Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
Chinelo Ikeme is the Chief Executive Officer of My Hair Limited, a fast growing startup which deals in natural hair and braided wigs.
She told Daily Sun that getting referrals is essential for the growth of startups, but that is not without government’s intervention schemes which are needed to encourage entrepreneurs, thereby promoting local production and export. She also unravels her business’ niche as an entrepreneur.
We have been in business since 2010. We run a home-grown natural hair company and hair care services unit. In addition to selling hair, we also manage and maintain hair our clients buy from us and we also make wigs and all our wigs are made from Nigeria for our clients who have different tastes. Let me emphasize that it is not in our thing to sell synthetic hair. We don’t sell synthetic hair.
Initially, I started My Hair Limited based on my passion for hair and beauty. I didn’t start My Hair Limited because I wanted to make money. I just started it because I wanted to do what I enjoy doing and in the course of running the business, I was able to apply my experience as a banker in relating with customers in ensuring our clients are satisfied with whatever they buy from us and eventually we started with the after sales services arm of the business. So, in total, I will say first of all, it was to satisfy my desire to do something different, something innovative. I followed my passion, which is hair beauty and till date, I will say we are not doing badly at My Hair Limited and our customers are satisfied. Their satisfaction is the main reason we are in business.
Our clients come from different strata of life. We have young ladies, young girls who are getting married, people who work in the media and married women. We have people who want to look good for an event. Really, the young and old people who have good taste buy from us. The truth is, beyond selling hair, we also offer services.
We also have a salon. We have a makeup and beauty unit. So, if people are not coming into our store to buy hair, they can come to revive what they have. That’s what we do in our after-sales unit. If you have an old hair you bought from us or elsewhere, we can revive it for you and make it look good again. We also do consultation and it’s free. People who are not working are advised to manage what they have. So, it’s not necessary you buy and buy. You can manage what you have. That is where customer care comes in to 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 and that is how getting referrals is essential for the growth of startups of this nature. Referrals always keep you going. It is like a chain. It doesn’t stop. And on some occasions, we have 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.
We sell pure, authentic 100% human hair. We don’t sell synthetic hair. We source our natural human hair from different continents. Our suppliers send to us down here in Nigeria. So, we don’t just go everywhere or anywhere to buy hair. If they are not good quality, we discard them. The truth about hair is that there are different grades of hair. We have the 100% and the lower grade of hair. It is always 100% for us. You won’t buy hair from us and later it will be giving you problems.
There are some people who can’t afford human hair, so they go for synthetic hair. Synthetic hair is for people who can’t really afford 100% human hair, because it’s not always cheap. Most synthetic hairs come in packs and they have a certain label indicating what they are. They call them different things. Synthetic hair is not human hair at all. There is real human hair and there is fake human hair. Real human hair is gotten from real hair donors who are definitely not Nigerians, because we don’t have the kind of hair we call authentic hair because Africans don’t grow that kind of hair.
We get them mostly from South American countries like Argentina, Brazil and India, some of these countries where people are willing to sell what they have to be able to feed. A lot of hair come from India and Cambodia and some other countries where people are willing to sell their hair to be able to make money. So, ordinarily, by looking at a fake bundle of hair and authentic human hair, you may not easily tell the difference. You can only tell the difference by usage. Sometimes, the smell of hair can also differentiate them, as well as the water test. Sometimes, people use fire to test. If it burns like rubber, then it’s not real.
For My Hair Limited, our business has been growing. We have to keep thriving to get our foreign exchange, because everything we need and all our raw materials are imported. One of the ways is to harness our skills and grow our business by putting an end to importation of wigs. We have to stop importing wigs. We have to start making our wigs here in Nigeria. So, we have to think outside the box. We have cut down on a lot of all other costs we would incur by producing those things in Nigeria. We also get to employ young people who are skilled. We train them, get them involved in learning new skills and empower them to be able to satiate the needs of our clients by making wigs here in Nigeria. We also support a few organisations. We have reduced our imports and our dependence on the dollar.
Implications on local production
For me, like I told you, My Hair Limited was not borne out of the desire to make money. It was motivated by my desire to satisfy our customers.
Government intervention in sector
The persistent problem in Nigeria now is the fluctuation of the exchange rate and even the market woman would complain about that, because she has to feed her family. For us at My Hair Limited, what I think government can do is to encourage manufacturing in Nigeria. Anybody who shows the interest to produce, no matter how little, should be encouraged.
For us, we have started making our own braided wigs. I have been able to produce quite a few wigs and sent them outside Nigeria and people bought them. The truth is if I say I want to go into exporting wigs, the terrain won’t even be conducive to that. Many people don’t even know the requirement for exportation and the government is not very supportive of people who do the business. We need the government to assist those who have the skills, the ability and the willingness to produce on their own. There is always a market for whatever you produce in Nigeria. If the dollar has become like diamonds that we can no longer get it, then, let’s make the terrain in Nigeria viable enough for people to be able to export products. If we do that, there would be a ripple effect. We need the support of government at all levels.
Long term goals
For us, our plan is to grow in our wig making department to be able to match the requirements and standards of exportation.