Client Spotlight: Riley's Way, overcoming hair discrimination & embracing natural hair

April 28, 2023

Crystal Dowe is the owner of Riley’s Way, an apparel company that specializes in clothing and merchandise that encourages young girls to embrace their natural hair. 

Growing up, Crystal Dowe was teased for her natural hair and chemically straightened her hair for 30 years until she finally decided to embrace her natural hair in 2011. Now, Crystal is a proud grandmother to her granddaughter Riley who loves sporting her natural puffs. In honor of Riley, in 2017, Crystal founded Riley’s Way to help other girls accept themselves and feel just as empowered in their natural hair.  “I wanted other little girls to feel the same way she feels about her hair as opposed to the way I felt when I was a child,” Crystal says. To this end, all of Riley’s Way products depict black girls wearing their natural hair in various careers, from a pilot to a brain surgeon to a marine, showing girls that they can confidently achieve their dreams, just as they are.

Photo of hoodie made by Riley's Way

Throughout the winter semester, Crystal worked with two University of Michigan student teams in DNEP’s MKT 313 Consumer Behavior and with a team from the ENTR 490 Urban Entrepreneurship class to improve Riley’s Way’s social media presence, develop a better picture of the target customer, and generate new insights on how to best position the brand in the market.

Talking about her experience working with DNEP so far, Crystal says: “[The student teams] were very, very helpful….my favorite part was the new ways of thinking - they’re more in tune as to what’s going on and what social media is looking for.” 

In the future, Crystal hopes to go beyond products and also host workshops and events through Riley’s Way to help young girls embrace their natural hair in community. 

Reflecting on her natural hair and entrepreneurial journey, Crystal looks back with pride, “I’m proud of how far I’ve come by myself…I’m proud that the little girls we come across enjoy seeing their own representation with their hair…I’m proud that my granddaughter is still wearing her natural hair.”

By Allison Wei (Ross ‘25)