by Omolayo Nkem, at 12:00 pm, June 08, 2017, Business

African Hair Summit Celebrates Natural Hair, Looks To Grow Local Brands

On June 2nd and 3rd, Photizo Life Foundation came together with various sponsors and vendors to bring Abuja, Nigeria, the second installment of the African Hair Summit.

The summit was created to raise awareness about the use of harmful chemicals in the hair of African women. This year’s event focused on “Growing the African Hair Industry Through Strategic Thinking and Safe Practice.”

Day 1 had speakers, such as Kelechi Yibo-Koko of Yellow Sisi and Chinwe Juliet of Igbocurls, who offered natural hair care tips and stories, while Day 2 took the conversation a step further by discussing tips on how local brands can break in to the hair industry in Nigeria and around the world.

The event wrapped up with a gala night that showcased beautiful fashion and talented individuals from around Nigeria.

Both days celebrated natural African beauty as well as the importance of supporting local brands, with a plethora of local vendors available with products for hair care, dressing, accessorizing, and even food.

The Importance of Celebrating Natural Hair

“When you take care of your hair, your health follows.” — Kelechi Yibo-Koko of Yellow Sisi

One key theme that ran throughout the conference was the importance of celebrating natural hair and getting the whole society involved with healthful hair care practices.

Yellow Sisi encouraged women who constantly say their natural hair is unmanageable to actually spend two months really taking care of their hair with the right regime and moisturizers.

She also warned against length and volume obsession, because they often cause people to fall for gimmicks.

Igbocurls advised against using styling gel to keep your hair down, especially on young girls. “If God wanted our hair to be slick, He would have made it slick,” said Yibo-Koko.

“Natural hair is not supposed to be a movement.” — Kelechi Yibo-Koko

One thing that truly stood out at the African Hair Summit was the involvement of men at the conference, with Baxx Barber’s even setting up a “Men’s corner,” where they cut hair right next to the Natural Nation Hair Salon.

Baxx’s representative said they decided to attend the event because they believe that hair care isn’t just for women; instead, the whole society should be involved with having clean and healthful hair.

Left to Right: Adanna Enwezor, AHS Convenor, Kate Henshaw AHS 2017 Ambassador, Chinwe Juliet, IgborCurls and Kelechi Yibo-Koko, YellowSisi pose for a picture together at the African Hair Summit.

Left to right: Adanna Enwezor, AHS Convenor; Kate Henshaw AHS 2017 Ambassador; Chinwe Juliet, IgborCurls; and Kelechi Yibo-Koko, YellowSisi, pose for a picture together at the African Hair Summit.

During her speech, Yibo-Koko advised women who have husbands that do not like natural hair to inform them about the health benefits. She added that if you have a young daughter, one should be aware of how harmful the chemicals and process of relaxers and weaves can be.

Yibo-Koko said wives should also show their husbands pictures of women who achieve beautiful styles with natural hair and give them a year to prove that natural hair can be beautiful.

Wrapping up Day 1, the African Hair Summit launched the “Free To Embrace” campaign in a video where women talked about their journey to accepting and loving their natural hair.

‘Buy Nigeria’ & Disrupting the Hair Industry

With the #madeinNigeria campaign, many are discussing supporting local products. The summit gave a platform to turn this idea into action from both the business and consumer side.

Charles O’Tudor of ADSTART Branding Management Consortium, Chinedu Okoye of Perfect Trust, and an Abuja Enterprise Agency representative gave advice to businesses on trying to break in to the $105.3 billion global hair industry, while Yibo-Koko and Isaac Balami, president of the Nigerian Aircraft & Pilot Engineers, encouraged consumers to believe in Nigerian brands and support them.

The key for Nigerian brands to get in to the hair industry is proper branding, building trust, and not cutting corners, according to Charles Tudor, a brand strategist, who talked at length about not being sentimental about your business.

For those companies that choose to cut corners by not paying their taxes, they end up not showing up on the list of top brands. When applied to other parts of the business, cutting corners also affects trust and should be avoided in order to build a reputable brand.

Kakiva Essentials were among the many local vendors at the African Hair Summit.

Kakiva Essentials were among the many local vendors at the African Hair Summit.

Several vendors also talked about the perks and disadvantages of being a local brand in the natural hair market.

For example, Chinwe Juliet, who is also the founder of Aakuba Naturals, said she enjoys being a local company because she gets to contribute to the economy, create new jobs, and show that Nigerians/Africans are capable of creating quality goods that can compete with international brands.

She expressed that the challenges she faces are those faced by any other business: finding the right suppliers, coming up with good formulas, and building customer trust.

We Naturals, a Ghanaian brand distributed in various African countries as well as the United States and the U.K., believe that their products speak for themselves and satisfied customers have taken them a long way.

The founders of Fragrance Bar enjoy being local because it makes it easier for them to manage their business and ensure that all of their products are organic and chemical-free.

In addition, as Kakiva Essentials mentioned, sourcing their ingredients is quite easy because they are sold by local vendors in all markets and along the road.

Many of the companies spoke of the challenges of rising prices throughout Nigeria, causing them to raise their own prices, which customers complain about. But the same customers often spend twice as much on imported products, which often have a lower quality than their own.

Charles Tudor, a brand strategist, speaks to the audience about best practices for building a trustworthy business.

Charles O’Tudor, a brand strategist, speaks to the audience about best practices for building a trustworthy business.

Tudor mentioned how Muma Gee, a Nigerian singer, bragged about spending 1,842 pounds on her hair in a single month. Imagine if she spent that money in Nigeria, on Nigerian products? According to Tudor, all Africans need to make a conscious effort to support their local brands.

“It’s a colonization mind-set to think everything out of Africa is low-quality.” – Isaac Balami

Balami, the closing keynote speaker, spoke at length about the importance of believing in Nigeria and its potential. He also announced his upcoming reality TV show, “The Labour Room,” which will come up with innovative solutions to solve Nigeria’s problems.

Balami, who put himself through school since junior secondary, believes that Nigeria has all that it needs to advance within itself and that “The Labour Room” is a platform to paving a way forward.

Attendees expressed similar sentiments, “We have to buy Nigerian before we can sell Nigerian to the world. I want to buy what my brother made. Nigeria is my own. We just have to believe in Nigeria,” said Grace Oga, who is currently a student and has plans to go in to business.

Abimbola Afuwape and Michael Balami of iNation both expressed a need to change the mind-set of Nigerians as a key component of moving the country forward, “If you look abroad, the people doing amazing things are Nigerians. So it’s in us.

“What we need within the country is a platform to showcase those raising talents here. We don’t promote ourselves. When people get rich [in Nigeria], they prefer to have people come to them begging for money each day, rather than help lift that person up.”

The African Hair Summit finished with a gala night that consisted of showcasing local fashion and talent.

The African Hair Summit finished with a gala night that consisted of showcasing local fashion and talent.

“We have to buy Nigerian before we can sell Nigerian to the world.” — Grace Oga, AHS attendee

Adanna Egwuatu Enwezor, the convener of the African Hair Summit, was excited about this year’s event and believes it made a purposeful impact. She felt that they were able to effectively celebrate Black beauty and connect local businesses to government officials for the aim of moving the country forward.

It’s great that the conversation around Black hair is moving beyond convincing people to go natural and moving toward growing the industry and moving the nation forward. What more can pan-Africans do to support local African entrepreneurs and help advance the continent?

All photographs provided by African Hair Summit and taken by official photographer Solomon Ngbako. 

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