Curl Fest, Guyana’s first ever Natural Hair Expo, was held on Sunday, October 9, 2016 in the Promenade Gardens.
Based on the expressions of the event’s organisers, the Expo was intended to accomplish several goals. One such goal is that it provided a much-needed space for people, women in particular, to sport their natural dos in an atmosphere of acceptance, appreciation, and, quite importantly, solidarity. I believe this goal was solidly accomplished. Indeed, some women found that even they do not appreciate their own hair as fully, and passionately as some complete strangers.
This would have indeed been welcomed by some, although I noticed that some persons took their adoration a little too far. I am talking about the ‘lemme touch your hair without asking permission because it looks awesome’ type of folk.
This may be a fitting time to acknowledge that there are varying definitions of natural hair. By one popular definition, natural hair is that which is not chemically relaxed. As such, colour and straightening with heat combs are permissible. By another definition, natural hair is hair which is not altered in any way whatsoever, but is groomed using naturally occurring products. There are others who argue that hair is not natural if altered even with a comb and water.
For the purpose of this article, all purported definitions apply.
Now, as pertains to the above-mentioned goal, while whether a woman’s natural hair is appreciated by others ought to be immaterial, the fact remains that centuries of reproach, and shaming of natural hair and natural styles has, for many women, obliterated positive concepts of natural hair, and ways such hair is often styled, to the extent that mere thought of wearing such styles, or leaving one’s hair unrelaxed invokes feelings of embarrassment and anxiety in some women. I have witnessed this first hand with some relatives and friends. Indeed, many women will not wear their hair in what are considered natural styles because they believe such styles are unattractive, inappropriate, and/or a variety of other ‘uns’ and ‘ins”.
By providing a space for such women to unleash their manes, Curl Fest allowed for much needed positive reinforcement, and confidence building as pertains to rocking natural hair. Hopefully the gains made last Sunday go a far way toward liberating women with ‘inferior hair’ complex.
Despite the importance of the aforementioned matter, however, that is not the main thrust of this article. We now come to the main reason for my giving up my reclaimed ‘journalistginity’, after more than a year of having not produced a single article: Curl Fest’s business component.
As part of the Expo, various business owners, many of whose businesses are in the start-up phase, and who are catering to the ever-increasing natural hair market in Guyana, were in attendance to display the goods and services they have to offer. In simpler terms, ‘de people come out fuh market deh products and skills.’ Leading up to the event, its organisers expressly stated their desire to assist such businesses in marketing their products to potential buyers, many of whom were not aware of where they could source products to allow for the proper care of their hair.
I opted to speak to a few of these entrepreneurs to find out the motivation behind their start up, and how business has been do far.
“We started to bring in products like six months back and we recognised that that people were coming in and asking for different stuff, and they are coming and buying, and they keep buying, and we keep running out,” said Mr Farley, of FDAP Naturalistas.
This business is located in the Fogarty’s building, 34-37 Water Street, Georgetown.
Jasmine Farley, who lives in Trinidad and works in the software and web development sector there, is the brains, and the motivation behind FDAP Naturalistas, although she says the venture could not be successful without the work being done by her father, mother, brother, and other relatives here in Guyana. The business has been in operation for just about four months.
“I come from a business family so I always have that kind of business head…,” Jasmine responded, when asked why decided to start a natural hair business.
Speaking more specifically to her motivation for the type of venture she waded into, she said, “I always wanted to go natural, but before I never really had the guts to do it. Since I was six or seven, my mother has been straightening my hair in some form or fashion, so I didn’t really know my natural hair, or about taking care of it, it is only straight hair which I knew about,” a beaming Jasmine, who stopped relaxing her hair last summer, and did her ‘big chop’ in February of 2016, explained.
Jasmine said that she, like many other women, was afraid to revert at first. “Transitioning into this natural hair thing was really scary for me, but I got a lot of support from friends and stuff.” She shared that Trinidad has a wider array of natural hair products which she found to be helpful as she reverted from relaxed to natural hair.
The plight of her friends was also a motivating factor. “I have friends here, I talk to them, they’re trying to go natural, but products…that’s the problem… Some people start to go natural then turn back because they ain’t finding products, so I have to see that these things are available, people like options,” Jasmine explained.
Another entrepreneur, Maya Greene, has been operating Au Naturale Hair Salon, situated at 331 Cummings Street, Cummingsburg for the past two years.
Greene explained that she decided to transition from permed hair to natural hair after her hair refused to grow beyond chin length after a cutting appointment.
“I was like Ok I’m over this, I’m going natural,” Greene said.
After that I was motivated by friends and family to start my hair business, because I was always titivating with natural hair, or some friend was always calling me over to style their hair, and they were all like hey, you should open up a natural hair salon.”
Greene said that initially, she did not think that she would have customers if she did open a natural hair salon seeing that she was not a professional hairdresser, and the fact that she would have had the only such salon in operation did not help her thought process. Eventually, however, she decided to get the business started, and said, “so far, business has been really, really great. The response has been fabulous. For the past six months I have seen a growth in my business. A lot of people are coming to me for advice, natural people, people who are transitioning, and people who are thinking about going natural.”
Greene also provides free consultations to persons about “hair products you can use, what is the best choice for your hair, whether you should do a big chop, whether you should transition, if protective styling suits you. Any question a person has I can just give them an answer for free,” she explained as she styled a customer’s hair.
Kellisha Edwards is the proprietor of Just for Naturals GY, which does not have a physical location, and has been in operation for about four months.
“I’m natural myself and I know the struggle of finding products, especially products that you might see from watching YouTube tutorials, and you’re looking for them, and you can’t find them, so I saw the need to start selling the products, because I know that some other persons are going through the same dilemma,” Kellisha explained.
Asked how business has been progressing, she said, “Very good, because most of the products that we bring in are sold out and you have to keep ordering like about every month… so it has been very good so far.”
Kellisha said the products are all ordered online in bulk before being packaged off for customers.
“Right now we have some oils and persons can just say which oils they would like to be mixed and we would mix it for them. We have avocado oil, grape seed oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, and we also have vitamin e oil, rosemary, lavender, peppermint,” she shared. “Right now we are trying to go more along the natural path. We try to sell stuff that a lot of other businesses would not be able to sell… This includes the raw materials so that persons would be able to make their own products.” In fact, these oils were in such high demand that this interview had to be conducted while she worked. Customers kept coming in. (Keep mixin dem oils, Kellisha.)
Regarding establishing a physical location, the budding entrepreneur shared that “at the moment we are exploring the possibility of establishing a physical location which would operate one [day] a week [because] a lot of persons would be asking where is the store? Where can we get the product? So we are currently looking into that.”
Yet another entrepreneur, Malika Willings is the owner of Malika’s Hair Studio, which specializes in natural hair styles, particularly professional locking of hair. “I have a passion since I’m young for doing natural hair styles, mostly locks,” Malika explained when asked why she decided to get into the hair business.
“I started off by not using the crochet needle, as it grow out I just used to take the ends that grow out and just neaten it out,” she further explained, sharing that she was never taught how to lock or braid, but picked it up and perfected her art as she went along.
“I would always do cornrows and it would bring in money… This is my daughter [she references a young child whose hair she is plaiting], when I plait her hair people would see and like it, and would say how much to do this, how much to do that?”
Malika says that she has seen an increase in her business in recent times. “There is an increase because more people are going natural. When people see my locks, they [stare], and I wonder why they are staring at me, but some of them are brave enough to come up to say they like my hair, and ask who did it, and this brings in business,” she explained.
These developments in Guyana’s business sector are most welcomed. This is particularly so in light of our perpetually dismal national unemployment rate, particularly the 40% unemployment rate among youth, according to the Caribbean Development Bank, and significantly high unemployment rates among women.
Further, successive governments have iterated that it is not government’s role to expand create jobs. President David Granger was quoted in an August 1 GINA press release expressing government’s commitment “to working toward the provision of an enabling for job creation for young Guyanese” and is taking an active role in ensuring sustainable gainful employment.
Many would-be entrepreneurs would be wise to consider the potential of the ever-burgeoning market for natural hair products. Regardless of whether the natural hair movement in Guyana is a phase, it is clear that there are economic gains to be made. Some have begun to capitalise, and have benefited. As government is “committed to creating an enabling environment…”, perhaps it may want to look into helping would-be entrepreneurs looking to tap into the natural hair market to access much needed capital.