Dorinda Mawuenya Matey: It never started as a business, I was just sharing my passion

Dorinda Mawuenya Matey is a natural hair enthusiast and entrepreneur who turned her love for natural hair into her profession. She started the “We Naturals Team” as a Facebook page to share her discoveries and knowledge about her hair journey. In time as her followers grew, they needed more than just advice; they needed quality products to grow healthy hair. Dorinda saw this as an opportunity to turn her passion into a profession. Currently, her company is one of the leading hair products brand in Ghana and Nigeria. We Naturals has 19 employees and 68 retailers in Ghana, 39 in Nigeria and one in Cote d’Ivoire.


What ignited the spark to start the We Naturals Team?

When I started my natural hair journey in 2011, I was completely lost. I had no idea how to handle my hair and eventually relaxed it again. In 2013, I went back to natural hair, I realized it was much easier this time as I was reading a lot about my hair and experimenting with different hairstyles, products and regimen. On my first anniversary, I decided to start a Facebook page (We Naturals) to share all that I’m learning to help make the journey easier for others. It never started as a business; I was just sharing my passion. The business We Naturals came in after my followers on Facebook started asking about products. I saw an opportunity in there and started selling other brands until I started making my own products.

How did your followers react when you started making hair products?

They were excited and received it very well. We won’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for our very amazing followers and customers.

Our very first sale was made on Facebook.

What was unexpected when you started We Naturals?

Well, I realized people will do anything to undermine others just to get ahead. You have to be diligent not to compromise on your integrity and focus on your goals to keep moving forward.

What creative strategies did you use to acquire funds to start the business?

I had funds from a 3 year life investment policy I started in 2011. Because I had this money, it was fairly easy for me to get going when I decided to start selling products. It wasn’t enough to do everything, but it was a good start.

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Did you get the products right on the first try or did you have to do more trial and errors?

We often do a lot of trials until we are satisfied with the efficiency of the product, the consistency, scent, colour etc. We have a production team who make the products, they’re then sent to labeling and quality control before it moves to store.

We experiment on employees, friends and family. We sometimes also request for product testers from social media who also serve as our final testing point before the product is introduced.

Why do you focus on only natural hair products? Do you have plans on making products for relaxed hair?

The company started off with my passion for natural hair, because of that the products were automatically perceived to work for only natural hair. However, most of our products can be used for all types of hair, though in some cases with slight difference in method.

Have you had any formal education pertaining to your choice of career?

Yes I have a certificate in Natural Products Formulation from the USA. I had to learn how to make the products from a credible institution to be able to make quality products. I have experience in business and marketing which come in handy.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I love reading positive feedback from our customers. Fortunately about 90% of all the feedback we receive is positive and they come in very often. Every single time I receive a positive feedback, I smile. It makes me really happy because that is one more person we have provided a solution to, not just sold a product.

How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

Our primary target groups are individuals on a healthy hair journey, mainly the natural hair journey and these are people who are looking for results. Our business is built on selling solutions, not just products. We solve hair problems and I believe this is what our credibility is built on.

I am passionate about making the hair journey for all my customers a delight so I always go out of my way to help them find solutions. That is what automatically sets us apart, the genuine passion to make our customers happy always.

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Describe a typical day at work.

No two days are ever the same with me. It depends on what needs my attention the most but generally I go over accounts with the sales team and allocate monies for various things that need to be taken care of. I then go into production, mainly supervising and sometime making products myself when necessary.

I handle our social media platforms personally so I am on and off social media throughout the day responding to questions, sharing contents and taking orders. I also check for orders on our website and respond to emails. I go to our store to check on stock and bulk orders going out, as well as inspecting products especially labeling and responding to complaints and other issues.

What difficulties did you face expanding to other African countries? What was surprisingly simple?

The major difficulty we faced and are still facing in Nigeria, is the exchange rate. The Naira keeps falling and we end up losing money through exchange. With the Francophone countries, I will say the language barrier has slowed our efforts but we are taking necessary steps to resolve these issues.

What was surprisingly easy was how quickly Nigerians accepted our products.

What are your goals for the company?

Our goal is to be the number one in Africa not just in product quality, market share and revenue but also in the impact we have on our customers and change caused in our communities.

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What habits and mindsets helped make you successful?

We are very dedicated to what we do and do not compromise on quality. When it comes to making products, there are so many short cuts our competitors take to make products smell nice, look good, increase volume etc. that compromise on the quality. We have never and will never do that.

Ultimately, it is the favor of God that has brought us this far. I could have done everything right but without the favor and blessings of God, this would not have been possible.

As a child, was it your dream to start a natural hair company?

No. I wanted to be a pilot, soldier, geologist, psychologist at different points in my life but my real passion is entrepreneurship. We Naturals is not the first company or venture I have started and will certainly not be my last.

Which African Celebrity rocks her natural hair best? Why do you think so?

There are so many amazing celebrity naturalistas out there but I am currently crushing on the Nigerian actress, Omoni Oboli. She enjoys her hair and I love that!

Aphia Sekyerehene: I design clothes for non-conforming women

aphia sekyerehene fashion

Aphia Sekyerehene is an emerging fashion designer, choreographer, singer and event decorator who discovered her passion for fashion at age 14. However, she could not fully pursue her passion until her 20s. Even now after going through design school and establishing her brand, Aphia still feels unsatisfied. She believes that starting her career later in life has deprived her of opportunities she would have had if she had started at 14. Aphia shares with SLA her experience in fashion design and developments in the industry.


Why do you think you would have gained more grounds in the fashion industry if you had started at age 14?

Having an early start in a career offers you ample time and opportunity to try your hands on the various aspects of the job. This means more time to delve into related options and more time for trial and error. Starting at age 14 would have given me more experience and variety to explore but now, I have to first build a brand before I can try my hands on other options.

What prevented you from pursuing your passion after your discovery?

I would say lack of funds. This is because fashion designing is more of a practical course than theoretical. So you need to get materials needed for the course and this was something my family could not afford at the time.

In order to keep my passion alive, I came up with alternative methods like connecting with fashion designers across the world through online forums.

Were there any setbacks when you finally got into the industry?

Yes! Raising capital was one of my major setbacks. I am glad I have crossed that hurdle. Now, I am very excited to achieve more and more.

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Photo Credits: K-Qube Photography

Now that you have acquired a certificate in Fashion Designing, do have plans of furthering your education?

Yes! Certainly! There is so much more to see, learn and explore. I will never limit myself to just the basics. I have to expand my knowledge. I am looking forward to acquiring a Master’s Degree in Fashion or any other course which will add value to my work.

I am hoping to get into the Parsons School of Design in New York.

How does your designing process work? What are you currently working on?

Every project I work on has its own procedures. But usually I sketch ideas as they come and do clone drafts before the actual design. Some projects take just a day to figure out, others are time consuming. The latter requires a lot of inspiration which I get from the various colours that surround me.

I am currently working on my summer collection. It is a hip, fun, free, colourful, light, stylish and original for every woman. This collection depicts the African culture in a creative way. It will be out in July.

What part of your job do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?

Working with indecisive clients is very stressful. I tackled this challenge by coming up with a very detailed order sheet that allows clients to vividly explain what they want. This way, we get a win-win situation.

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Photo Credits: K-Qube Photography

In one word, define your work.

Unique.

Who is your target audience?

My main target is the woman who is not afraid to stand out in her own unique self. My designs require my breaking free from the usual expectation so I target those women who stay true to their nature and are non–conformists. Having a target group also creates a niche for you, making your brand easier to handle and be identified.

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Photo Credits: K-Qube Photography

Which African fashion designers do you admire the most?

For one there’s Christie Brown, I admire her abstract, sophisticated and classy designs. Then there’s Pistis, her beading creates exceptional masterpieces. I also admire Oswald Boateng, his eye for clean cut is evident in his designs.

I would love to work with Christie Brown. She is sophisticated and transfers that attribute into her work. She has a way of blending totally different styles into an admirable design. Her designs are modern yet traditional; contemporary yet antiques. This is something I will love to learn.

What developments on the horizon could positively affect future opportunities for fashion designs?

For an African designer, I would say the removal of cross-country trade barrier laws could be an opportunity. Though this would introduce more competition in the fashion market, it would also provide designers with the chance to diversify and expand their market.

If you were to design an outfit for an African celebrity, who would it be and what would you make?

I will love to design a fitted floor length backless lace gown with long sleeves and beading for Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji. Genevieve has an hourglass figure and a high front neckline fitted floor length dress will compliment her figure perfectly. The backless part will give her a sexy touch and an opportunity to show her amazing skin tone.

3 young African women software developers want to give you global hair inspiration

SLA interviewed Priscilla Hazel, Cassandra Sarfo, and Esther Olatunde, cofounders of the Tress App. In this interview, they share insights on how they met, their Tress app, and their vision for their enterprise.


Who are the women behind Tress and how did you all meet?

We are three software entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria who are passionate about using technology to improve lives. Priscilla Hazel is the team hustler and is responsible for business strategy, public relations, and keeping morale high.

Esther Olatunde is the hacker within the team. She’s the backbone of our technical development and responsible for keeping the app running. Cassandra Sarfo is our resident hipster – she has a keen eye for detail, and is responsible for the user interface design and user experience of the Tress app.

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We’ve known each other for about 2 years after first meeting at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, and we’re are excited to be working on something that affects us on a daily basis.

What is Tress ?

Tress is a mobile app and a fun, passionate community of black women from around the world sharing and discovering hairstyle inspiration. mockup-phone-for-web-front---feedWith Tress, women can:

1.  Discover new hairstyles to inspire them the next time they’re at the salon.

2. See detailed information about hairstyles such as the products used, the name of the salon, and price range.

3. Share their favourite hairstyles and get compliments and recommendations   from our supportive community.

4. Follow fashionable people and discover their hair care secrets.

Whether you’re rocking a weave, extensions, cornrows, braids, locs, relaxed hair, wig-caps, or anything in-between, Tress is your home for hair inspiration and information.

What was the inspiration for the app? What problem are you trying to solve with the app?

It’s surprisingly difficult to find accurate information about hairstyles. Many ladies have at some point walked up to complete strangers to compliment and inquire about their hair, or stalk social media accounts not only for inspiration but adequate information about the style.

We wanted to bring the experience of getting answers on the mobile phone, without the hassle. So now on the app, women have access to hairstyle inspiration that is relevant to them and they have adequate information to help rock the look they want.

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Who is your target market?

Our target market are the 100+ million black women around the world who have access to a smartphone and are crazy about hair. According to Nielsen, black women on average spend a disproportionately high share of their income on haircare products, which is 9 times more than other races.

Mintel estimates the black haircare industry to be worth 500 billion dollars. We consider the market to be extremely attractive.

You are currently based in Ghana, what’s your vision for Tress in Ghana? What about in Africa and globally?

While we piloted the app in Ghana, where we’re currently based, Tress is available globally. We want Tress to be synonymous with anything hair: hairstyles, hair-products, hair-stylists, hair-extensions, you name it. It should be the go to place for hair related queries.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you face right now?

Our biggest challenge is distribution. Getting the word out there about Tress has been challenging, as well as getting the kind of community engagement we aspire to have.

What would a successful Tress look like?

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A successful Tress will be an app that is used by practically all black women for their hair and hairstyle needs. It should be the go-to app for any woman looking to find hair inspiration, hair-stylists, and high quality hair products.

Beyond the app, we’re also excited to have Tress become active in all kinds of media products for black women – television, magazines, events, and more. A successful Tress would also be an active social network of black women thriving in all aspects of their lives.

Is there any other insight about being business women and entrepreneurs you would like to share?

My co-founders and I have grown extremely close through working on Tress together. We have our individual and collective ups and downs, but we’ve learned to support each other mentally and emotionally, while also having fun together to maintain our sense of humour.

When embarking on the entrepreneurial journey, it’s extremely important to have a great team with you that you can trust to be with you through both the inevitable disappointments as well as the exciting times.

Finally, we’ve really enjoyed working on a deeply personal problem. We’re able to use our unique experiences as black women to inform the development of the company and this also helps us empathize with our users and anticipate the needs of women like us.

I’d encourage more women to start business focused on solving the unique challenges we face. Black women wield a large amount of purchasing power, and their multiple businesses waiting to be started to harness that.


Want to know more about Tress? You can find them here:

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