When I met Farida Ismail for an interview recently, the first thing I noticed was her hair. ‘It can’t be her hair,’ so I thought. Her cornrows were so thick that I thought she had extensions on. But I was wrong. Apparently it was all her own natural hair!
The Bible says in Corinthians 11: 15 that long hair is a woman’s glory… Hair symbolizes femininity, health and personality and since it is usually the first thing that catches people’s attention, it can also tell them a lot about you.
Perhaps this is why many women give their hair special attention and treatment. For some women, spending the whole day at the salon is not a problem. They also don’t mind spending a fortune in the name of ‘hair treatment’ - provided what they get at the end of the day makes them feel on top of the game!
Not their fault. Polished hair adds to a woman’s beauty and boosts their confidence. This is what prompted Farida Ismail, 23, to venture into the business after she graduated from the University of Dar es Salaam last year. The Political Science and International Relations graduate decided to employ herself through her mother’s self-made ‘hair food.’
It all started with her mother’s hair damage. “My mother always made sure her hair looked good. She used natural things in her kitchen, on her hair and her skin. I was surprised when her hair started thinning and falling out,” explains Farida.
One afternoon in December 2019 when Farida was in her second year at the university, her mother sent her a picture of herself with a bald head.
“I felt bad - as if it were my own hair that had been cut. Of the many things that I loved about my mother was her hair,” says Farida. Her mother told her she had cut her damaged hair to give it room to grow all over again.
Seven months later when Farida visited her mother in Morogoro in July 2020, her mother’s hair had grown to shoulder length, exceeding Farida’s hair, which was almost two years old.
“I just could not believe my eyes! I wondered how she had managed to grow her hair in such a short period. When I asked her what the secret was, she told me she had blended different hair oils to make ‘hair food.’ I got some of her ‘hair food’ for myself,” recalls Farida.
The result on her hair influenced Farida to establish ‘Mama’s Hair Flair’ business. After two months of using the ‘hair food,’ she got people asking her what she was applying on her hair. Some asked her if she was a ‘mixed child’ because of the silkiness and texture of her hair.
“I had seen what the ‘hair food’ had done to my mother’s hair and mine - plus the praises my hair elicited from different people. I suggested to my mother that we start a ‘hair food’ business. She doubted this, saying we would face difficulties sourcing enough ingredients for the ‘hair food.’”
Farida’s mother, Jennifer Mboya, says she learned how to blend different oils for the ‘hair food’ from her mother.
She mentions homemade castor oil and coconut oil as some of the ingredients in her wonder hair oil.
“When I got married, I started using ‘hair food’ from cosmetic shops. It’s when I could not afford the oil that I turned to my mother’s ‘hair food’ formula,” she explains.
By December, Farida had saved about Sh560,000 to buy packaging and stickers for the new product, ready to hit the market. Farida and her mother decided to use jars and oil dippers.
After Farida learnt how to make the oil from her mother, she started supplying the oil to her friends, who were the first people to ask her the secret of her healthy-looking hair. She changed the packaging from the jars to bigger bottles after receiving positive feeds-back from customers.
“I opened an Instagram page to introduce the business - and I already have 3,155 followers. I believed I could reach a lot of people in different places through an online store. I have also placed my products at a shop near my residence in Sinza - and, at times, I travel up-country to market my products.”
Farida says her plan is to eventually open a physical hairline store where she will sell all the basic hair needs, including hair conditioners and shampoos. Farida and her mother are already producing these.
“Truth be told: the business was not good when we started. I would go up to four days without making any sales. Some customers insisted that our products were ‘too good to be true.’ I had no experience in business then; but I am now experienced - and I am certain our business will grow even bigger soon.”
On average, Farida’s hair products sales fetch between Sh150,000 and Sh260,000 a week. A 100ml bottle of hair oil sells at Sh18,000. In a month, she earns up to Sh3 million, which is by far more than what a fresh university grad earns in a month! Generally, a graduate’s monthly salary ranges from Sh710,000 to Sh1,480,000.
Given that her business is still in its infancy - and that she is sure of making good money as her business grows - Farida does not think of seeking salaried employment any time soon.
Her customer base has grown to include women with damaged hair, and women desiring to have healthy hair, as well as men with hair growth problems. Her products have been certified by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards.
“I import most of the raw materials from some African countries and the US, depending on their availability and affordability. For instance, I purchase ‘Jojoba Oil’ from Nigeria through a friend who has connections there,” explains Farida.
Farida’s mother says their business would not be the same had it not been for her daughter, to whom she is thankful for her hard work.