Detroit Blows CEO Nia Batts tells SEEN about running a business with a philanthropic arm that supports women and how investing in women and girls can better communities.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Photography by Boswell Hardwick
Name: Nia Lauryn Batts
Job Title: Co-founder and CEO of Detroit Blows and founder and CEO of Telescope Collective
Nia Batts is the co-founder and CEO of Detroit Blows, a nontoxic blow-dry salon in Detroit she launched with co-founder Katy Cockrel. She is also the chair of its affiliated philanthropic arm, Detroit Grows, which makes microgrants to Detroit-based female entrepreneurs and to programs helping women enter or re-enter the workforce. Previously she was the senior director of social innovation and strategic partnerships at Viacom Inc. In her position, she worked with all the Viacom brands on division priorities and cross-promotional, marketing and pro-social campaigns for key corporate, nonprofit and talent partners, including: General Motors, AT&T, Capital One, Taco Bell, The White House, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Way, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Mariska Hargitay, LeBron James, Kelly Clarkson and Sophia Bush.
Batts earned a bachelor’s degree in film studies from Columbia University, an executive education certificate in corporate social responsibility from Harvard Business School and a professional certificate in film producing from New York University. She continues to produce content and manage partnerships at the intersection of entertainment and impact.
1. What are you currently working on?
We’ve just celebrated eight months of operations at Detroit Blows, began offering services on Sundays and have successfully launched our bridal business, which is in full force through the summer and early fall. We’re working on maintaining these new verticals of the business, while reimagining others, such as retail. We’re very excited about some new strategies for bringing some of our partner brands to the Detroit market and for a few of our own projects that we’re developing as well.
2. What is your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was opening Detroit Blows. It was a dream many years in the making, and there were times when frankly it would have been easier to quit, but we didn’t. For me personally, it involved walking away from a high-profile job, moving twice across the country and having faith that if we committed to building a business and brand that we were passionate about, others would be too. We promised ourselves that we would return home to Detroit and build what we wanted to see. It’s really been a privilege to have done that, and I’m grateful to everyone who continues to support us.
3. What is an obstacle you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve incurred obstacles of varying size along the way, but I think the lesson for all of them has been about faith, about believing that things will be better on the other side. Oftentimes, the only way around things is through them. Exercise, meditation, water, your mother — when things hit the fan, the best thing to do is go back to basics. Reset, and then let your logic drive the plan instead of your emotion.
4. What motivates you each day?
I’m motivated by our incredible team, many of whom had established careers in the beauty industry, but took a chance on us relative newcomers, because they believed in our vision. They know that they’re co-creating with us. Watching them breathe life into our ideas every day motivates me.
5. What’s the biggest issue facing women today?
In a society that values money, we’re still living and working in a world that on average pays women 20 percent less than their male counterparts. If compensation is a way of articulating value, our society is systematically demonstrating that we value women less; the numbers are even worse for women of color, and likely for trans women.
The issue is not just inequity in pay, it’s that cancerous, latent psychology that manifests in other aspects of life. It’s why we undervalue their opinions, their companies, their bodies.
6. How can we address or resolve that issue?
There’s this awesome activist/investor/philanthropist, Ruth Ann Harnisch, who reminds us that “the final frontier of feminism is finance” — and I really believe that. We have to continue and expand our investment in women and girls. And the data supports it; the “multiplier effect” is real — by investing in women and girls, we are tangentially investing in the families they support, in the communities they are building.
At Detroit Blows more than half of our investors are women, and we’re committed, through our philanthropic reinvestment arm, Detroit Grows, to support other women entrepreneurs by way of microgrants, or more established programs like Alternatives For Girls, which have been consistent resources for girls in our community trying to find jobs and rebuild their lives.
It’s a very big issue, but I think we have to believe it’s real, and take responsibility for it. And a lot of that labor is going to have to be done by men. I’m very grateful for the ones I know who have recognized this and have stepped up in tangible ways that are not always publicly acknowledged.
7. What advice do you have for other women?
A healer I met at Burning Man told me, “in your wounds lie your gifts” — and I really believe that. Life can be joyful, and it can also be very hard. It’s important to remember that the experiences we have are for a reason; they are a part of our story. Trying to understand and process those lessons with grace, that’s the point of it all. Your journey is unique, and your story is a powerful tool.
8. What’s something others may not know about you?
I’m certified as a birth doula, which is a labor companion and advocate for expectant moms. I was first drawn to this work when my friends started to have babies, and I experienced the magic that their bodies were capable of. As I learned more, I became aware of the disparities in maternal care for women in communities of color, and the disproportionate rates of cesarean sections and maternal deaths that resulted. These women are bringing the next generation into the world, and they deserve our resources and our attention.