If there’s one thing you’ll first notice about Freddie Harrel, it’s her hair in all its voluminous and bouncy glory.
It’s one of the first things you notice about the digital strategist and influencer, who has turned one of her now recognisable traits into a diverse brand through RadSwan, a global hair company providing innovative and sustainable synthetic wigs to Black women around the world.
“Our goal is to offer a good experience and provide high quality yet affordable products,” she says.
A recent study found that the global hair wigs and extensions market by revenue is expected to grow over 13% during the period 2021–2026.
The increasing number of customers are predominantly of African descent and more interestingly, prefer natural afro-textured hair, making Rad Swan a particularly hot commodity today.
Like many Black women, the French-Cameroonian influencer has an interesting and often complex relationship with her hair.
As a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Paris, she knew what it was to straddle two worlds – which came with its pros and cons.
“I’m from the suburbs of Paris and I went to private school from the age of 10 but before that my primary school was a lot more diverse,” she recalls.
“When I went to private school it was more of a clash. I was one of the only Black girls there. The experience of being from a different background with different hair was interesting.”
Freddie said she often felt the contrast of the culture at school – which she says was “very French” – and the culture at home which made her experience a lot richer.
“The feeling of otherness can be exciting at some parts, like when you change your hair and people at school are like ‘wow’. When you’re young you can kind of play with it.
“Black people are very versatile and fluid in our self-expression, be it through our hair or style. We really are multifaceted and I think growing up between two cultures emphasised it.”
After graduating from university, Freddie began a career in finance, where she soon realised that it wasn’t her passion.
“I realised that I didn’t actually enjoy it,” she admits.
“That made me realise I wanted to change and I felt more confident and empowered to explore.”
Freddie launched her fashion blog in 2013 and tapped into a side of herself that allowed her career and interests to flourish, amassing a large following and a burgeoning interest in all things hair.
“The concept for my company actually started when I was initially blogging. I did hair stories about relaxing my hair when I was working in banking and wearing a weave all the time.
“When I left all of that, I rediscovered my hair texture and it was something I think a lot of women go through and it was like a new journey.
“I remember I started to look into human hair extensions and found that human hair is not only expensive and high maintenance, but I was put off by the sourcing,” she says.
“There are no regulations, you never know where it’s from, if anyone’s been abused – there’s a lot of darkness behind it.”
Freddie also found that coming across wigs with Afro hair texture required a lot of manipulation and was particularly time-consuming.
“Asian hair has been processed to look like afro hair. It’s a lot of work. You have to condition, detangle etc and I’m not someone who is patient, to be honest. And I think a lot of this industry is based on the assumption that we all know how to do hair but I’m not someone who will spend all day trying to create a hairstyle.”
It was on this journey that Freddie stumbled upon a gap in the market: Affordable yet quality synthetic wigs with afro hair texture.
This marked the start of a challenging yet rewarding journey for the influencer,from designing her own wigs and clip-ins with a contact in China in 2014 to launching her company – then known as Big Hair Don’t Care – in 2017.
“We launched in 2017 as a side hustle, but I had pop-ups in London and it was such a great experience to have a physical space that was really well done and authentic and having things that were missing from the shops.
“People really loved it so we did a pop up in Paris and New York in 2018.”
The pop-ups events became a massive success and highlighted the sense of community that had been created through Freddie and her brand.
“I realised that there was a real market but what we all had in common was that we are really into personal growth, hair restoration and it was so much more than hair.
”But it needed backup, so we raised $2m from an all-female group of kickass VCs.”
In 2019, Freddie secured £1.5m of investment led by BBG Ventures with Female Founders Fund and Pritzker Private Capital.
With funding and legions of supporters, the company officially relaunched in 2021 as Rad Swan and is celebrated for providing customers with realistic synthetic hair.
Named RadShape 01, 02 and 03, the wigs are designed to look ultra-natural and come in different textures (from 3B to 4C), and colours. They are also the first brand to use recycled fibres.
“For myself as a consumer, I want to know that the brand I’m buying from is a brand that actually cares about me and not just about the money that they’re making from me,” she says.
“Black hair is culture, it’s always been the safest and boldest form of self-expression we’ve resorted to.
“It’s the magic trick we brought to school, the threads of our lineage, it’s Sundays spent kneeled down, or in someone else’s crotch, doing each other’s hair, whilst chatting for hours.
“It’s sisterhood, it’s therapy, it’s community.”
To shop RadSwan visit: https://radswan.com/