Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
“I’ve only ever worked in the consumer space, so I’m genuinely curious and passionate about building brands for customers,” offers Dianna Cohen, the brilliant founder and brandmaker behind hair care’s cult favorite line, Crown Affair. Launched a little over 2 years ago, the line has expanded intentionally under Cohen’s careful watch. In a category as crowded as hair care, the slow burn has competitors taking notes and loyal users eager for Crown Affair’s next home run.
Prior to creating Crown Affair, Cohen was a part of bringing massive brands like Outdoor Voices and Away to life. Her ethos of “great things take time” has extended to the early years of Crown Affair. “We’re really intentional about not being a brand that spells everything out for you. It’s easier (and faster) to be obvious,” she shares. Cohen points to the illustration of a television show when it comes to brand. “You could be the prime time made-for-everyone ABC family show with a laugh track. That type of show captures a lot of people early but doesn’t assume the audience is truly smart, so it fades out after a few seasons and no one streams it later because, well, it wasn’t that great.” The other option, she explains, is to make something “smart and for a specific audience,” like The Office or Seinfeld. “Those shows weren’t obvious and took a while to find their groove.” If you build something you genuinely love and believe in, Cohen assures “your people will find you.”
What about launching a brand has surprised you the most?
DC: It’s been a wild and incredible two years (and two months) since launching Crown Affair. We launched six weeks before Covid hit the U.S, so there’s been surprises every day that are unique to the moment we’re living in. Whether it’s supply chain challenges or building a community like our 8-week mentorship program, Seedling, entirely online when we couldn’t meet in person, every day is a new journey our team is growing and learning from. I’m always grateful and pleasantly surprised at how our customers truly get us and what we’re building together.
What about the DTC space excites you?
DC: I’m excited about the time we’re living in now. It's the first time in 10 years since I started working that I feel a genuine shift. TikTok has been a major part of that. The fatigue of paid marketing and paid influencer relations is a part of that. It feels like we’re in a 2.0 moment of building consumer brands — we’ve learned so much from the Warby’s and the Harry’s and the Away’s of the world. I’m genuinely grateful to take those learnings of DTC 1.0 and be building Crown Affair at this time in history. It’s easier than ever to launch a thing into the world, but it’s harder than ever to build a real brand and product that people love over time.
How would you describe the Crown Affair community? What have you learned from your most loyal customers?
DC: Our community is one of the things I’m most proud of. You know a Crown Affair woman when she walks into a room. She’s moving through the world with grace, ambition, and curiosity. She understands all the little easter eggs hidden throughout the brand, and she’s been craving exactly what we’re building in this category— something that’s modern, clean, and makes you look forward to taking time for yourself and your hair.
We’re in our fifth season of our mentorship program, Seedling— with 400 mentors and mentees in the 8-week program. That community is very special to me in a way that’s so different from social marketing platforms. We also love working with our creators to share their journey with Crown Affair. It’s beautiful when someone starts to understand their hair and takes time out of care instead of frustration. I personally love community and connecting with people about their hair— that is how the brand started— through conversations with women about what we were looking for. That conversation anchors the brand and is a big part of what we’re building.
As founders featured in our “Quality Makers” series, what does “quality” mean to you?
DC: Quality is everything. I actually talk a lot about this with our team and the conversation around ‘clean beauty.’ I use this analogy that it's the same with food: If you have an ingredient list for a recipe, let’s say Cacio e Pepe, which calls for Parmesan, you could go to the store and get pre-grated Parmesan in a plastic tub that's maybe just partially cheese but says Parmesan on the ingredient list. Or, you could go have the most beautiful wheel of Parmesan flown in from Italy that's shaved for your recipe in real time. And those are different things; different ingredients, but their names are the same on the ingredient list. And then, you're going to get people who are like, 'Don't eat cheese; cheese is bad for you.' But actually, the stuff isn't bad if the quality is good."
Be it with ingredients or materials for handcrafted tools, quality matters. And it leads into the conversation around sustainability, too. Invest in fewer, better things.
I have no reason to put things into the world unless they’re actually better. I’m not a celebrity or an Instagram influencer, I just want to put beautiful things into the world that improve our lives, and quality is a core part of that conversation.
When you’re shopping for products personally, what do you look for in a brand?
DC: I look for brands and products that are intentional with the quality and sourcing of their ingredients and the intentionality around design and function. My team always jokes that my personal aesthetic is ‘Star Wars meets Chanel’ so I tend to look for products that have a bit of funk or whimsy in them while still being beautiful and intentionally made. Be it with beauty products, home design, fashion— something that is luxury but with a playful wink, that’s what I look for.
Are there any trends in the ecommerce space you’re following? Any you're avoiding?
DC: Avoid ‘growth at all costs’ culture in ecommerce. When it comes to beauty (and food and bev) word of mouth is everything in this category. The second, third, and fourth purchase is where the real growth happens— not just top of the funnel first purchase. Do things that make you excited as the founder, that you know will surprise and delight your customer but you’re delighted by it. People remember how you make them feel, not just how or what you sold them.
What's your most-used Crown Affair product right now?
DC: It is difficult to choose because I do not put anything into the world I wouldn’t personally use or recommend — but The Renewal Mask ($58) is magic. It’s better than any luxury mask out there at a more accessible price. It can transform the health of your hair, and from a styling perspective, it changes how your hair dries. Once you try it, you get it. Okay, I have to pick one more because I’m about to go use it and I could not live without it: The Dry Shampoo ($36). It’s one four awards in less than a year— including Allure Best of Beauty, Glamour, and Elle Green Star. The Japanese persimmon powder leaves hair silky, voluminous, and refreshed. Bonus that smells incredible. I could never touch an aerosol dry shampoo again!
Have a founder you’d like us to interview next? Let us know: email@example.com.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.