By Ayo Alonge
Sourcing natural hair and never synthetic hair for her teeming clients is the basis of her business .
Chinelo Ikeme, who heads My Hair Limited, a major dealer in natural hair, asserts that her company only sells natural human hair which she sources from different continents of the world just to satisfy the needs of most Nigerians desirous of it.
The articulate entrepreneur fielded questions on the nitty-gritty of the cosmetic business in Nigeria while lending some words of advice to the government on economic development.
What do we need to know about My Hair Limited?
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.
What were your objectives when you were starting your business?
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.
Who are your customers?
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.
You may have to tell us if people still buy the natural hair you sell, despite the economic recession. You know satiating hunger comes first before you start thinking of your hair….
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-sale unit. If you have 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.
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 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. 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.
Would you want to tell us about the kind of hair you sell?
We sell pure, authentic 100% human hair. For the records, 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.
What’s your impression of people who sell synthetic hair?
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.
Is there a way to easily and readily differentiate between human hair and the synthetic hair?
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.
How have you been coping with the recession?
I really like that question, because that is where I will like to dwell on. For My Hair Limited, our business has been growing despite the recession. 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 organizations. We have reduced our imports and our dependence on the dollar.
You said you needed to stop the importation of wigs so as to improve on producing locally. If you have to compare now, what is your profit margin like having reduced importation?
For me, like I told you, My Hair Limited wasn’t borne out of the desire to make money. It was motivated by my desire to satisfy our customers.
In your opinion, what can government do to improve the economy, particularly the beauty sub-sector you operate in?
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 for 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 skill, 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.
What plans do you have for your business in the area of expansion?
For us, our plan is to grow in our wig making department to be able to match the requirements and standards of exportation.
How do you unwind?
I am the type that believes in the family. My family is my priority and every time I am not working, I always like to spend enough time with my family but despite that, I also like to travel a lot.