Gillian Fitzgerald | Staff Writer
Speaking for college students without cars, it can be extremely frustrating running out of the essentials — especially the beauty and hair products they rely on.
The good news for all of those living in the Pittsburgh area? There’s now an app that can deliver those products to us in as little as 20 minutes: WaySlay.
Co-founders Ian Grant II and Michael James like to describe it as the “Uber Eats for beauty supplies.” They came up with the idea when James’ girlfriend ran out of a product while getting ready for an event. When there was no way to quickly fix the problem, they found a solution.
“What we noticed is that delivery is a major preference for consumers. You can get food delivered, groceries delivered, and many other products that are used on a regular basis,” Grant said. “However, when it comes to beauty supplies — which are also things that are needed on a regular basis — there’s no option for consumers to have beauty supplies delivered directly to their doorstep.”
WaySlay’s website and app allow users to plug-in their address, and they connect them with products from local small businesses. The supplies provided are not only more natural, but they are also tailored for women with any type of hair and skin tone. As a Black-owned business, WaySlay wants every woman to leave the experience feeling beautiful and ready for the day ahead of them.
One of the first deliveries that WaySlay completed in Pittsburgh was to a chemotherapy patient who ordered a wig, which to James was proof itself of the impact WaySlay will have on the community.
“We actually botched the order,” James admitted. “So, I was like, ‘I’m just going to give you the wig for free’ because of the confusion. I personally delivered it to her, and when I handed it to her, I could just see the emotion in her face. She said, ‘You don’t know how much this means to me,’ and it’s things like that that make an impact on our customers, and we want to be able to keep doing that.”
Even though an app requires little to no face-to-face interaction, the two founders prioritize their consumers by calling each first-time customer to get feedback and learn more about what they want to see from WaySlay. The founders seek to provide a wonderful experience and a service in the community and want their consumers to walk away with great beauty products they can’t find anywhere else, said WaySlay’s head of Communications Ariana LaBarrie.
“Often, myself as a Black woman, when I go to traditional stores, they don’t have the exact products that I’m looking for. Especially a person with curly hair, I don’t want silicones, I don’t want sulfates — and [in] most mainstream beauty products that’s all that is offered,” LaBarrie said. “And the hair care for people of color is either very small, or in Walmart up until recently, it would be locked up. It would be a whole thing to ask for permission to get your hair care needs — it’s honestly a dehumanizing situation.
“What I find unique about WaySlay is that they are not only helping these brick and mortar retailers get more people in, they are providing dignity in getting your hair care products and acknowledging that, in the beauty space, women of color are trendsetters and main consumers that are often left out of the conversation.”
Providing a new way for women to get the specific products they need gives them confidence, and Grant and James wanted to bring that to Pittsburgh.
The WaySlay team was originally based solely in Miami and launched in Pittsburgh almost two months ago, not only because James moved here, but also because of the demographics. Pittsburgh’s population is 23% African American — who the app is mainly geared towards — and the city’s array of colleges and universities provide a large community that can benefit from the company. Grant and James are even offering Duquesne students free delivery on their first WaySlay order with the code “DUKES” for students to try out their service.
The co-founders intend to expand to at least five major cities over time, such as Atlanta, New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago. But as their business continues to grow in Pittsburgh and Miami, Grant and James plan to concentrate on these markets for the next few months to better understand the needs of their customers and show the community a reason to invest in this Black-owned business.
“It’s very important to invest in the Black community. Looking at WaySlay itself, the fact that something like this didn’t exist before we created it … It’s things like this where you get to invest in the community. That’s something we’re trying to help fulfill, but also working with small businesses, we’re trying to build them up and keep the playing field level,” James said.
“Everyone has different unique needs when it comes to beauty,” Grant added. “Which is why these beauty supply stores remain relevant and so being able to build something for a large group of people who are being ignored or looked over. Black people account for 1/5 sales but we only represent 13% of the overall population. And when you look at that data, you’re greatly surprised why this hasn’t been created a while ago, and that’s the beauty of what we’re doing.”
Besides being the only app that can fulfill those needs and deliver products in a short time, WaySlay is unique for its partnerships with retailers in the area who, too, get overlooked. Rather than competing with them, they help them grow by providing technological assistance and a wider audience of customers.
“They tend to be entrepreneurs that often are of color, and/or they have migrated to the U.S. from another country, and this is them taking their future in their own hands and having their own business,” Grant said. “That, to me, is so great as a son of an immigrant myself — my dad coming from Jamaica who also started his own business — for us to be able to support them to make sure that they remain the center and source of where beauty supplies are coming from.”
Small beauty supply stores face the challenge of competing against large retail stores, especially during the pandemic, so WaySlay supports them, keeps them relevant and allows them to grow their reach. Their goal is to also have other software products available to provide stores with resources, such as easy access to trends and ways to improve inventory management. Helping retailers embrace technological improvements through an easy-to-use app and direct training creates a positive experience with WaySlay.
Currently, WaySlay is partnered with Yerimahs Sisters Beauty Supply Store in Downtown and Hair City in Monroeville to bring these products to their consumers through instant delivery. The two co-founders hope to partner with more suppliers in the city and see the growth of their local connections as well. And with the technological boom that occurred from COVID, retailers and consumers of a variety of ages are embracing delivery, a positive impact the pandemic had on WaySlay. The timing of their company was helpful for their growing success, and Grant and James are excited to see what WaySlay will accomplish for both customers and retail partners throughout the future.
Whether WaySlay delivers to a college student or a mom who can’t bring her kids to the store, their purpose remains the same: confidence for their consumers and support for small businesses. “We want our customers to feel good. So, we are bringing them the beauty products that are going to help them have confidence throughout their day, throughout their tasks, throughout their job,” James said. “Whatever it is that they need to do, they’re gonna look good — they’re gonna feel good.”
Correction: A previous version of this article included a misspelling of Ariana LaBarrie’s name. The Duke apologizes for the error.