Miko Branch, 47, still gets choked up whenever she talks about her sister, Titi. Who could blame her? Not only were they family, but also business partners who recognized a need in the African American community and launched out, on their own, to found Miss Jessie’s a multimillion dollar hair care business for women with curly/kinky hair. Courageous. Revolutionary.
Now, some three years since her sister, business partner and best friend’s passing, Branch is carrying on in the memory of her beloved, older sister. She hopes that she can be an inspiration to others in the same way her sister was for her.
“Titi helped me to be secure in the world. She gave me the support I needed to be the best Miko,” Miko told Ms. XFactor. “Through her partnership she gave me a head start.
She packed me down with love, with knowledge, with lessons – lessons we learned together that prepared me for success and independence.”
But they were not exactly the easiest lessons to learn, especially when building a company from scratch without the credentials and know how.
“When Titi and I decided to focus on kinky hair, we were having a hard time. We had just lost our storefront salon in Brooklyn, New York,” Branch said. In addition, she was pregnant, single, and found herself thinking about how to be a good provider for her son.
“We were groomed by our dad. He always pressed the importance of being our own boss.” They were living on the second floor of a brownstone in New York when they had the bright idea of honing their skills to focus exclusively on kinky, curly hair.
“At bath time with my son, he would splash water all over the place. My hair would get wet and curl,” Branch remembers. “Since I could no longer keep it straight, I decided to wear it that way and people would ask, ‘how did you get your hair that way?’”
What started out as a simple decision for her own sake, quickly turned into an idea that would birth Miss Jessie’s.
Branch considered the revelation an opportunity – it was a solution to a problem that a large group of women had, but had no idea they had. “Bath time with my son led me to embrace different, non-European, styling options, that led to where we are today.”
Named for their grandmother, Jessie Mae (Pittman) Branch, Miss Jessie’s was founded in 2004. Fourteen years later, Branch still considers the business a startup company. “As a business from start to finish, I would say Miss Jessie’s is a resourceful business,” Branch says. “We learned so much from scratch – even from the mistakes we made. We were paying attention to the lessons along the way. We applied while we were growing. And these are practices that we continue to exercise even now.”
Much of their early success was also due to their sisterly bond, Branch adds. And love. “We were able to turn nothing into something together. That has probably been the biggest highlight of anything I could have ever done in business and in personal life,” she said.
“Neither of us had a formal background in business. We did not go to business school,” she said. “We learned as we went. And in those times when we did not know what to do; no handbook, no guides, we relied on love.”
It has been said, time and time again, that love is a gift. As a matter-of-fact, in religious circles, it is believed that love is not only a gift, but also a gift from God and the greatest gift of them all.
For Miko, that love allowed her to be a better her – enhancing her self-worth and agency. Today, since losing her sister, she not only uses the business lessons she learned working alongside her sister to make her a smarter business woman; but she has also utilized the love lessons in her personal relationships.
“My relationships with others are smoother today because of the training and practice I gained through my relationship with my sister,” she said. “I learned so much building this business with her.” Most business owners will admit that their road to success did not happen in a silo. They each had the backing of someone or a group of individuals who played an integral role in their success.
For the Branch sisters, while they had the influence and teaching of their father, and he legacy of their grandmother, they were able to achieve because they had each other. “That strong foundation was needed in order for us to create a movement – and that movement is self-acceptance,” Branch suggests. “That foundation was needed in order for us to live our best life possible, and for me now to live my best life.”
And that is what Branch wants for other women, especially women of color – that they be allowed to live their best life possible. “But in order to do that, it requires knowing yourself. Having your own business definitely forces you to know yourself because it brings everything out in the wash,” she said. “If going into business for yourself, you have to be forgiving of yourself. Owning your own business will make you exactly aware of who you are.”
And, if you feel as though you have a wonderful idea, be courageous enough to go after it, Branch adds.
“I encourage you to, it is the best way to truly understand what you are capable of doing.”