healthy, yet still manageable. Right, what were your biggest challenges in starting up Crown Affair?
This year has been an interesting year to run and grow a business, but we feel so grateful for all the silver linings as well. People are spending more time at home and connecting with their haircare rituals in a new way. It’s incredible to talk to customers on a weekly basis and connect on how their approach to their hair is transforming. As a business owner, building and growing a team remotely has its challenges, but we’re all learning together as we go. I’ve been lucky to work closely with many founders and leaders before, so I’m taking those learnings and applying them to how we build our team culture in this new mostly remote world.
That’s smart. It definitely seems like the culture of ‘working from home’ has transformed many companies. What strategies do you think have been key to the success of Crown Affair?
Crown Affair was born from my personal story and ritual. At the end of the day, I believe so deeply in how caring for your hair in a more mindful way can translate to other parts of your wellbeing. Our community is really resonating with our mission around taking your time to move through the world with more self-assurance.
I love that! If you had to pick, what is your favourite thing about your job?
I wake up every day and recognise that I get to do this. Every part of building Crown Affair is my favourite; working with our team every day, connecting with customers and our community, making products that I’m truly in love with.
Our mentorship program, Seedling, is also very near and dear to my heart. Seedling is an eight-week professional development program that connects women in the early stages of their careers (or transitioning careers) with female leaders in a variety of industries. In times like these, a traditional career trajectory may not be as viable as it once was, so we’re connecting with our community and planting the seeds for future growth, deeper relationships, and empowerment. It’s been wonderful to see the bonds formed through this program. People have found new roles, career paths, and even roommates. The stories we have heard from this community have been the most rewarding part of this journey so far.
That is such a great initiative, especially right now! Well done for doing your bit. Which is your favourite product that you’ve created so far?
We have a very thoughtful curation, so I’m proud of every single product we’ve made. Instead of launching collections with dozens of SKUs, we approach every product as if it’s a hero product. The brush is really incredible for the price. I was using a $200 Mason Pearson brush for years and ours holds its own next to it... dare I say, it might be better. The combs also really make me smile. I keep the little one at my desk for a mid-day detangle or refresh and I just love it. The Towel is lowkey game-changing as it has all the little things you didn't know were missing in a hair towel. I’m so proud of the efficiency of The Oil and how we worked with our chemists to make a proprietary formula. Our Renewal Mask is also phenomenal. It’s an incredibly nourishing, weightless hair mask you can leave on for a while and when you rinse it out, your hair feels so healthy and smooth. I’ll put it on and take a bath or read a book, it’s one of my favourite rituals at home right now.
I want to try that mask! It sounds dreamy. What do you think makes Crown Affair stand out?
We’re starting a movement around care, not just style, cut, or colour. In an industry that focused on perfection for so long, we want everyone to take their time to get to know their hair. Take that time out of care, not frustration. Find a ritual that is entirely your own, and have that change how you move through the world.
"When it’s your business, you feel dedicated to it every moment, but taking the time to pause, to celebrate, and to find silence is where the dots connect and the magic exists."
That’s really fantastic advice. Could you describe your greatest “pinch-me” moment of your career so far?
Working for amazing women is the “pinch-me” moment— Ara Katz, Emily Weiss, Tamara Mellon, Shachar Scott, Beth Ferrera. These women shaped who I am today. Also, being in Vogue on launch day was pretty cool.
The bible; that’s awesome! What inspires you?
Art, science, design, stretching, yoga, journaling every morning. Honestly, consistency in the practices I commit to has been the most inspiring and transformational part of this journey.
Consistency really is paramount. Could you describe what an average day looks like for you at Crown Affair?
I start my day by making coffee for me and my fiancé, followed by 30 minutes of stretching and foam rolling. I’ll journal for 25 minutes and get ready for our 10 am team daily standup. I spend most of the day at my computer or in meetings for anything and everything related to the business— product development, customer chats, community meetings, creative brainstorms, investor calls. I’ll make lunch mid-afternoon and go for a 10-minute walk to move my body and revitalise my energy. I usually work until 7 or 8 pm and I’ll wind down for the evening by making dinner and reading a book.
Your average day sounds busy but in a fulfilling way. Do you think you have a work/life balance?
Yes, it’s a daily practice to find harmony. I view work and life as one life experience, versus two separate entities. The work that we create and put into the world is our life; how we spend our days becomes our journey and each season of life brings with it different goals and pillars. When it’s your business, you feel dedicated to it every moment, but taking the time to pause, to celebrate, and to find silence is where the dots connect and the magic exists. I’ve learned now that having balance is so important in running a business and leading a team. If I’m sleeping enough, caring for myself and making sure I’m consistently supporting the structures that make me feel whole, it only makes the work stronger.
I adore that philosophy! I couldn’t agree more that balance and harmony make the work stronger. What words do you live by?
“The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit” and “be kind, work smart, hydrate, get enough sleep.”
Love those! So, what’s next for Crown Affair?
We have just launched our limited-edition holiday collection, which we are so excited about! We also have some exciting partnerships and collaborations in the works. Around our 1 year anniversary in January, we’ll be introducing a few more in-shower and formula products that our team has been hard at work on making cleaner and even more effective than the products I’ve been using for years!