Curly hair – if you have it, you understand. It’s an amazing gift and a terrible, terrible curse. Most of us curly-tops are doomed to middle and high school experiences plagued by the question "Have you ever thought of, like, straightening all that?" followed by adulthoods of early mornings before the mirror, diffuser, hair brush and straightening iron in hand, swearing at our reflections as our arms grow increasingly sore.
I gave up trying to mask my curliness halfway through college. Frustrated with the hours-long beauty regimen, I decided that if God gave me curly hair, I would have curly hair. So I let the frizz fly. I thought the struggle was over.
But the curls, they are a cruel mistress. Even once I made my peace with them, it was a Faustian bargain with the devil trying to maintain them. Internet research only exacerbated the problem: don’t wash your hair too often or the moisture will leave your scalp, don’t brush your hair every day because the curl will break and frizz, don’t touch your hair too much or the oils from your hand will...look, I don’t even remember at this point, but there sure seemed to be a lot of rules.
Whitefish Bay mom Heidi Schmid was experiencing the same issue. A fellow member of the sisterhood of the curly hair, she religiously subscribed to the teachings of curl gurus like Lorraine Massey, and her husband Tom even took her to New York City for her 40th birthday to visit Massey’s Soho salon, Devachan.
"She’s really dialed in to following authors and how to treat your curly hair right," Tom said. "It’s great to have, but you kind of have to treat it right for it to treat you right."
Heidi’s family used to run Benfeldt Ice Cream, so she has entrepreneurship in her blood – and with a background in occupational therapy, she’s used to finding solutions for problems.
"I like my hair curly and I like my hair big, so particularly I would struggle in the winter months waiting for my hair to dry and drying flat and drying static-y," she said. "So I had a thought, oh, if I could just apply steam or more mist into my hair, it would respond the way I want it to. The curls would tighten and I would have an opportunity when the curls are warm and soft to reshape them and add volume."
So in an attempt to revitalize her curls, in 2006 she "cobbled" together a prototype of a product that would restore moisture to her hair and allow her to restyle it the second day after washing.
Thus was born Q-Redew, the handheld hair steamer. It’s been a long process, but Q-Redew finally had its retail launch last October, and has since become a full-time business endeavor for the Schmids.
Because despite what we curly girls think (or dread) about humid days, a little heat and a little moisture is a good thing.
"Unlike when people think of steam or humidity, you can control this (product," Heidi said. "You can aim it to small portions of your hair, you can use it for one minute, you can use it for ten minutes."
Q-Redew's target market is curly-haired women, not salons; they describe it as a "grassroots" campaign that involves a lot of use of social media and blogger recommendations and word of mouth.
"It’s an e-commerce business, primarily web-based," Heidi said. "We’ve utilized social media, targeting curly-haired communities and curly-haired women who are talking to each other and at trade shows and at meet-ups and trying to get the product in their hands so that they understand it and share their information. And we’ve had really good success with kind of working our way to bloggers with bigger and bigger voices and YouTube video bloggers."
Fortunately, curly-haired women love to talk to each other about their mane issues. And so far, they love the Q-Redew.
"As we dug in and researched the market, (we learned that) curly-haired women talk so much amongst themselves. It is a sisterhood," Tom said. "This is a really ripe opportunity if you have a product that delivers value to people. This is a good market to get into for this sort of grassroots-social media aspect because it’s such a communicative group to begin with. You get two women at a cocktail party..."
He didn’t even have to finish that sentence. I’ve been a curly-haired woman at a cocktail party, and I’ve shared frizzy, hot-mess war stories over many a gin and tonic.
Tom and Heidi are careful to control the beast that can be social media, and they respond to all customer issues immediately. Working out of their third-floor home office, all calls go directly to Tom’s cell phone. That helps them keep an intimate relationship with their customer base.
It also helps that Heidi is, in effect, the very person they are trying to sell the product to, and she not only invented the Q-Redew but uses it daily.
"Heidi is the target market," Tom said. "It came right from the target market. It didn't come from some lab of bald guys trying to push the latest idea. Heidi’s got immediate credibility with these bloggers and writers."
The curly-haired community has responded positively to the Q-Redew, which retails on the website for about $69.95. Reviews on Amazon.com, Naturallycurly.com and other sites contain praise for the ease of use and restoration of volume and moisture.
The Schmids gave me a chance to try the Q-Redew on my own curls.
To avoid drying out my hair and scalp, I wash my hair a few times a week using Wen by Chaz Dean, and it's a lengthy, ritualistic process (I have literally turned down dates because it is hair-washing night. So take heart, guys - sometimes, it's a real excuse.). By the second or third day, my hair still has its wavy curl at the tip but has gone flat at the root, so I've accepted that this is my designated bad hair day, and it's just become habit for me to wear a ponytail or updo to disguise it.
Since it's designed for use on dry hair, I decided to see if the Q-Redew could do anything about my designated bad hair day. I followed the instructions, filling the reservoir and waiting a few minutes after plugging it in to heat up, depressing the trigger to emit the steam. I used it mostly around my scalp because that's where the hair had gone flat, but you can use it anywhere on your head. It does get very hot, just like a flatiron or blow-dryer, so be cautious about that.
It made my hair just soft and damp enough for a little body to find its way back to the root. Weirdly, it reminded me of what happened to my hair the time I spent a few hours outside in a friend's hot tub while it was freezing rain - there was just enough heat to give it a really great volume, but not too much that it got a vicious frizz (I remember thinking at the time, "How can I spend every night in a hot tub in the freezing rain?"). I would it especially useful before going out at night, to put a little life and movement back in the hair after a day has taken its toll on my curls. I give it a solid five stars.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.