Gelila Reta is an Annandale native and current senior at Virginia Tech studying engineering--she’s a high achiever and never been very good at sitting still. So when she was quarantined in 2020, she began to consider starting a business, out of a desire to have something of her own.
“I was thinking about problems I had in my daily life that I had no solution to,” Reta said. “I noticed that my hair would be very dry and brittle when I wore cotton head scarves as a style many people with curly and coily hair use to protect their hair. Turns out the thing that was supposed to be protecting my hair was actually damaging it.”
She did some research and found out that silk or satin would be a healthier alternative, but couldn’t find any scarves lined with those materials. So she started to design them herself.
“Cotton and some other commonly used fabrics are not ideal for skin and hair of all types, so what we do at SOLEIL is research and provide healthier alternatives so you don’t have to. All our products are made from a higher quality index, so it would be very difficult for customers to find our quality standard for the prices we offer. All of our products are satin-lined so they also require a higher level of intricacy to make,” she says.
She initially began to grow the business on her own, but was eventually able to hire another Virginia Tech student to work alongside her.
Reta does not look like the majority of American business owners. According to a US News study, most American business owners are white men, and as a young, black female, she says she’s “never met another person who looks like [her] in the entrepreneurial world.” However, she doesn’t let this intimidate her.
“I know I will do whatever it takes to make sure it is successful, even if it means restructuring and rebranding. I work through my Imposter Syndrome by reminding myself that if I am doing something that has not been done before at least I am doing something right.”
The brand’s slogan is “Live like the Sun,” which reminds people to “be their own sources of energy, like the sun, and look within to find the things that too often we look outward for like love, confidence, and peace.”
SOLEIL products, which includes hoodies as well as their signature scarves, can be purchased through their website at thesoleilstore.com or on their Etsy shop “the soleil store”.