She's Black Girl Fly: Erica Douglas aka Sister Scientist
The moment I found out about Erica Douglas or Sister Scientist as she affectionately called, I knew Black Girl Fly had to interview her. Of course I was personally in awe of her; an African American women in STEM with a passion for natural hair, right up my alley! Not only is Erica extremely smart and talented but she also has an amazingly fun personality. Check her out! Black Girl Fly: Erica, please tell our readers where you are from and what you do.
Erica Douglas: I am from Chicago. (South Sider) I am what they call a cosmetic chemist. I studied Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, and I have dedicated my career to developing quality and innovative hair and skin care products, especially for women of color.
BGF: Where does your passion for science and hair come from?
ED: I grew up in a very diverse setting, so I had a number of non-black as well as African-American friends. I wanted a relaxer so bad growing up, but my mom wouldn’t let me because she said it would damage my hair. So I experienced a lot of “hair identity” issues as a child. I was always explaining to non-blacks why my hair was different, and defending my hair to Black girls who would question why I didn’t just go get a relaxer to “tame my situation.” On top of that, I had skin issues that wouldn’t allow me to get my ears pierced or wear certain things without the fear of breaking out. I just always felt limited in how I could express myself. However, I exceled in the classroom, specifically in the sciences, and I was comfortable there because it was all about what was in my head rather than what was on top of it. I knew that I wanted to pursue the sciences so that I could develop new products to enhance people’s lives, I just never knew that I would be able to do it in an area where I struggled so much growing up.
BGF: Tell us more about Sister Scientist; what made you start your brand?
ED: I’ve always been the person behind the brand, never the face in front. Being a formulation chemist, I had just accepted that my role was to play the background. But the natural hair movement has really brought awareness to the beauty consumer that has heightened her perception and curiosity about what is really in that jar and how can she make this natural hair thing work. It was at this point where my expertise became of more value and in demand. As I started to engage with consumers more, people started calling me Sister Scientist and from there it just stuck.
Sister Scientist is now a fun and creative educational platform for the highly engaged beauty consumer who is seeking a trusted, unbiased source for scientific/technical information about her beauty and personal care products. I combine personal experiences and scientific expertise to address questions about product ingredients, hair, skin and other personal care questions. I also use this medium to motivate young, minority women to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related fields by breaking stereotypes and highlighting the stories of successful, women of color in a variety of scientific fields.
BGF: We love your series “Fact or Crap”, what influenced you to start that series?
ED: Fact or Crap was just a simple way bust some myths open that I’ve heard perpetuated over the years in Black hair care. I just wanted something that would be fun, short and educational to watch.
BGF: As a natural with a scientific background, do you feel that many naturals are misinformed about caring for their hair?
ED: Yes. I feel like there is a lot of misinformation out there, which was the motivation behind Sister Scientist. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the last decade or so has been very enlightening and uplifting for Black women specifically when it comes to hair. However, quite a bit of bad information has gotten wrapped up in a lot of good information, and women have developed entire lifestyles off of false information. Or they are just avoiding something, or doing something, with no clue as to why. People are blindly following information they heard somewhere in the grapevine we call YouTube. I just want women to make informed decisions on what they use or don’t use based on facts and not-fiction.
BGF: What is one myth that you have heard regarding natural hair care that just so wrong it makes you cringe?
ED: I am an advocate for silicones, while many people are haters of silicones. They myth is that it causes build up that is difficult to remove from the hair. The truth is that “build-up” is really a protective barrier around the hair strands that help to prevent breakage and/or heat damage, amongst many other things. The protective barrier is indeed temporary and can be removed as soon as you shampoo, or even co-wash in many cases. If you are shampooing or co-washing once a week (as many naturalistas do), silicones will not have a very long life-span on the hair. Silicones may not be for everybody based on their individual hair goals and styles, but I encounter a lot of women who avoid silicones and really have no clue why they do it, but after hearing their hair issues find that they could possibly benefit more from using silicones than avoiding them.
BGF: How did you know you wanted to get into the beauty industry as a chemist?
ED: I didn’t know. I just knew I wasn’t a “traditional” chemist that could study in an academic institution somewhere and write papers for a living. I needed something more tangible. When the opportunity presented itself to get into cosmetic chemistry, it seems very natural because it allowed me to use both sides of my brain. Formulating products is just as much an art as it is science. This is a field that allows my creative and analytical sides to exist in the same place at the same time.
BGF: STEM is an area that is lacking in both women and African-Americans, do you have any advice for our readers who may be in a STEM field?
ED: As a minority woman, I know how lonely it can feel when pursuing careers in STEM. That feeling is often the cause for so many minority women quitting STEM careers prematurely. You have to actively reach out to others and make sure that you can find people who you can relate to. Form support groups, join clubs and professional organizations or just task somebody who has accomplished you aspirational goals to mentor you. The road will be hard, but stay the course because STEM related fields are our future and it can open doors that you never even imagined!
BGF: You have formulated many products for some of the leading companies in the multicultural hair and beauty industries like ORS Olive Oil, HAIRepair™ and Curls Unleashed™, what has been your favorite and why?
ED: That’s a hard one. I would have to say Curls Unleashed is still one of my favorite brands that I’ve formulated. Formulating Curls Unleashed was a huge “eureka” moment for my career and me personally. It was during that project that I transitioned into a “curly girl” and found the confidence to be who I am without apologies. Also, I was creatively inspired on that project and I had a lot of input on the project holistically, not just on the formulation side, which was the catalyst for me to go back to school to earn my MBA in Marketing Management and Business Strategy from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
BGF: Can you share about more about your product development, manufacturing and brand development group, mSEED group?
ED: Sure! mSEED group is contract manufacturing, product development, marketing/brand management and business development group. We specialize in building startup brands in the beauty and personal care by serving as “gap fillers” for the needs and responsibilities of a growing beauty brand. A number of brands have found value in mSEED group because we provide experience and expertise in a number of areas that are needed to expedite growth and mitigate risks at the startup level. My partners and I came together to start this business because we saw that there was a need for more services catered to entrepreneurs in this space. mSEED has the ability to navigate you through all facets of building a successful brand with our proven expertise and experience working for several large, global beauty companies. We now tailor these experiences to meet the needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and other small to medium size businesses in today’s beauty landscape.
The name “mSEED” stands for the mustard seed faith referenced in Matthew 17:20. We believe that it is our job to help aspiring entrepreneurs to make that leap of faith with their ideas.
BGF: We loved your “Winter Hair Blues” video, do you have any Spring hair tips for the coming rain and humidity?
ED: Spring is a great time to practice your protective styling tricks. The weather is so unpredictable, so by wearing more up-do and styles that can withstand the elements is best when possible. Keep the hair moisturized as you’re going into protective styles to maintain the hair’s elasticity.
BGF: What makes Black Girls Fly?
ED: Confidence and resilience. We excel in so many areas, despite obstacles, and we always do it with a spark unlike anybody else. We have the ability to command respect because there’s nothing else like seeing a strong, black woman living fearlessly in her truth.
BGF: What else can we expect from Sister Scientist?
ED: I am working on some really exciting collaboration with a very popular magazine and some hair brands that we all know and love. I also hope to expand some of my educational series to the European markets.
BGF: How can our readers connect with you?
ED: I try to respond to as many posts as I see. The best place to ask questions is to subscribe and post questions on my website at SisterScientist.com.
I pretty much live on Instagram and Facebeook @SisterScientist.
Subscribe to my YouTube for all the latest videos @SisterScientist
And I’m on twitter @sistersci.
Courtney Danielle Stradford is co-founder and creative director of Black Girl Fly Magazine. Born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y she is the epitome of a true New Yorker. She has an unwavering passion for fashion, hair, culture and of course a love for brunch! Courtney is a full time microbiology graduate student moonlighting as a natural hair and beauty enthusiast. She began her natural hair journey over a year and a half ago. By combining her creativity and passion she founded her brand Curls and Couture. The Curls and Couture brand caters to the natural, fashionable and fit woman while serving as a platform for advice and inspiration.