Why aren't there more beauty-related products that are better designed for Black people?
The question has been an ongoing quandary for Konnie Wells, 28, a governmental mechanical engineer who works in a discipline "dedicated to solving problems," as she tells Yahoo Life.
This mindset extends beyond her day job, as Wells has also figured out a way to fix an issue that had been affecting her side hustle of braiding hair: Not being able to make straight middle parts for her clients.
"Seven out of 10 times, I'm gonna get it wrong," the Kansas City, Mo. resident says, adding that she'd often ask clients to go and part their own hair in the bathroom.
But that left her feeling discouraged and uncertain about her abilities. "I can't be having this," she remembers thinking. It's what inspired her to combine her love of beauty and engineering to create a part-assisting filter called the "Middle Part Filter" and to share it on TikTok, where her video received over two million views.
The filter, released on May 22, works with one's camera to offer a straight line, appearing in the center of a user's face, stretching from about the lower forehead to the crown of the head, depending on the user's positioning. It's already become a popular online tool for hairstylists and has been used in nearly 50,000 videos, with generally favorable reactions including, "When we say Black women in STEM, this is what we're talking about."
"Whoever made this filter is a genius," shared one user, who recorded herself using the parting filter to help style her client's hair.
Raved another: "Where was this filter when I was in middle school because it would've clocked me so hard."
The filter development process took Wells two days, with the assistance of software and a bit of "YouTube University," she says.
"I used Procreate and Nomad Sculpt and watched, like, a bunch of tutorials," she says, adding that she's still perfecting the accuracy of the filter, which some have pointed out is not quite there yet.
"After seeing all the videos, I realized that on some people's heads, it does lean," says Wells, who is also aiming to improve compatibility with various face shapes.
In addition to her middle-part filter, Wells has created an effect that helps with the parting process for knotless and box braids, which are extension-based braid styles that require parting the hair into evenly spaced sections.
Wells says creating these filters highlights the importance of having diverse creators working at the intersection of beauty and technology — something she has found to be in short supply.
"I have type four [tightly coiled] hair, so I break combs combing my hair," she says, which fueled frustration, especially around the lack of "products built for my hair type."
It's why she initially made the middle-part filter with Black hair in mind.
"I didn't think that other races cared about their middle part as much because when you get braids, your parting is a bit more permanent," says Wells, explaining that the duration of wear for many Black hairstyles also makes a centered part especially important.
"If you get [braids] and your part is off, it's like, are you really going to want to start over?" says Wells, who has been dabbling in the beauty and tech space since college, when she designed an ergonomic hair dryer specifically for Black hair for her senior project. She's also made adjustments to existing Black hair tools, such as extending the prongs of racks designed to hold hair during the braiding process.
Now Wells has plans to revamp her new filters with the help of professional coders and hair stylists, and hopes her work in the digital enhancement space will encourage others to look for new ways to solve problems.
"Technology is really built to assist us," she says. "So maybe this is a door that's opened to get more Black people to think about how we can use technology to help our lives."
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.