Updated: Mar 14
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. Part two of our interview with founders Asheligh Kunaka and Becki Masinja can be found below.
Why natural hair and why now?
Becki: I think in the UK it (the natural hair movement) started later, around 8 years ago. Probably around 2012 ish onward.
Asheligh: It was difficult to get products for natural hair at that time. I’ve been natural for about 3 years. I was natural then I was like I’ve had enough. Then you (Becki) went natural and I was like you know what, let’s stick to it. Then the whole trying to find products that suit your hair, it was a struggle.
When you first transition your hair requires a lot more management and requires a lot more patience, it’s much more difficult. I think there’s always that with natural hair. Once you stop relaxing your hair, putting any chemicals in your hair, it takes a few years. Then once you’ve gone past that wall, it’s like “Oh my gosh I love my hair!” It’s just easier to manage by being consistent and keeping at it. And the thickness of it is unmatched. Because when you relax your it’s flat and dead.
Becki: When Shea Moisture showed up at Boots it was like ‘Thank God! Wow. £15 for one?!'
Asheligh: I used to wait for the 2 for 15 (deal). And I was like stock up! Stock up! I’m getting all of that!
Becki: For me it was my mom. My mom's hair is beautiful, it’s so gorgeous. And she’s been natural for a while. I saw her hair, I had been relaxing my hair for so long, and I wondered what it would look like. But yeah finding hair products was a massive problem. Blue magic was still like the thing.
Asheligh: And Pink. Because I grew up in Chelmsford, Essex, which is outside of London, and I remember that I would have to drive into London to buy decent hair products. There was one, maybe now there’s a little more, but when I was there post uni there was literally only one Afro-Caribbean hair shop. And they didn’t have much in it. That was a struggle.
How do you source your products?
Asheligh: It’s a bit of everything really. I think when we first started we did some research on the internet. Becki went to an event and then we got “our plug”. Other times we’ve just looked up brands online, other Black owned businesses. We emailed them and they’ve gotten back to us. Sometimes we’ve been at popups and met the people there. Sometimes we’ve even had people message us on social media saying that “Oh I’ve got this brand, do you mind having it in your store?”
Becki: Yeah and sometimes we might do a poll on Instagram asking what products would you like to see. Can people give us a list? We might reach out to them as well. If our followers do give us brands, we do try and find them. We do try and get locally owned, female UK owned. We can do corporate but we want to look into other brands. We also do Black male products.
Asheligh: I think we try and keep it smaller brands as well. Small vendors, what you can’t find in Superdrug or Boots. We want to give all products that are not relatively available to you.
What does being Black owned mean to you?
Becki: It’s definitely very important to us because again it comes back to the fact that we are also our customers. We want them to know that there isn't a wall behind this, this is who we are, and we are very proud to be a Black female owned business. We take a lot of pride in that and I think there needs to be more of us.
Asheligh: Exactly, there needs to be more of us. The thing is that we have the experience of having to deal with going natural, trying to find the right products, trying to test it. It’s that.
Becki: Exactly, I think there’s a little bit of it, a bit of struggle as well, that kind of mirrors Black women generally. We don't necessarily have the funding or all of this other stuff that would have if you were a white owned business, male or female. They usually get through with just a very basic idea. That creates another layer of struggle. We all have the same struggles. We then share the experience with someone else and they say me too. And it feels good.
Asheligh: I think it’s just to be Black owned. I think some people think we are segregating ourselves but it's more just supporting each other. To me that what it means.
How do you balance your 9-5 with your side hustle?
Asheligh: It really helps to have a business partner. They can say have you done that and you’re like ahhh….you’ll do it there and then. You’ll find your 5 mins. You’ll find it at work. I mean you surely shouldn’t be doing your side hustle during your 9-5 but sometimes you have a long lunch break. You can do a lot in half an hour. Send out your emails, update your website. I find that I do work on my commute (if I'm not sleeping!). Even when I get home, I’ll be in bed and I just sort out stuff, send out one or two emails.
Becki: One of the things that I learned at the start up event was the 80-20 rule. Dedicate 80% of your time to your 9-5. 20%, find that in time after work, find that during your lunch break. Or you could do your weekend as your 20%. Find those moments to create your Instagram posts and line those up.
Any advice for entrepreneurs?
Becki: Sometimes even with the balance of the 9-5 and the side hustle, it can be very easy to compare yourself to other businesses. Because they can work full time, they can afford for whatever reason it is to do it. Try not to compare yourself to someone's else’s journey, who has dedicated literally all their time to do that. We all move at a different pace and that doesn’t make your business any worse, it doesn’t make you any less worthy of success.
Asheligh: Another bit of advice as well. A lot of stuff we’ve done, we’ve looked into ourselves like registering the company. You save yourself costs as well rather than paying someone to do that. Even like with filing your company, your notices and stuff just read up. The government website is really good at telling you step by step what you need to do. Just to save yourself from having to get someone to do that for you.
Becki: Also look at cheap alternatives or free alternatives, especially when you’re small as well. You find that you don’t need as big a platform that others are using. You can just get Mailchimp for free. We use Squarespace but there are other alternatives. But you don’t need a website developer to update Squarespace. Ashleigh is very good at it! She did the whole website.
Asheligh: Also find things you enjoy as well. You’re (Becki) more PR stuff, you like to be talking where I just like to stick behind the computer. Focus on each other's strengths. That way you enjoy it as well.