Lina Barker is an entrepreneur from London, who went from hosting events at the Houses of Parliament with her previous company, to launching a successful male grooming brand called Aaron Wallace, now stocked by Sainsbury’s, ASOS and more. She has always been extremely passionate about marketing and absolutely enjoys building brands from the ground up. Since the launch of her natural hair care brand, Lina has been recognised by Forbes, Elle Magazine, Okay Africa and BET for her entrepreneurial achievements, and has gotten her brand launched in Sainsbury’s, ASOS, Liberty London, Debenhams, Saks Fifth Avenue and Zaland
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I am a Tanzanian who was born in the UK but raised in The Netherlands so my background is varied and draws influences from different cultures. I think that’s where my fascination for people and human interaction comes from. After graduating with an Advertising and Marketing Communications degree from the University of Bedfordshire, I spent some time working in various sales and marketing jobs before co-founding Aaron Wallace in 2016.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
During his time as a barber, my co-founder, Aaron, saw first hand the challenges faced by his clientele when it came to having access to good quality products that would solve their very specific hair and skin care problems. As a black man he could personally relate to their frustrations. In 2016, he approached me and I was immediately drawn to the idea. The male grooming industry is severely undeserving Black men and I was keen to get involved with changing that.
How did you achieve awareness?
We bootstrapped for a long time, making every single pound stretch as far as we could. We had to strike a balance between investing in stock and investing in marketing to drive demand. From a marketing perspective, we focused all our efforts on authentic community building through email, social media and tradeshows in an effort to recruit our first customers.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Our first investment was raised through friends, family and personal savings. Once we were able to prove early traction, we approached angel investors and raised £75,000 which we invested in product development, branding and website development. Then in 2021, after rapid growth, we had to raise again to meet increased demand. We raised £250,000 to invest in stock, boost our marketing activities and grow the team.
What are the key successes?
We have had so many incredible moments in our journey so far. However, if I had to pin-point the key moments that had a profound impact on the business, I’d say; 1. Our partnership with ASOS which introduced us to the world of major retail and laid the foundation for subsequent partnerships; 2. Our £250,000 fundraise in 2021, raising investment is no easy feat and I applaud any founder who manages to secure investment; and finally our nationwide listing with supermarket giant Sainsburys. One of our key missions is to make it easier for Black men to not only discover products that are good for their hair and skin, but also to make it easier for them to buy these products.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
At each stage of our growth we have had to face different challenges. In the beginning our challenge was finding creative ways to stretch our limited marketing budget without compromising on the quality of the work we put out. Most recently the challenge for us was meeting increased demand from retailers and customers coming directly to us, we had to find a way to strike the right balance. We immediately realised that by hiring the right person, who had experience in supply chain management, we could optimise our operations so that it could more effectively meet the demand we were creating through our marketing efforts.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We are really ambitious and are aiming to become the number one brand for Black men when it comes to their hair, beard and skin care needs. We want to be the first brand they think of when looking for self-care products. In the next year, we plan to expand our product range, increase our retail presence and build stronger brand awareness here in the UK.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
I know this sounds cliche and like something everyone says but just go for it. You should definitely spend time planning and creating a roadmap but it’s also important to just get started. Get out there, you learn so much more from doing than you do from planning.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Never stop learning and connecting. This journey is always filled with unknowns and the best way to arm yourself is with knowledge. Spend time reading books, industry relevant articles, attending conferences and seminars, and connecting with others in your field.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
This is a hard one to answer because I am constantly inspired by those around me. Listing just 5 is a challenge. I will say that I am very fortunate to have phenomenal people in my family and friendship group who are all successful in their own rights. I am inspired daily by all of them
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right” by Henry Ford. Perfectly sums up the role self-belief plays in the journey to success.
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
Linkedin: Lina Barker