Not many people follow a straightforward career trajectory; it often involves exploring various industries to find what truly resonates with them—and Dafina Smith’s journey is a testament to that.

Dafina Smith has experienced a diverse range of roles, from being a buyer for Bloomingdale’s to working in real estate, where she handled deals for high-profile clients like Beyoncé. Today, she stands as the CEO of Covet & Mane, her hand-tied extension company.

Her journey has been filled with highs and lows, offering valuable insights into recognizing the right industry fit. She shares her unique and inspiring career story here, proving that Dafina’s path is anything but conventional.

Name: Dafina Smith, Founder/ CEO of Covet & Mane
Age: 42
Current Location: Westport, CT
Education: Georgetown University

What was your first job and how did you land it?

My first job was the Junior Buyer Training Program at Macy’s when I was 13. I learned about it from a posting at my high school and I was obsessed with the idea that we would advise buyers on trends, and plan fashion shows and in-store events at Macy’s at The Mall of America, which in the early ’90s was peak mall culture. I interviewed and had to obtain a work permit to be allowed to work. I was the youngest person in the program and I loved that job so much.

You’re a Georgetown alumna—what were your career aspirations during college, and did they change?

During college, I aimed to venture into politics. I envisioned joining the Foreign Service and perhaps becoming an ambassador or working in the State Department. My internships at the RFK Memorial and involvement in Americorps shaped my passion for social justice.

However, my experience studying abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa during a time of intense societal transition made me reconsider. I shifted my focus towards pursuing a career as a buyer or working as a paralegal at a prestigious law firm. Eventually, I landed a role in Bloomingdale’s Buyer Training program.

I’ll be honest, my early career was just a typical episode leading up to a quarter-life crisis.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Covet & Mane | Hair Extensions (@covetandmane)

Transitioning from Bloomingdales to real estate and eventually working with high-profile artists like Beyoncé is quite a unique career trajectory. Could you walk us through the early stages of your career and how you reached where you are today?

My early career phase felt like a prelude to a quarter-life crisis. I realized soon after starting my professional journey at 21 in NYC in 2000 that the corporate world wasn’t quite the fit for me, despite enjoying the work. This realization led me to adopt a mindset of humble curiosity in approaching my career. The training I received at Bloomingdale’s was instrumental in shaping my skills for running a successful business, for which I’m immensely grateful.

Transitioning to real estate after my time at Bloomingdale’s was inspired by a character in the movie “Sidewalks of New York,” which sparked my interest in real estate. I thrived in this field, becoming a top producer in my Chelsea office and working with notable figures like John Mayer and Broadway producers, eventually paving my way into the music industry.

I realized week one of my professional career that I was not cut from a corporate-world cloth. I liked the work; I did not like the people nor the culture, especially within the fashion industry.

My career trajectory continued to surprise me as I found myself at Outkast Management Company in Los Angeles, delving into the world of TV and music development. The encouragement I received from industry professionals like Darrell Miller to explore other fields like entertainment law led me to USC Law School. However, my stint at VH1 as a legal affairs intern made me realize my disinterest in law, leading me back to real estate, where I had the opportunity to work with celebrities like Beyoncé.

As evident from my experiences, my career was a mix of serendipity and intention, marked by youthful curiosity and humility. Embracing diverse opportunities in environments with a positive culture that offered valuable learning experiences has played a crucial role in shaping my entrepreneurial journey.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Covet & Mane | Hair Extensions (@covetandmane)

In 2008, you launched Sunny’s Hair & Wigs, a boutique in Atlanta. What inspired your entry into the beauty industry?

My parents operated a mom-and-pop beauty supply store in Minneapolis and Mesa, AZ, which exposed me to the industry’s potential.

My foray started as a side project, using the earnings from real estate deals to create an online platform selling curated hair extensions and wigs. This endeavor coincided with the emerging possibilities in e-commerce as I navigated between real estate work during the day and managing online orders at night.

When I left Bloomingdales, I was just starting to see the nascent possibility of e-commerce. I was selling real estate by day and fulfilling orders by night.

Amidst the Great Recession, real estate faced a downturn while online hair extension orders flourished, primarily in Atlanta, GA. This environment accelerated a shift within me.

A pivotal moment during a trip to Mexico with my mother instigated the vision of establishing a flagship experiential hair extension boutique, blending my retail experience, real estate acumen, and music industry insights to elevate an industry I felt was ripe for innovation.

The beauty industry’s emotional resonance and transformative impact on individual confidence further fueled my passion for enhancing this sector through unique offerings like hand-tied extensions.

Your current venture, Covet & Mane, specializes in hand-tied extensions. What led you to start your own company, particularly in the realm of extensions?

The inception of Covet & Mane stemmed from a visionary desire to establish a premium brand in hair extensions, akin to the Chanel of the industry. Recognizing the transformative potential of hand-tied extensions in skilled hands, I identified shortcomings in the distribution model and standardized cosmetology education that created varied client experiences.

Embracing my aptitude for problem-solving and innovation, I viewed industry challenges as opportunities for transformation. Motivated by the prospect of pioneering change and enhancing product quality and distribution standards, Covet & Mane was born.

Furthermore, with a personal interest in the intersection of enhancements and extensions, I sought to address diverse client needs by offering subtle enhancements alongside dramatic transformations, catering to a varied clientele’s preferences.

I think the beauty industry is such a visceral and emotional industry because of the emotions we unlock when we allow a woman to look on the outside how she wants to feel on the inside.

Following the decision to establish Covet & Mane, what were your initial steps, and what were the major challenges you faced?

The initial phase involved traveling to China to engage directly with factory partners, focusing on ethical practices, and enhancing the hand-tied hair extension manufacturing process. Innovations like the cut-point weft, allowing customization of hand-tied extensions, presented challenges in articulating these modifications to our manufacturing partners amid language barriers.

Scaling up production and managing purchase orders as a self-funded start-up marked the subsequent challenge, requiring a leap of courage to propel the business forward.

As a female entrepreneur in the beauty industry, what has your experience been like?

The beauty industry provides a welcoming environment for women entrepreneurs, echoing the trailblazing legacy of individuals like Madame C. J. Walker, Nancy Twine, Rihanna, Pat McGrath, and Iman. I’m grateful to be part of an industry that empowers female leadership.

What advice would you offer to women aspiring to launch their own businesses in 2021?

Focus on maintaining your passion and joy, emphasizing vision, creativity, actionable planning, and setting achievable benchmarks over seeking external validations like investment or a business degree. Prioritize product development over branding initially and ensure product quality to build a loyal customer base through referrals and word-of-mouth.

Engage with a product you’re passionate about and define its value before setting prices. Investing in quality early on will pay off in the long run by reducing customer acquisition costs and fostering a sustainable business model.

Don’t get caught up in the stuff that sucks your joy early on.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Covet & Mane | Hair Extensions (@covetandmane)

You’re also a mother to twin boys. How has motherhood influenced your professional journey?

Motherhood provided a humbling experience, especially due to a challenging pregnancy and premature childbirth. It underscored the importance of delegating, streamlining operations, and recognizing personal limitations. Having a supportive team ensures business continuity aligned with my values and vision, even in my absence.

Reflecting on your career, what achievement are you most proud of to date?

Establishing a $20,000 scholarship with Fearless Beauty in 2020 stands out as a proud accomplishment. Despite the personal challenges faced that year, contributing to a cause promoting social justice aligned with my values, bridging advocacy with my role as a CEO.

What’s the most impactful advice you’ve received?

Remain mindful of the people you welcome into your life, as they can pose greater risks than those outside your door. Cultivating meaningful relationships, both personally and professionally, contributes significantly to your success and well-being.

If you could advise your 22-year-old self, what would you say?

You possess all the tools needed to conquer the world as you are.

A celebrity that left you starstruck? Prince

Favorite Black-owned brands? Oui the People, Beauty by Africa Miranda, Clare Paint, Briogeo

Your go-to coffee order? Oat Milk Chai Tea Latte with a shot of espresso

Best book you’ve ever read? Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Last show you binged? Bridgerton (watched twice)

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why? Dolly Parton. I admire her grace, wit, and music, envisioning a meaningful and memorable conversation filled with laughter and emotional connections.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *