Chinelo Ikeme’s rising profile in the emerging hair enterprise is largely due to the satisfaction celebrities get from the hair she sources for them from different parts of the world. The unassuming lady, who owns the upscale hair outfit, My Hair Limited, spoke with LANRE ODUKOYA about all patrons need to know about wearing and maintaining original human hair as opposed sporting synthetic products.
Why did you quit your bank job to start selling hairs?
My transition was borne out of the desire to do something different, the desire to use the zeal and strength I had in me for achieving results to do something for myself because when you work in a corporate organisation, you’d find out that you’re putting in a lot of hard work. I was a banker and I realised that most times people don’t enjoy what they’re doing but they have to work hard to earn that salary.
Instead of doing something I didn’t enjoy, I decided to go into hair business. In fact, the hair business wasn’t even the first thing I ventured into, I went into kiddies’ birthday parties before I eventually settled on hair. I quit the kiddies’ party business because when I was doing it, I thought I would be able to do it only on Saturdays because those parties are usually on Saturdays but I realised that I didn’t have that much time because it was creeping into my work time. And there’s no regretting the decision to take that life-changing decision.
Were you still working in the bank then?
Yes, I was working in a bank. I worked in two different banks for six years. I noticed that most mothers would cut cost on the cake, the drinks and even the party packs but they want to look good, fabulous and the best dressed on that day.
I told myself, if women are bent on looking good- their bags, shoes, dresses and hair; and spend this much on themselves why don’t I do something that will meet that end of the market? So, I started considering doing something lady-like, I wasn’t sure of what it was but I wanted to do something along that line. So, one Sunday I went to Shoprite and there was an Indian man selling hair there. He was standing because he had a table along the walkway and was asking people, “come and buy”.
So, I bought a few things because he didn’t have everything I wanted. But later he sent his driver to deliver to me. And another time, he came to my office and told me; “why don’t you consider selling to the ladies in your office? There are so many ladies here.” I told him I wasn’t interested that I just wanted to face my job and didn’t want any distraction.
He persuaded me to a point and I told him, okay, I don’t have money. He told me; “I’ll give them to you free, sell and pay me at the end of the month.” I honestly don’t know why he trusted me that much and that was how I started. The rest is history as they say.
Your mum’s photograph is so beautiful and she looks quite fashionable that one might well think you tapped some beauty and the spirit of enterprise from her…
Actually, my mum motivated me a lot in the sense that she’s a widow, my dad is late and the business my dad used to run is being run by her now. And she also greatly motivated me to quit the banking job and join the family business which I have also done.
What’s the family business?
It’s importation of chemicals. We import chemicals from a company in Italy. The chemical is used for body works for cars, boats, ships and metal works generally. She kept on encouraging me. At first, she didn’t want me to leave banking because she knew that experience I was getting there was quite vital but eventually when I was ready to quit, she welcomed me into the business. So, right now I’m an executive director in Moore Enterprises (our family business) and I also do my hair business. My mum turned the business around after my dad died because my dad wasn’t very educated but mum did a wonderful job in growing the business from zero to where it is today.
She has always been a fashionable woman, right from when I was growing up, she had this hair she used to wear whenever there was a special occasion, she would wear it and people would be asking, “is this your hair?” At that time, I was always thinking that whenever I get to secondary school, I will use the wig, the hair has been with her for decades. I think I still have a photograph of it.
So, at that time, I didn’t know I was ever going to do hair business. I just learnt the fashion side of life from my mum’s ability to coordinate the dressing, jewellery and so on. At that time, she already had designers- I remember that she had Christian Dior and Gucci bags, I didn’t really know what they were then but I knew they were nice. So, those things grew in me and they are all manifesting now in everything I do including my business. I just hope I pass it on to my daughter as well.
Natural hairs are sourced from all over the world, where are your preferred locations for hair sourcing and what are the things you look out for in them?
The very first hair I started selling was Indian hair. In the whole world, India has the best hair because it grows long very fast. Many of us in the business had sold Indian hair one time or the other, after I lost contact with the Indian man who introduced me to the business; I fell into the hands of fraudulent people who sold fake hair to me. And the way it runs is that you must pay before they send to you. And after the transaction, it was all stories because nobody was willing to take the bad hair back from me. I lost a lot of money but I also maintained a policy of giving a guarantee, so when customers brought the hair back, I exchanged it for them with better quality ones. Now, I have people I call ‘hair sourcers’, they source for good hair and I pay them to avoid falling into the hands of fraudsters. I test them because I have a few clients who are ready to test hairs for me to confirm if they’re okay, if they are not okay, I’d return it to my ‘hair sourcers’. They source for hair all over the world for me.
Which particular areas around the world do they get the finest from?
We have Argentine hair from Arforgentina, they’re sourced from very remote parts of Argentina
Are those as long and as good as those from India?
You will be surprised that they have beautiful hairs in Argentina sourced from the remote villages. These are places where they don’t even understand, let alone, speak English. We get South American hairs, specifically places like Brazil, Peru and other countries like that. We also get from Vietnam, most of the time. These countries where we source hair from are places where people are living below average and want to sell their hair to make some money. These are countries where you find hairs in large quantity. In the whole world, India has the highest number of willing donors and their hairs grow very fast. If you have a good company that can treat them and weave them for you, you’ll actually get very good hair from them. Not many people know the genuine sources of good hair in India, so in Argentina, we also get a lot of hairs from them and some Asian countries also.
In your assessment of the countries where these hairs are grown, which is the best?
My favourite is Argentina, their hairs are beautiful and it’s not a place where a lot of people have invaded in getting hairs. Indian hairs are actually very versatile because you can do a lot of things with it but my best is still Argentina.
Does that make Argentine hairs the costliest?
The truth about hair is that there are so many things that make it expensive. The first is the exchange rate and after getting that hair, you don’t sell it like that, you have to wash it, treat it, put the weft (the base of the hair where we sew unto our Afri-can hairs) on it. That part of the hair (weft) is very important and if you don’t do it well, it will mess up everything. That’s why some hairs don’t last because they will keep shedding. If the weft is not well done, it will ruin the hair entirely. You have to invest in good companies that will weft the hair for you, if that is done, your customers won’t have cause to complain. Some people sell cheap hairs because the weft may not have been properly done and the hairs are not properly treated. We’ve heard some people complain of having some strange stuff in the hairs, but in the hair I sell, I take my time to make sure everything is properly done by the companies that do it and if there’s any complaint, I’d return to them and my customers won’t have any complain. If there’s any at all, I’ll take it back and give them a better one. I also give feedbacks to companies that weft for us and our ‘hair sourcers’. So, that’s why we can give a very good guarantee because we know where we get our hairs from and we know where it’s treated and weft.
What hairs are good for certain seasons of the year like the summer, spring and winter?
There’s no particular hair for any particular season rather there’s hair for comfort for different occasions. I’d rather put it that way. If you have a wedding, you want to travel, you are in the working class, so I’ve been able to segment hairs into different categories based on customers’ demands and requests. When some people are travelling, they want hairs that they can swim with and do anything with which will be easy to manage. We have some hairs we call ‘wet and wavy’, when some hairs come in contact with water, they’re ruined while others even get more beautiful in contact with water. There’s also ‘wet and curly’ and we recommend this for those who fall into this category. Working class women don’t want to look excessively glamorous, we recommend short shoulder length hair that could be straight, wavy or curly. Then for people who are going for special occasions like weddings; we have bridal hair, the long curly ones that you can pack into different bridal styles, you can even wrap it into different styles. We also have for people who have functions to attend like an award for instance and you want to look very dressy, we have the long roller-curled glamorous hair. We have bone straight hair for people who don’t like too much curls as well. People can wear different hairs in different seasons but the main thing is the occasion for which the hairs are worn.
Has there been a time in the history of your business when you parted with some money just to please a customer?
We do that all the time, that is where customer care comes into play. We go the extra mile. That has become a part of me. It has become the lifeblood of our business. We value integrity, credibility and honesty in everything we do. Business is all about referrals. If you please someone now, that client will refer many more people to you. Referrals always keep you going. It is like a chain. It doesn’t stop. And on some occasions, we dealt with people who were not so honest and we lost some money. There was a time I ran into fraudulent hair suppliers and they supplied us what we didn’t ask for. We lost some money and the products that were sent to us were not our specifications. We did everything we could to mitigate that problem at that time. And till today, I am so proud of myself, my staff and clients because they come back over and over again and they have been our praise singers. They appreciate our products
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