From her role as Head of Global Communications at Cantu Beauty to establishing her own platform that merges sneaker culture with sisterhood, Melissa Carnegie is a true trailblazer.
Throughout her career, she has managed seven-figure budgets and hired teams from around the world. Despite being a corporate leader, Melissa refuses to reduce her potential to fit white-collar standards. Donning fresh sneakers with a power suit, Melissa leans into her greatness authentically and unapologetically. Her focus is ensuring representation for all types and textures in the hair community and celebrating the intersection of women of color and streetwear.
Her Agenda recently spoke with Melissa about self-care under quarantine, managing textured hair, and sneaker culture in the corporate space.
Her Agenda: Being an executive in the beauty space appears a bit daunting, especially when you work for a Black beauty brand. What helps you cut through the pressure you may feel on a daily basis?
Melissa Carnegie: Just doing the work and knowing who I’m doing the work for. Knowing that we are helping women, women who look like me, and women who have similar stories to me. Cultivating that community and sharing products that are accessible while educating consumers are things that I wish I had when I was younger and when I first went natural back in college.
There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things going on, and great things coming soon that I am excited to be a part of. I’m excited that Cantu thought I was the perfect candidate to cultivate a community and be the lead on a lot of communication. I work with a great team and we are Black-led. It’s a great team of Black women and men who understand the community and are the community.
I work with a great team and we are Black-led. It’s a great team of Black women and men who understand the community and are the community.
Her Agenda: There is a lot of mixed messaging regarding the best products for textured hair. As someone who works for a company that caters to textured hair, what would you say are the best decisions for people to make in order to find what works for them?
Melissa Carnegie: I always say that you need to seek a professional. At a young age, my grandma would have me go to the salon to keep my hair healthy, get my ends trimmed, and make sure that my hair health was great. Make sure that you have a licensed cosmetologist that you can go to. A lot of them provide consultations before even getting an appointment just to look at the health of your hair and check out your scalp which is a great way to start.
Also, learn about your hair and what you are putting in your body. A lot of times, people want their hair to grow and don’t understand their breakage or scalp issues. Hair health is also about what you put into your body. Think about what you put into your body, and how what you eat and drink will affect your hair growth and health. Try different things and educate yourself about the different weights of different products. For example, lotions and activators are lighter than creams. Educate yourself on your hair type and texture and find products that work for you and stick with them.
Hair health is also about what you put into your body.
Her Agenda: Not only are you an executive at Cantu, but you also have your own projects. We are in the midst of a self-care revolution where grinding nonstop and putting yourself last are no longer acceptable. How has your self-care routine changed under quarantine?
Melissa Carnegie: It changed a lot. I make sure that I am resting and getting the right amount of sleep. I also take time for myself and know when to say ‘no.’ Quarantine taught me a lot about boundaries and making sure that I am setting time for myself and taking time that I need first. I have a lot of things that I work on and do from working full-time to my side businesses. Sometimes you are off-balance a little bit, but for me, having a good morning routine and nighttime routine has helped me tremendously.
I make sure that I am resting and getting the right amount of sleep. I also take time for myself and know when to say ‘no.’
Her Agenda: You have your own platform called Kicks & Fros, which I want to talk about. Considering that women are underrepresented in streetwear, and sneaker culture tries to exclude women, where do you get your inspiration and how do you reflect that in your brand?
Melissa Carnegie: I’ve always been a tomboy and growing up I loved sneakers over any type of dress shoes. My parents always bought me sneakers and I started getting more into them once I got into college. I know who I am and wanted to show women that they can still be feminine and comfortable in sneakers. You can be a boss at your 9-5 and be comfortable in sneakers. I knew that there were other women like me and I wanted us to create a community. I also wanted to help other women who were interested in sneakers help find their sneaker style. Rihanna is my style icon and that’s who I try to emulate. Being my authentic self and knowing that sneakers were a part of me, I had to find other women who were like me and created Kicks and Fros to highlight us. I didn’t see a lot of women who looked like me, Black and brown women, getting the credit they deserved in this space. I needed to make sure that there was something to give us our flowers now, which is how Kicks and Fros came about.
Show up as your authentic self, stay consistent with your content, and also listen to your community and audience.
Her Agenda: Since the pandemic started, we have noticed a major shift in style. So many people are shifting to a more comfortable approach and sweatpants are more popular than ever. Considering that style is a big part of your personal brand, do you feel like you can authentically reflect your style in the corporate space?
Melissa Carnegie: Yeah, for sure! Especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic, everything is more relaxed. But, I have been wearing sneakers with my suits for a while now in the workspace. There is a way you can do it and show your personality in the workspace.
Her Agenda: When it comes to building your own brand, what would you say is the most effective way to get started?
Melissa Carnegie: Just start. Start where you are and don’t think that you need all of these things, like professional cameras, to get started. Be your authentic self and stay that way, don’t look at others around you or check to see what your peers are doing. Just staying in your lane will help people gravitate towards you and want to be a part of the tribe you build. Show up as your authentic self, stay consistent with your content, and also listen to your community and audience. Start where you are especially if content creating or building personal brands is something that you are into. If you have ideas, get them out there, and don’t second guess yourself. A lot of creators and bloggers that you see now have been doing it for a long time, so pace yourself. You have to begin somewhere.
Her Agenda: What is a motto that you live by?
Melissa Carnegie: I always try to tell myself that there is only one you. No one can do it like you can. No one is going to show up like you show up. No one is going to deliver a message like you deliver it. Continue to remember that as you grow. Focus on you. Even though there may be a lot of people out there, they are coming to you for a reason.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]