The year was 2012, and Hannah Diop WG09 was determined to launch a hair-care company from her Harlem kitchen. The apartment she shared with her husband, Malick Diop WG09, was full of beakers, pH meters and samples of textured hair tresses, as she worked alongside a chemist to mix shampoos, conditioners and other hair products formulated for textured hair. Malick, then a managing director at Morgan Stanley, would offer encouragement, but there was an ingredient missing. “I felt pretty isolated sitting at home working on this business that existed in my head and not in the real world,” says Hannah.

That’s where Malick’s sister — actress, producer, and entrepreneur Issa Rae — came in. As Hannah was developing Sienna Naturals, Issa was often traveling to New York City for interviews and talk show appearances, and the newlywed couple’s home was the perfect place in which to crash. She became Hannah’s co-founder and contributed to formulas herself, with the Dream Curl Cream as her brainchild. Throughout Issa’s success in Hollywood — as the co-creator and star of HBO’s Insecure and, most recently, a cast member in the Oscar-nominated movie Barbie — Sienna Naturals remained the only beauty brand she endorsed. In turn, when Issa needed a CFO for her growing media company,  Hoorae, Malick stepped into the role, drawing from his Wharton MBA, his background in M&A transactions and financial forecasting, and his familiarity with Issa’s voice and vision. The result was two businesses focused on the Black experience and fueled by family.

Malick and Hannah Diop

Malick and Hannah Diop WG09

It’s easy to see where the Diop siblings — five in total — developed their deep sense of loyalty. Their family moved around a lot due to their father’s medical career, but time spent in his native country of Senegal had the greatest influence on Malick’s work ethic. There, grades are read out aloud in class, as he learned the hard way. Teachers who handed out papers in descending order based on marks served as effective motivation to make sure his name wasn’t called last. “That was jarring,” he says, “but one of the best things that could ever happen to me.”

The experience taught Malick to start taking academics more seriously. He brought this competitive drive and adaptability back to the States and eventually to Morehouse College. Meanwhile, his future wife Hannah was studying at Howard University. The camaraderie and shared culture attracted them to their respective historically Black colleges and universities. For Hannah, life at an HBCU was especially striking since she came from a predominantly white hometown in Minnesota.

“You are no longer a minority; you are a part of a majority,” she explains. “And what happens when you are part of a majority is that all of the anxiety about how you’re going to be perceived, or can you truly be yourself, or will people understand you — that goes away.”

“We can take a break from the business side of things and still be silly,” says Malick Diop WG09. “That’s what has endured.”
Malick and Hannah Diop at Wharton in 2009

Malick and Hannah Diop at Wharton in 2009.

Thus empowered, Hannah found her business acumen bubbling up. She had always struggled with finding the right products for her curly hair, especially since she was a swimmer: Detangling and styling hair damaged by chlorine wasn’t manageable, and it was made more complicated by harsh Midwestern winters. While at Wharton, Hannah took an entrepreneurship class, which solidified her interest in creating more effective hair care. In between coursework and business plans, she found a social outlet in the African American MBA Association and a close friendship with fellow AAMBAA member Malick. The two started dating toward the end of their second year and hit it off. “We’re both pretty unserious people in our spare time,” says Malick. “We can take a break from the business side of things and still be silly. That’s what has endured.”

What’s next for the cross-industry power couple? Sienna Naturals recently joined Sephora’s 2024 Accelerate Program Cohort, which Hannah hopes will allow her to expand to more premium retailers with high clean-beauty standards. The line is already available in major outlets such as Nordstrom and Credo Beauty.

“Keep sacred space for family connection... that’s really important for anyone who’s going to pursue business with their family,” says Hannah Diop WG09.

As for Malick, he says his first year as CFO was “invigorating.” He continues to oversee financial operations at Hoorae as the company aims to connect more underrepresented creatives across film, TV, and music. “We’re focused on women, focused on people of color, and really giving people a chance — essentially trying to find the next Issa Rae,” Malick says. The couple moved to Los Angeles in 2017 to be closer to family; now, Malick works with his sister to manage the roughly 40 employees in Hoorae’s Los Angeles office. Hannah can see how Malick’s role as a big brother became an asset in his professional life. “He is that backbone,” she says. “Even as an investment banker, his clients really relied on him and trusted him.”

Although Malick isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of Hannah’s company, living with an entrepreneur means he sees everything. Both agree that making time for creativity is essential to the home/work balance. “Honestly, you need to have boundaries,” says Hannah. “But you also have to keep sacred space for family connection without the expectations of business. And I think that’s really important for anyone who’s going to pursue business with their family.”

The couple’s American and African familial ties to the Black community are reflected in their work. While their businesses couldn’t be more different — media versus beauty products — they’re united by the goals of fostering inclusion and paying forward the pride Hannah and Malick felt in their culture at HBCUs and at Wharton.