In 2011, Charlyn Kentaro, 30, was a law student at a university in Cape Town, South Africa, when she suddenly took an interest in natural hair.
“I had been relaxing my hair for seven years and it was really costly to maintain. Though I had found a Ugandan woman in Cape Town who would treat my hair well, I was tired of visiting the salon.”
On TV and Internet, Kentaro had seen women who wore their hair naturally and it looked good on them.
“I decided to grow out my hair but I had no idea what to do with it” says the 30-year-old, adding, “I did some research on TvTube and hair blogs. Everyone was talking about shea butter so I asked around and discovered we have it in Uganda.”
The next time she came home on holiday, she packed some shea butter for herself and gave what was left to her friends. Kentaro also studied a few online courses in hair science to broaden her knowledge about African hair.
“There are different races and each has a different hair type. African hair is the least studied hair type so I wanted to to know how it grows, what to put in it to make it grow and what products were safe.”
Returning to Kampala in 2013, Kentaro began working in legal research, but her passion for natural hair kept growing.
“I was just not into legal research. Hair was taking me over. I have an aunt who has had a salon for my entire life and a cousin who is a cosmetologist in the US. Both of them encouraged me to go into hair products as a side business.”
The hair butters she now sells were a result of her trial-and-error processes during that time. She teamed up with a chemist who helped make the products safe. At first, the mixing was done at home since the only customers were friends and family.
However, she soon discovered that there was a demand for the products. She quit her job on October 9, 2014 and started The Good Hair Collective, a business she runs with her siblings.
The hair and body care products sold are organic in nature, with no synthetic colours, and are handmade. The base, which makes up a large percentage of the product, is locally sourced and safe to use. The butters are made from shea butter and cocoa butter, while the hair conditioner is made from hibiscus flowers and avocado.
The entrepreneur’s wish was to work with and empower Ugandan farmers through buying their shea butter and cocoa butter.
As such, the company is setting up a cooperative society with women farmers in Amuria and Soroti districts.
Nowadays, the company mixes their products at Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI), where they applied and were given permission to use the laboratories.
“There is a chemist who oversees the entire operations. Mixing our products at UIRI was a surprise and has been a blessing. These free services offered to young manufacturers will go a long way in helping them further their businesses.”
The Good Hair Collective brand is for those who recognise quality and are aware of the risks of cancers from too many chemicals in hair products.
“Our niche is the middle income market. We feel we can influence the young through their mothers. Besides, more people are coming of age and they can make their own hair choices.”
The hair products sold include Berry Smoothie, Orange Smoothie, Whipped butter (African vanilla and mint chocolate flavours), Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and Coconut Oil.
Perceptions of natural hair
In a world where women are fed on a constant diet of Caucasian-looking women with straight hair as the ideal image of African beauty, most people think wearing natural hair is for the poor and backward.
However, Kentaro thinks differently. “At the root of perception is self. God gave us this African hair. I find it disturbing for someone to say that if you have natural hair you are poor or have emotional problems. I find natural hair is emancipating.”
She believes that at the root of a negative attitude towards natural hair is the fear of the unknown.
“This fear is with people who have never experimented having natural hair. I have seen women who finally take the courage to have natural hair, but the uphill battle comes when they return to work and their colleagues question their decision.”
Doing business in Uganda is not easy, according to Kentaro. “We wanted a free trade policy so we went to the grassroots to source for shea butter at a reasonable price.”
Finding the right quality of packaging for her products was not easy so eventually she had to import containers from Kenya.
“People’s perception towards Ugandan-made products does not make business easy. Our products are organic but someone will question the price and then go to another shop and buy some imported product which is twice as expensive.”
Nevertheless, the future is bright for the Good Hair Collective, with Kentaro seeing the company grow to cover Africa, US, and Europe, while still maintaining the safety and affordability of its products.
“We speak at women’s events about perceptions of natural hair. I also hope to carry on doing that through videos on YouTube and Podcasts.”
Advice to female entrepreneurs
Kentaro, from experience, says entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. “However, it is okay to be scared. Courage is about doing what God has placed in your heart,” says the woman who has God as her inspiration, adding, “Do not wait until a later date. Just start somewhere. I started by making products for my friends and family.” On Women’s Day, the Good Hair Collective is partnering with Viv Salon in Ntinda to give away hampers and free hair consultation to their chosen winners. One only has to visit their social media page and mention an inspirational lady to stand a chance to win.