When Samantha Tushabe Okullo was growing up, she loved plaiting her hair, something she preferred to going to the salon.
Overtime, she progressed to plaiting her family members and friends as well. It was therefore not surprising that Okullo continued plaiting and styling hair during her free time at the university. “My friends paid me plait their hair,” she says.
Okullo mastered the art of plaiting hair while juggling her studies at Makerere University where she had enrolled for a Bachelor’s of Tourism in 2014.
With her hands-on acquired skills, she decided that it was probably the right time to open up a salon. She discussed the idea with her older sister, Rosemarie Atim, who ended up commending her for the brilliant idea. Atim further encouraged her younger sister to pursue the idea.
It’s probably due to Atim’s similar enthusiasm to this whole salon idea that Okullo asked her to be a partner.
The duo went ahead to discuss the idea with their parents who in return were a great support system in terms of providing the capital for kick starting the business. Okullo, however, prefers not to mention the exact amount of money their parents gave them.
“They would not be too pleased if I publicly declared how much they gave us to start the salon,” she says.
Nevertheless, she says the amount was enough to start a small salon business. Around September 2016, the duo opened up a salon in a basement located in Najim mall, Ntinda, a suburb in Kampala. “It was a very small area of operation,” Okullo says.
While Okullo focused on the day to day operations of the salon including doing the plaiting, Atim on the other hand, marketed the business on different social media platforms.
Although business was quite slow in the beginning, Okullo says she kept the faith alive that it would eventually pick up. And, it did over time.
The problem, however, came in when certain clients would ask Okullo to plait particular hairstyles and she did not know how to do them. Many times, it frustrated Okullo because it meant that she missed out on that money. It was this frustration that drove Okullo to YouTube to look at different tutorial videos on hairstyling.
“I would stay up late in the night looking at all sorts of videos on plaiting hair. I watched some of these videos repeatedly to learn particular hair styles,” says Okullo, adding, “Once I had mastered them, plaiting became easier. In fact, I became more confident in that every time a client walked into the salon and asked me to plait them a preferred hairstyle, I went for it.”
On some occasions, Okullo would suggest new trendy hair styles to her clients (those she had recently learnt from YouTube).
Okullo’s plaiting techniques were loved by all sorts of clients, including musicians who began frequenting the salon seeking her services.
These artistes included Rema, Winnie Nwagi, Irene Ntale, Vinka, among others. In the end, the increase in the number of clients forced Okullo to hire other girls to help with the plaiting. “I got some girls from down-town, Kampala. These are girls who stand outside arcades asking female passers-by if they are interested in having their hair plaited,” she says.
The problem with most girls she recruited was that they hardly stayed for long at the salon.
“They would just come and work briefly, then, leave,” she says.
The girls’ walk-ins and walk-outs frustrated Okullo a lot. There was nothing she could however do about it.
The wig idea
Over time, amidst her everyday work, Okullo noticed that some customers especially celebrities started reducing their visits to the salon. Okullo later learnt that most of them were finding it quite expensive to constantly change their hairstyles.
“Some of these clients, especially musicians were spending about Shs150,000 on an almost weekly basis changing hair,” she says.
Okullo then thought hard of the best possible way of retaining these clients including corporate women who began coming up with excuses that they did not have enough time for salon.
“And, this was when the wigs idea finally cropped up,” she says, adding, “The idea was to make wigs from either old or new human hair. The wig would then be worn and styled as desired.”
And so in July 2018, Okullo started her wig business and gave it the name, So Chic. Unlike the salon where her sister is a partner, Okullo runs the wig business by herself. Making a wig is quite a simple process, the entrepreneur says. All one needs is a needle, wig scalp, lace wig cap and either old or new human hair.
“All I do is get the hair and sew it onto a wig cap using a needle and thread. I do this continuously until the cap is completely covered with hair,” she says.
The wigs take about two hours to make. After making a wig, Okullo then proceeds to plait cornrows for the client before placing a wig cap over the plaited cornrows. The cap helps protect the hair. After that, the wig is then placed over the client’s head, and, then styled as desired.
A number of celebrities and corporate women loved Okullo’s new product. They would in turn recommend her services to other potential clients. The business was a success. It’s no wonder in September 2018, when Airtel was searching for youth with different businesses to participate in its first season series called, my hustle, Okullo decided to take part.
“Airtel interviewed me about my wigs business. They even make a video that included the interview and posted it online,” she says.
After the video was posted online, Okullo suddenly started receiving a number of phone calls and messages from all sorts of people interested in buying the wigs.
“The orders became quite overwhelming. The work, in fact, kept me awake all night where I would even make about eight wigs in one night,” she says.
Despite the overwhelming orders from clients, Okullo says she is grateful to Airtel for opening so many doors for her. Due to the growing business, Okullo decided to eventually relocate the salon to Kirabo mall in Bukoto. It’s at this salon where she is continuing to make her wigs as well.
Okullo says the wigs are made at different prices. For example, there are those she makes at Shs100,000, Shs150,000 and Shs200,000. The prices differ according to what type of wig one wants.
On days she is not receiving clients interested in wigs, Okullo instead diverts her energies into running the salon. The salon business too does make some profits.
“If we were not making money, the salon would probably be closed by now,” she says.
The 24-year-old gives us a hint by mentioning, in two years in operation, the salon made a profit of about Shs28 million, and, this was minus operational costs.
Among these, Okullo says it is quite difficult to get wig caps of great quality in town.
“The many sold on the market are not durable, yet, I am interested in long-lasting quality caps,” she says.
It’s for this reason why she requests some of her friends jetting into the country to carry some along with them. Also, since making wigs is a hands-on business, Okullo says there are times work is quite overwhelming, a process that easily exhausts her. Running the wigs business alongside the salon affected Okullo’s education though.
“I was running two businesses while studying a degree and a diploma at the same time,” she says.
She studied a diploma in tourism and travel majoring in ticketing from Career institute, Uganda, an organisation affiliated to International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has courses designed for people who want to venture into respective professions in air and travel. “I completed the diploma, and, not the degree,” she says.
Despite the success of two businesses, Okullo says her mother was not happy about her not graduating on time. At some point, she said, “You have not yet graduated, yet, your friends have already completed school.”
Her mother was obviously mad. Okullo remembers responding by saying, “yes, mummy, they have graduated, but, they don’t have jobs.” Okullo has however come to the realisation that completing studies is very important. So, she decided to go back and finish her degree and hopes to graduate next year.