Whilst attending the launch of MIZANI, I serendipitously met Emelia-Jane who was also a guest at the launch. We were the early birds for the event so I grabbed the opportunity to know more about her story as a pioneer in the natural hair business in Ghana.
Her gorgeous sister locks lightly glistened in the morning sun which filtered through the windows into the comfort of Luxury Living Tea Room.
OQ: How long have you had your sister locks?
E-J: Well…I have had them for 11 years now. I started the locks when I was carrying my son. I started locking during my time in the UK.
OQ: How was the natural hair revolution back then in the UK?
E-J: It was very strong back in the day especially when it was the era of the original Black Panther movement. In the UK, it’s an expense to have perm so most Black-British women tended to style and braid their own hair even though it would take them like 4 hours to braid by themselves and I had friends who DIYéd their own braids. It was more cost-effective. People were proud of their natural hair back then and the rise of black empowerment and movement saw an increase in the whole afro lifestyle. Back here in Ghana, it’s just what it is unlike back in the UK having natural hair was more about ’embracing my African-side of me.’ Our drive as Ghanaians towards natural hair is just different from the Black-British women. Natural hair is actually making a statement.
OQ: What’s the main focus of natural hair styling services at Black Cotton?
E-J : Our main focus is on sister locks and natural hair which we develop into sister locks once clients have the growth. Also unless you are a very confident naturalista, you might easily get frustrated along the way and we want to catch you before you (the client) decide to go back to relaxed hair because of being fed up with your natural hair care regime. This sometimes happens as some women get tired of styling and maintain their natural hair. New clients who visit the salon often admire the various lengths and styles of sister locks and decide, ‘why not?’
OQ: What products do you use?
E-J: Sister locks is actually a low-maintenance kind of natural hair style. In the initial stages we discourage clients from using any products, we advise rather to wash it with a non-conditioning based shampoo, avoid using other oils in your hair as it makes it too soft and easy to unravel. For the first year, it’s very low maintenance and we show clients how to wash it, bundle it and how to treat dandruff issues using tea-tree oil which is a natural anti-bacterial agent to clean your scalp. That’s it. We were one of first salons to bring Carol’s Daughter in because they had a non-conditioning moisture spray which doesn’t unravel the hair. That’s a product I encourage my clients to use however in the absence of this product, you can use a spray bottle of water and add like six drops of tea-tree oil or lavender oil and mist lightly.
OQ: What has been the feedback from your clients on why they went natural and what their challenges were?
E-J : I had a client who had an issue with her organisation which is one of the Nigerian banks in Ghana regarding her natural hair. They infringed on her rights to keep her locks. In terms of who comes to us either in a transition mode or having a desire to go natural it’s usually because of receding hairline caused by over-braiding and weaves. Then there are those who have reached that age where they want to embrace their own natural hair self and also those following fashion because it’s fashionable to have natural hair now. There’s also a category of women with breaking relaxed hair which has become limp over time because of relaxer creams so they want their own coils and fluffiness back and finally women who have heard of all these scares of cancer-causing relaxers and want nothing to do with it.
OQ: Share more about your initial stages journey as an entrepreneur setting up her natural hair salon?
E-J: You know…I think the initial focus is never revenue-generation. The initial focus was more of developing and styling my friends’ hair into sister locks as they were so intrigued by it. So it actually was more of a hobby as I was actually very adept at hair styling during my college years. So as friends started trooping in I asked myself why not? The hobby then grew into a business venture which started in my bedroom, my mom’s porch to a shop. We have grown very organically through referrals from happy clients, we have never struggled with getting new clients. We used a booking appointment which most Ghanaians weren’t used to and that became the main challenge. When clients missed out on appointments and were late it run into other client’s time slot thus creating quite a conflict and customers saying ‘at Black Cotton we bluff’ just because of the booking system. However the booking system really helps the customer because you know that at this particular time there’s a free slot which you can book. It’s not been all breezy throughout because there have been some operational challenges where the stylist doesn’t turn up on time but the customer is actually on time. That creates a knock-on effect for the next appointment. The psyche of timing, appointment system and the psyche of the stylist coming in on time are the real challenges and not in terms of having enough clients.
OQ: What plans do you have towards expanding to other African markets?
E-J: We have had enquiries from different African countries on opening branches there but we want to focus on honing in on our local market here in Ghana before exploring other African markets. Moving to foreign countries is also not easy due to different laws, terrain and cultures. We are always however happy to train interested persons in sister locks creation skills.