The Black hair industry is flourishing, and wigs and hair extensions, which are fueling what The New York Times called a “fantasia of Black hair innovation,” are a big part of the market. The global hair wig and extension market is valued at $5.8 billion and is expected to reach $13.3 billion by 2026, according to industry projections.
But the technology to care for today’s wigs and extensions hasn’t evolved. Consumers have to wait as long as 24 hours for their hair to air dry after washing it because there is no convenient way to quickly dry detached hair pieces, also called “bundles.” Existing hair dryers, which were made for hair that grows naturally, are inefficient and take hours to dry wigs and weaves.
Shawna Stepp-Jones MS ’10 wants to change this. Stepp-Jones is the inventor of Spundle, a heat-free dryer for wigs and bundles that uses two centralized airflow channels to reduce drying time to 15 minutes, saving consumers hours.
She encountered the bundle-drying issue firsthand in 2016, and knew that as a Black female engineer, she was uniquely prepared to devise a solution.
“I felt like I could be that bridge to stylists in the Black community and beyond, and to the tech world to help revolutionize the industry,” says Stepp-Jones, founder and CEO of Divaneering Lab, “where engineering meets fab.”
Stepp-Jones grew up in West Baltimore and earned a BS in electrical engineering from Morgan State University. She was 23 and just starting in the Engineering for Professionals (EP) graduate program at the Whiting School when Hopkins instructor Samuel J. Seymour said something that still inspires her: “To be a leader, you have to be a visionary, and you have to be polarizing and revolutionary,” she recalls. “Those were new concepts to me, and as soon as I heard them, I knew I wanted to emulate them.”
The former patent examiner and mother to Sachi, 13, also seeks to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. Stepp-Jones’ Divaneering Lab has reached hundreds of K-12 girls with workshops that challenge them with engineering design tasks like building the strongest, lightest, tallest beehive hairdo.
She has her first prototype and will be actively fundraising while bootstrapping Spundle using the revenue she generates from her STEM and innovation workshops. Stepp-Jones expects the dryer to be on the market in August 2023.
“There is no way I’m going to be a girl from Baltimore who studied engineering at Morgan and Hopkins and has all this knowledge and not transfer it to the young ladies coming behind me so that they too can innovate and solve our problems,” she says. “No one is solving our problems for us. We have to solve our own problems.”