Miko Branch talks about Miss Jessie’s empire life after losing Titi

By Alysha Conner

Miko and the late Titi Branch, sisters and co-founders of the award-winning hair care company Miss Jessie’s, have succeeded at producing a trailblazing hair care line exclusively for curly, kinky, and wavy hair of all types and textures since 2004.

From mixing natural ingredients for local clients in their kitchen to now distributing products to retail stores nationwide, the Branch sisters have successfully grown Miss Jessie’s into a multimillion-dollar empire.

“Titi and I went into business together because it was already in our blood. We were led into it because we wanted to be independent women, create our own schedule, and do things our own way. The money and success came later,” Miko expressed.

While Titi formerly worked in the news broadcasting industry, Miko pursued her passion as a hairstylist. Titi quit her job in 1995 to become a talent agent, and further assist Miko with her hairstyling career.

Soon after, she arranged for Miko to style hair for an Ashley Stewart advertising campaign. Miko and Titi used their earnings from Ashley Stewart to open their first-ever hair salon together.

Detailing aspects that led to the rise of her hairstylist career, and then building an empire with her sister, Miko stated, “My mother is Japanese-American. When she had the time to do our hair, I think she did a pretty good job, but I just had aspirations for better hairstyles for myself. So most of the time, I would have to work on my own hair. I had gotten so good at it that I began to do everyone’s hair on the block.”

Titi and Miko with their parents, Jimmy Branch and Karen Matsumoto.

“Titi was the partner and the sister who thought it was important that we get a shop with this new money. We didn’t know when we were going to get our next check for $8,000. When you’re hustling as an entrepreneur, you never know when the next gig is going to come. So Titi had the foresight and said ‘you know what let’s open a salon so we’ll always have a place to make steady money in between these gigs.’”

During their start-up phase, Titi ran the day-to-day administrative operations, while Miko focused on styling hair. However, the Branch sisters quickly discovered the need to learn each other’s skillset. They were unfortunately not able to sustain their salon and ultimately forced to close its doors. Miko and Titi then went on to transition their Brooklyn brownstone into an interim hair salon.

“Business has a way of really making you revaluate what you think you want to be doing, and what you have to do to be a success. Without special training and business school, Titi and I made a lot of mistakes. But, we had to come face-to-face with the fact that we were partners. So it wasn’t just Titi’s fault. It wasn’t just my fault. We were both responsible. That was the moment we realized that I had to be more involved with the operations, and Titi had to learn how to do hair,” Miko conveyed.

Shortly after they began operating out of their brownstone, the Branch sisters coined the idea of supplying natural hair products. Miko and Titi utilized their learned wisdom taught by their grandmother, Miss Jessie Mae Branch, and ultimately created Miss Jessie’s. Their initial concept for Miss Jessie’s stemmed from Miko and Titi’s personal experience of longing for products that would work best on their natural hair.

Miss Jessie Mae Branch (left)

Reminiscing about her childhood and discipline learned from her grandmother, Miko proclaimed, “If you sat around our grandmother you couldn’t just stand looking stupid. When she cooked, you had to pass her a pan, mix this, beat that, or cut this. She was a no-nonsense do it yourself kind of gal. She ruled our family from her kitchen table. Little did we know that training was going to be a skill set that we could lend to our business and empire that we were about to build in hair care.”

“We ended up naming Miss Jessie’s in honor of her and all that she stood for. When we thought about a CEO, we thought about Miss Jessie. When Miss Jessie told you to do something, or she wanted to get something done, she knew how to delegate. People responded to any direction she gave them. So because I didn’t have any mentors in business, I often tapped into ‘What would Jessie do?’”

Miko and Titi became the leading pioneers of the natural hair movement. They released their first product, Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding, in 2004. A year later, they added more products to the Miss Jessie’s collection such as Curly Meringue, Curly Buttercreme, and Baby Buttercreme. They initially sold their products in their salon, online through PayPal, and in a local thrift store. The Branch sisters eventually arranged for Ricky’s beauty stores throughout New York to sale Miss Jessie’s products.

Miko Branch at the Curl Bar salon

“Titi would stay up later than I did. She mixed and mixed and mixed in the wee hours of the night. It was actually Titi who came up with the Curly Pudding recipe. We worked on it together, but she was the one who perfected it,” Miko explained.

“We started during a time where we were marketing to consumers and customers who didn’t even know they had amazing hair. Titi and I were the company that showed them what the possibilities are. We showed them how to manage their hair,” Miko declared.

Once their product demand increased, Miko and Titi were forced to move their operations from their kitchen into a 5,000 square foot warehouse. Miss Jessie’s received its first significant retail distribution offer from Target in 2010. After successfully gaining Target as a distributor for Miss Jessie’s nationwide, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and CVS locations began selling their products across the country as well.

Miko currently resides as the CEO of Miss Jessie’s. Her sister Titi sadly took her own life in December of 2014. Miko now solely operates Miss Jessie’s. Despite the odds, Miss Jessie’s continues to flourish and recently released new products like Honey Curls, Curls So Fresh, and Hold Me Down edge control. Miss Jessie’s has also made several charitable donations to organizations such as Morehouse College, Doe Foundation, NAACP, and The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY.

“The death of my sister affected me in so many ways that I knew and that I still don’t know. It took me time to process. She was such an integral part of my life and existence. Her greatness is certainly missed. Even though I’m experiencing all this heartache on so many fronts, I think Miss Jessie’s will continue to grow and prevail. It’s still taking time, but I believe that Titi raised me as a winner and a fighter. I want Miss Jessie’s to continue to carry on her great legacy,” Miko confessed.

Miko (left) and Titi Branch (right)

Titi’s passing has since motivated Miko to permit more time for self-care and establishing a personal life. Miko still manages to style hair once a month in Miss Jessie’s Curl Bar locations. She is also working on releasing a second book about her experience navigating through life as an entrepreneur thus far.

Expressing how religion has guided her, Miko declared, “Having a spiritual base has certainly helped me move through adversities that I’ve faced over the past years. It has put me in the position where now I’m getting the strength to get back on my horse, and do wonderful things. Having faith has been a large part of what I tap into, to get through.”

“I listen for the cues that I always get from God. He’ll tell me to go there, don’t go here, pause, fall back, or go forward. It’s just a matter of being in tune to get those cues and signals. You’ll know it in your gut. That has been what I’ve relied on. Particularly now that I don’t have the partnership that I’ve had most all my life.”

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