Fiona Mol-Mwaura’s two-hour salon appointment that cost nearly Sh30,000 helped her to weave a business idea, which gave birth to True Remy Hair, a hand-wefted hair enterprise, in a beauty industry that is increasingly demanding more.
It is her husband who prodded her to start the business after seeing how much she spends at the salon for a few hours.
In 2012, Ms Mol-Mwaura started researching on hair and how it was sourced from Asia.
“The way hair was harvested and how inhuman this process was discouraged me from pursuing the business,” she says.
It took Ms Mol-Mwaura a few more months trying to find a good and credible supplier of raw hair. That same year, her husband asked her to join him on a business trip to Indonesia. The journey offered her the opportunity to visit some of the salons which trade in raw virgin human hair where she got to know how harvesting of hair was done.
Here she learnt that agents got the hair from individuals and that the process was marred by corrupt and insensitive deals.
This posed one of the challenges she faced — to ethically source the hair. After a lot of research she got a salon that harvested hair in a humane way.
Ms Mol-Mwaura made a deal with the salon in which she would buy the hair and 50 per cent of what she pays them would go to the individuals.
“Unlike most sources that get their hair through religious practices such as shaving and non-consensual practices, the salon first washes the client’s hair with shampoo and anti-lice soap before cutting it at shoulder length and styling the client to make it more even,” she says.
The shortest length is 12 inches.
All this, she says, is done with the client’s consent, ensuring they are treated well and with dignity.
In Indonesia, women value their hair, the longer it is the more beautiful one is deemed to be, but the hair business has changed this as women are increasingly looking to sell their hair to subsidise their income.
This was the first step of the business venture. Ms Mol-Mwaura later learnt that the hair could be hand wefted, which was more affordable than investing in machines.
Hand wefted hair are extensions made with layered hair for fine and thin tracks that can be installed with micro rings or braids.
On the Internet, she found people skilled in hand wefting in Peru who she contacted and asked them to sent her a handbook on hand wefting.
Process of wefting hair
She also researched extensively on the topic online as well as took tutorial that helped her train a group of single mothers in Nairobi’s slum who have been working with her.
“My quest to get local companies to partner with me seemed futile as none wanted to invest in the business, that’s when I opted to go at it alone,” says Ms Mol-Mwaura.
The enterprise also gave her an opportunity to achieve her goal of working with the poor.
In 2013, she resigned from her job as a credit controller at a security firm to concentrate on this venture.
The company imports 5kg-10kg of raw hair every month, which produces 57-70 bundles of hair that are sold at up to Sh26,000 each.
The first process is heckling the hair using a hackle or heckle to remove all the short strands and make the hair even.
This is later separated and wefted into 11 inch extensions by taking small bits of hair which are hand wefted onto a nylon string and finally passed through a sewing machine which reinforces the hair onto the weft.
The hair is then washed and air-dried, packaged and later sold in bundles of 100 grammes. Hand wefted hair is said to be of good quality, lasts longer and more in volume than machine sewn hair since it is first knotted in small bunches, says Ms Mol-Mwaura.
True Remy Hair has two types of human hair, the normal conventional weave that is shiny and the matte hair which are the most popular among the African clientele.
The hair comes in its natural colour and texture so that customers can use it however they like.
They also have different textures including afro kinky, curly, body wave, loose body weave and strain hair between 8-26 inches in length at a cost of between Sh5,500 and Sh26,000 per bundle. One often needs two bundles when styling hair.
The new tax regulations that saw the government introduce 10 per cent excise duty on cosmetics and beauty products have not deterred entrepreneurs from venturing into the business. The rising demand for hair and beauty products makes the business very lucrative despite the high prices.
True Remy Hair has grown mostly through word of mouth and agreements with salons in Nairobi, which stock her hair as well as marketing through their website. Ms Mol-Mwaura’s customers are women in their 30s looking for long lasting weaves that do not wear out fast, shed or tangle.
The business has employed two women to do hand wefting while the entrepreneur concentrates on marketing of the hair products.
The business relies on after-sales service to customers buying True Remy Hair products to give the business an edge over rivals. The firm repairs the hair products for free and gives customers a five-year guarantee on purchase of its hair products.
“Hair is susceptible to wear and tear after long use. Therefore, we provide free repair services to clients who have purchased True Remy hair,” she says.
True Remy Hair is one of the few companies in Africa that have the free trademark for hair products. The mark is given to companies whose products are ethically sourced.
Research firm Euromonitor reckons that hair market will continue to grow owing to increased awareness on the importance of hair care among the youths in Kenya as well as the working middle-class urban consumers due to increased Internet access, international travel and the influence of media.
“The presence in the country of a growing young population that is more focused than previous generations on personal grooming as well as increased marketing and educational campaigns by hair care companies helped to spur growth in the category,” says Euromonitor.