Updated: Aug 21, 2021
The first blog in the #Ourownstories blog series is from 4CurlyHair, a natural hair subscription box and store focused on selling the right products for your kinky curls. We had the chance to sit down with founders Asheligh Kunaka and Becki Masinja about how they got started their business and more.
How did 4CurlyHair come to be?
Asheligh: It was basically your idea!
Becki: Yeah, there’s two parts to this. First is that I was in this spiritual place where I was trying to figure out what was my purpose in life. I was trying to figure out what works and where God wants to take me. This was the recurring thought I had.
It was partially also based on frustration. Going to Paks or all these other beauty suppliers or stores and you’re served by people who know absolutely nothing about Afro hair. They are literally regurgitating things that they’ve heard other Black women say in the store. It doesn’t matter how vague or specific you are, they just don’t get it. They’ll never understand your hair type. It was a bit frustrating to think, “Why are we as Black women paying so much money to get hair products and advice from someone who doesn’t care about us?"
Asheligh: And doesn’t know as well. Who hasn’t got the experience of having the hair.
Becki: And whose sole purpose of having that store is to literally just profit off you. They don’t care about the quality of the products, they don’t care about the toxins that might be in, the harm that it causes to people.They want to mass produce and get your money as soon as possible. They see that opportunity. There’s a massive market in the Black hair industry.
Asheligh: We have experience.
Becki: I know more about Afro hair than these men, and it’s always men, and I know way more than them than they ever will. So why not just do it ourselves?
I went to a Radiant Salon event and they had this start up event basically where people were giving each other tips and advice on how to run a startup. They were basically talking about the steps to starting a business, the hardships they had gone through. One of the questions that someone asked is do you have a business partner, had you wanted a business partner? Most of them had a business partner but they all said if I could go back, [then yes] I would have a business partner.
They were saying that person should be someone that balances you out. I was thinking about how that was a very good idea because I’m great with ideas but I’m not that good with execution, I don’t know what to do. So I was trying to think, who do I know who would help balance that out? Who do I know that is very organised, good with execution and also good with doing research? Who do I know that I can rely on to kind of push me through when I don’t feel like doing this. It was Asheligh. I wasn’t sure if she was going to say yes, but thankfully she did. Literally that was it.
Asheligh: There were times that we just felt so overwhelmed and we would look at each other and laugh. What are we doing!?
Becki: It was like hysteria, like are we crazy? What’s going on? The one thing that we did which was good was that we would take action in bite sized chunks. So we would do the actions for the week which would be 3-4 things and we would pick 2 things and tackle those things and then meet up together to see how we fared. A couple times you literally wrote out everything we needed to do…
A: The list was huge! It was prioritizing as well. What needed to be done immediately verses what is nice to have.
What makes 4CurlyHair different?
B: We use the products that we sell. We have on our website that we wouldn’t sell anything that we wouldn’t use. That is absolutely true.
A: I think that’s what makes us different from other stores.These are products that we actually have tried and it’s our honest opinions. When we put something it’s because we used it and we really liked it. Even if we don’t like it and someone comes, we have different types of hair. Something that works for my hair wouldn't work with Becki’s hair. If someone comes to us at a popup or even sends us an email, we’ll be honest with them. This worked for me, I've got this type of hair. This worked for her, she’s got this type of hair.
B: We like to do research, not just for 4C hair. But 4B, 4A, 3C - for what works for their hair.
We also have a handy toxicologist as well. Whenever we like products, or we’re considering adding a new product/brand, we send him a screenshot of the ingredients. What do you think about the ingredients? How will they affect Black hair?
I think we genuinely take it seriously. We genuinely care about the contents of the products. We're not the one manufacturing it but we care about the experience for the woman. Because that woman is us at the end of the day.
What have been your greatest accomplishments and challenges while starting 4CurlyHair?
B: It’s very difficult in terms of getting with influencers. In the sense that it seems like, maybe we’ve just got bad luck of the draw. We’ve had some that haven’t even posted the products. We’re prompting and prompting but we’re just gonna have to take a L from this. Some do the most ridiculous posts...
A: It’s been a learning curve for us in regards to that. Learning that not everyone is looking out for your best interest. You might speak to someone, connect with them, they’re out to support you, you’re supporting each other. But it can be all one sided and we found out the hard way. It can get a bit much to try and email someone “we agreed to this, are you going to help?” Then you get met with a wall. But not everyone has been like that. We’ve had some brilliant people really help us.
B: Especially recently. We met someone at the UK Black business show, UK Curly Girl that was absolutely phenomenal. She’s so lovely. Even just having her posting about us on her Instagram, we got so many followers. People signed up to our discovery box, bought stuff from our website. Literally just from her. It was us just talking to her at the UK Black Business show. Another great thing that we’ve had is the popup shops which have been so good.
A: I think we realised not just relying on sales but also growing our brand. Because you start off with no one knows who you are. From going to pop ups, and people saying “I think I know you guys from Instagram.” That is one of my favourite things that I love to hear. Literally, what we’ve been doing works and that’s been really good. It’s something small, but what we’re doing is working. We’re getting ourselves out there, we’re making ourselves known.
Any advice for entrepreneurs and Black creatives?
A: Stick to it. Just preserve. Research and speaking to people helps as well.
B: Prepare yourself for up and downs. It can be emotionally and mentally very draining. You have these times where you say “Oh my gosh we’re going to be billionaires!”
A: Yeah exactly, everything is going well. Then next week you’re like whoa…
B: It could be two days later and you think, “I made the worst mistake of my life! I’m going broke!" It’s so intense but definitely ride through it. I would probably also get a business partner if you can. Someone who is like minded, on the same journey as you, sees the same vision and end goals as you. Someone who can push you through.
Another thing definitely the bite sized chunks - it’s definitely the most practical advice I can give. Do things in chunks, literally small chunks, 3 or 4 things at a time. Then just do it like that. Otherwise you will overwhelm yourself
A: For your mental health as well, if you feel like you’re overwhelmed, like you’ve had enough, you’re exhausted then take a day out. Literally take a day out and do nothing. Leave it to the side for a bit. That’s for your own well being.