Meet Hinshara Habeeb, Kerala’s first woman entrepreneur to swim in the Shark Tank

Hinshara Habeeb, co-founder of Manetain, shares the story of her company’s growth, fueled by her journey of finding self-love and confidence.

ByJoshua Eugine

Published Sep 07, 2023 | 2:00 PM Updated Sep 07, 2023 | 3:35 PM

Hinshara, co-founder, Manetain, is the first woman entrepreneur from Kerala to be featured on Shark Tank India.

As we scan stores or scroll through digital bazaars, we often forget that most brands have a backstory and a face behind their resting place on a shelf.

For Manetain, the face behind the brand comes with a head full of curly hair and a backstory that is as rich and beautiful.

Before becoming the first woman entrepreneur from Kerala to be featured on Shark Tank India, Hinshara Habeeb was first a young girl who was told that her curly hair made for an unflattering appearance.

It wasn’t long before she decided to define her curls and redefine what beauty meant to her. Now, as the co-founder of her own curly hair product company, Manetain, Hinshara shares her story of finally letting her hair down and embracing her natural self.

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A curl worth fighting for

“Growing up, I never felt pretty because of my hair,” Hinshara tells South First. Inheriting it from her mother, Hinshara’s curly hair had turned frizzy as she remembered that neither she nor her mother knew how to take care of curly hair.

“There was no knowledge about it. The media back then only focused on straight hair. In the Sunsilk ad, popular at the time, the ‘before’ would be my hair and the ‘after’ would be this silky, straight head of hair!”

“Growing up with ads like that make you feel like your hair is never really pretty,” she shares. To dodge snide remarks and deal with her insecurities, Hinshara found temporary solace at the nearest hair salon, under the warmth of a straightener.

 

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But Kerala’s unforgiving humidity and her hair’s thickness soon brought it back to its original curly self.

“Every time my hair used to curl up, my insecurities used to creep back in. I began noticing this trend where I only saw myself as beautiful when my hair was straight.”

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A new routine

Moving to Bengaluru to pursue her college education at Christ University brought more concerns as the city’s hard water thinned her hair’s volume.

“I started worrying about losing the hair that I had!” she adds. This prompted her to stop straightening her hair as she decided to let her curls be without desperately trying to comb them out of existence.

A few weeks into this new routine, she began to notice her curls growing longer. Deciding that it was time to deal with what seemed like a chore at the time, Hinshara was soon introduced to the Curly Girl method, which she followed religiously.

The Curly Girl method was developed by American hair stylist Lorraine Massey whose “Curly Girl” books became the “bible for curly, wavy, and kinky hair,” Hinshara explains.

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A community for the curly and confident

“Around that time, in 2017, I noticed that I couldn’t find hair products for curly hair in India. They had to be shipped from the US where it was already a huge craze by then.”

Parallelly, a Malayali Instagram vlogger, who used to post about the Curly Girl method, created a WhatsApp group for curly-haired women to which Hinshara was added. The WhatsApp group had fewer than fifty members who all “had the same problem,” she shares.

“We had all grown up hating our hair and we finally wanted to embrace it.”

The group members shared their experiences of being ridiculed and teased for their hair and found comfort in each other’s journey towards self-confidence.

“It was like a support group,” Hinshara expresses, remembering how they would all order curly hair products online and split the cost, after which the group creator would send it to each member’s city.

By using the Curly Girl method and with the support of her curly-haired comrades, Hinshara began to see changes.

“I embraced my curly hair for six months and I started to see it transform from dry, damaged hair to lovely, curly hair. I realised that I had become confident as a person. It freed me for the first time! I wanted to tell more people about that confidence.”

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Enter the entrepreneur extraordinaire

Hinshara and Yuba. (Supplied)

Hinshara and Yuba began Manetain in 2018. (Supplied)

It was through this online community that Hinshara met her co-founder Yuba Aga with whom she began Manetain in 2018.

“We decided to start with hair accessories like satin bonnets and satin pillowcases, which are as important as hair products,” Hinshara explains, as they identified a market for such products among curly, wavy-haired individuals who until then used satin shawls to protect their hair at night.

With just a “heat cap” on their catalogue, Manetain’s debut on Instagram was met with an overflow of orders.

“We didn’t even have a website! I remember sitting in Bengaluru, filling up a Google Sheet to collate the data and sending it over to Yuba in Bombay,” who then manufactured the product with the help of a tailor.

Fresh out of college and employed at Deloitte at the time, Hinshara didn’t think that Manetain would be her full-time job.

“Both Yuba and I started it out of pure passion because we had other regular jobs on the side. We went ahead with the idea because we had a gut feeling about it and trusted each other’s motivations. It’s been four-and-a-half years now,” she happily shares.

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Safe space

As Manetain flourished in the corner of her eye, a family emergency required Hinshara to return to Kerala and step into her family business.

“At that point, I was running two businesses. I got a lot of criticism for not doing Manetain full-time. It was even called out during Shark Tank,” she shares. “Having to give 100 percent to both was crazy. People never think you’re giving it your all even though you are,” she remembers.

During this overwhelming phase of her life, Manetain became her “safe space”.

“I slowly started considering Manetain as my primary bread and butter. I realised it could be something much bigger,” she recalls.

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Time to set ‘Sale’!

As a fan of Shark Tank, it was Yuba’s idea to enter the business reality TV show so that Manetain could “put their story out there”.

After going through three gruelling rounds of interviews and pitches, Manetain received an investment of ₹75 lakh from Aman Gupta, the founder of Boat.

“We didn’t expect anything. We wanted to showcase the products and the brand, and then we got the deal! It was a huge bonus!” Hinshara shares.

Manetain received an investment of ₹75 lakhs from Aman Gupta, the founder of Boat.

Manetain received an investment of ₹75 lakh from Aman Gupta, the founder of Boat. (Supplied)

“Both of us were such baby founders until then. The kind of learning and exposure we got there changed us as founders. It opened up a whole new world,” she adds, remembering the various entrepreneurs she met who came from different backgrounds but equally excelled at their crafts.

Despite the intensity of the show and its strict requirement that participants only communicate in Hindi, Hinshara found the experience invaluable.

“Even though some of the judges were a little harsh when we thought about their points, it all made sense,” she reveals, expressing her gratitude for the opportunity.

After their dip in the tank, Manetain received massive local and national attention. Some of the interviewers also turned out to be customers, adding to the founders’ delight.

“When you hear that, you feel like all those dark days were worth it!” Hinshara expresses.

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The voyage ahead

“I want more women investors involved,” Hinshara reveals as a change she’d like to see in India’s start-up landscape. “I notice that most investors are men and I feel if more women are seated across the table, they would understand where we’re coming from.”

“When you’re in a room full of men, it is intimidating, whatever is said and done.”

The founders often receive patronising behaviour on account of simply being a women-owned business. “A woman entrepreneur faces so many challenges. Take the case of my co-founder — she’s a mother, a dentist, a business owner — it takes a lot to run a company with that much faith and authenticity when there’s so much going on in one’s life.”

India’s cross-cultural expectations of women are also thorns in an entrepreneur’s journey. Her family’s support towards her business is often questioned by others, who wonder why Hinshara isn’t “married off” yet.

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United by curls

Hinshara and Yuba with Aman.

Hinshara and Yuba with Aman. (Supplied)

The curly-haired connoisseurs, however, are steadfast in their journey and have much bigger plans. With more products, stylers, and a line for kids on the way, they aim to embed the knowledge of self-love as early as possible so that “the trauma of hating one’s appearance isn’t passed on,” Hinshara shares.

“United by curls,” Hinshara and Yuba hope for Manetain to grow in the same community-driven spirit it was born in.

By organising more group events and working with hair stylists, they believe that they can encourage people to embrace their natural hair and embark on a journey of self-confidence.

Upon interacting with customers, Hinshara often receives heartwarming messages from those who have shared her journey.

“When you get messages like those, it inspires you and tells you you’re going in the right direction,” she reveals, emphasising that the road ahead is not a straight one but one that is wonderful and wavy.

Instagram @hinsharahabeeb @manetainstore @thecurlprojectbyyuba