I’m thrilled to be bringing our readers this interview with the founder and creator of BEUNIQUE Hair Care. Not only because Belinda has been representing so well for the UK natural hair community, but also because we’re former work colleagues in a well-known department store.
I remember all too well the Key Performance Indicators we had to meet – maneuvering between ‘cross-selling’ and ‘up-selling’ for an assortment of products from large companies/brands. In most cases, we had no personal connection to these products. Now all that has changed. Belinda has created her own company and has been on an interesting & successful journey – developing her own range of natural haircare products since 2009.
Belinda’s entrepreneurial spirit and mission to make all women feel BLESSED to be NATURAL, has led to extensive research for natural alternatives to man-made ingredients in the existing products she was using. Her findings have blossomed into BEUNIQUE HAIR CARE.
The importance of hair as a topic has become synonymous with women, whether its long, short, natural, relaxed, coloured or store-bought. By now, we have all become accustomed to how important hair is to women. For many black women having beautiful hair (or simply wanting beautiful, longer hair) is an embedded part of our core and way of life – and some will do just about anything to get it.
Belinda’s personal mantra is ‘Your hair is your crown, wear it like a Queen’. Ahead of her fast approaching event at The Primo Bar in London on 17th February, I got to find out more about Belinda Raji and BE UNIQUE Hair Care.
PRIMO Bar the only place for you to be on Wednesday 17th Feb 2016. Come and get to know more about the woman behind the brand and the @beuniquehc product range. Enjoy music, beauty treatments and a chance to win ‘Queens Gift Hampers’ full of goodies worth over £500!! Ticket link in bio on main Instagram page Many thanks to our generous sponsors @florianlondonuk @sankofa_creative_co @flawlesstouchnb @emiandben @edgestick_by_azure @zanjoostore @superfunkyme @primobaruk #naturalhairevents #uknaturalhairevents #naturalhaircare #naturalhair #naturalhairproducts #uknaturals #unitedkurls #ukbrands #supportsmallbusinesses #beuniquehc #beuniquehaircare #yourhairisyourcrown #BUHC #aneveningwithbuhc
We know your Mum embraces a natural and holistic lifestyle, but what was your motivation for changing in 2009?
I had been using chemicals in my hair from the age of 14, first a curly perm and then at age 16 I got my hair relaxed. In my adult life I noticed that although my hair retained length it seemed to be loosing its fullness, it didn’t have as much body and looked lank. On top of that I had started wearing this one sided hairstyle to disguise thinning at the front. So with all of that I just decided it was time to give up the relaxer and return to my natural roots.
When you switched from having relaxed hair (which as I remember always looked good & healthy), how did the people closest to you react?
My husband and mum had the strongest reactions but only because I didn’t transition. I went to the bathroom took my husband clippers and shaved off every inch of hair. My husband walked into the bathroom when I was trying to do the back, I asked him for help and much to my amusement he walked back out shaking his head. In the end he returned and helped me, I had warned him that I was thinking of going natural but either he didn’t believe me or he didn’t know what it meant. My mum refused to look at me stating that I looked ill, other friends who I sent pictures to thought that I had used Photoshop. Most people were in shock because I had such long hair.
When you started to experiment with creating your products in your kitchen, it was to fulfil your own haircare needs. Did you ever imagine that you would become such an influencer? I don’t believe that I’m an influencer. I think that that when I first started out I had that kind of impact, especially having a YouTube Channel at a time when there were practically no other UK vloggers, but now there are loads. I was a trailblazer, and now we have great UK YouTube vloggers who have taken vlogging to a whole new level – and it makes me feel warm inside.
What is the #1 topic that people contact you for advice on?
Hair Growth – the thing is, I think people ask that question and expect an easy answer ‘buy this, or just do that’ but hair growth just isn’t that simple. It involves many different variables and topical hair products alone are never going to grow your hair.
Tell us about some of the feedback you’ve had since your product line launched.
Feedback has been great, everybody that uses my products always say how great they are. I love having regular customers who have been purchasing products from the early days – they fact that they keep coming back proves to me that the products are working. I do get a buzz when bloggers or vloggers give great feedback because they are they influencers and when they like my products sales do increase. Taren Guy loved Shea Bliss, Laila aka Fusion of Cultures loves Mango Twist and Bamboo Mango Smoothie, Fiona aka Love Your Tresses loves are shampoo and conditioner and that’s just to name a few.
Your own product line has propelled you from being a ‘do it yourself natural’ to an entrepreneur, do ever find yourself needing to visit a natural haircare salon?
No, sorry, when my hair was longer I visited a salon only once, I didn’t like the way they treated my hair. Other than that I visited a trusted family hairdresser once or twice a year when I would get my hair flat ironed. Now my hair is short all I need is a shape up at the barbers.
Now, in 2016, the natural hair movement has gained a lot of momentum. Have you seen changes in the way that black people, as a whole, view natural hair?
It’s funny, I was just thinking about this the other day, and I definitely think natural hair is not a fad or a movement, people are just becoming more accepting of themselves.
For my full time job I work as a teacher, I currently teach in a school with a high population of black pupils and the majority of the girls wear their hair in its natural state. It’s heart warming to walk the corridors and see so many afro puffs and braided styles. It’s not just the girls either, the boys have perfectly neat canerows and those with high tops, large and small afros can be heard having conversations about whether they grease their hair, blow dry at bedtime and the dangers of leaving the house with wet hair!
I have even seen a boy with a wash ‘n’ go! (Not the dreaded S-Curl). So if I can walk through the school I work in and see this celebration of self-acceptance from the young people then I feel assured that yes there has been a change.
For those who don’t know about your Certified Queen Campaign, please tell us more and what do our readers need to do in order to take part?
The #CertifiedQueen Queen Campaign seeks to use real women of African heritage to affirm to everyone why black women are African Queens. ‘Queen Status’ is not only evident in the aesthetic beauty of black women but in their daily lives.
If you are interested in taking part in this campaign please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, use ‘Certified Queen’ in the subject line.
Mintel projects the size of the black haircare industry to reach $876 million by 2019 and relaxer sales are aimed to decrease 45 percent before 2019. It could be easily argued that natural haircare influencers like you, have played a part in the decreased demand for relaxers. When you see these figures what are your personal views on how the haircare market is changing?
The hair care market isn’t changing it’s evolving, the companies who sell relaxers have found new ways to appeal to those who wish to start ‘healthy hair journeys’ . Instated of relaxers they have released products with names like ‘Texture Release’ and ‘Texture Management’. I personally take issue with such products but can’t deny the busy savvy of the companies. My issue is, that when you go natural there is a need for one to get to know their hair and accept their hair in it’s natural state. These ‘management’ products support an ideology that anyone from African heritage with kinks and coils somehow need ‘assistance’ in handling their hair – and this ‘assistance’ comes in the guise of loosening the curl pattern. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for straight styles and celebrating the versatility of natural hair. What I am against is bringing out a product that just simply replaces a relaxer and doesn’t change the hegemonic values of the beauty industry.
The increase in demand for natural products helping consumers care for and maintain their hair’s natural features, is so prominent on the shelves of haircare shops now. Many larger beauty product companies, who are known for relaxers, are trying to grab market share. What sets smaller brands like BEUNIQUE apart from the big players muscling in?
My products are handmade, so to that end I could never be on the same level as the big players. Everything these days is about branding; I put as much effort into that as I do with formulating my products. Aesthetically my products could sit next to the ‘big players’ and look the same, if not even better, but the difference is in the ingredients and the ethos of my brand.
I have chosen every ingredient to serve it’s on discrete purpose, I don’t market my products as natural and then have the natural ingredients feature at the bottom of the ingredients list. Those key ingredients take pride and place right at the top. I want all Black women to be proud of their hair, I truly believe that wearing my hair in its natural state is a mark of respect to our African ancestors. They were taught to hate their hair, and when I did the big chop I had an epiphany – I personally realised that putting relaxers in my hair showed disrespect to those who came before. Some people may think that’s going a bit to deep but it’s where the ethos of my brand comes from, I want to create product that not only, feeds your hair or helps to create great styles but that also helps you to love your hair, to stand back in awe and bask in the beauty of all those kinks and coils.
So in short what makes me stand out? I care, I’m not here to make a quick buck I’m here to make a difference.
If black people spent more money on products designed, manufactured and supplied by black people – making it clear to the multi-nationals that there is money in this market – then would that bring more attention to this market? Would that be a win for all people of colour?
If you could convert 3 famous women to your methods, who would they be?
Beyonce – she’s probably the biggest influencer out there, going natural would be the next logical step after her recent video and Black Panther influenced Superbowl performance.
Not that famous, but ALL UK black female newsreaders – they’re on the telly everyday and they could make an impact. Can’t think of a third
A lot of girls out there considering transitioning to natural might be wondering how a move to natural hair affects interactions with the opposite sex. There’s a lot of pressure in society to hold a certain kind of look up as ‘the ideal’, but – at the same time – we know that ‘real’ is its own kind of attractive. What was your experience?
If someone is reading this article and considering the move to natural hair, what should be the first step they take?
Research, watch YouTube as a start (but not as the fountain of all knowledge), go to hair events to be inspired and talk to other naturals, read books ‘The Science of Black Hair’ is the best one I have read. People say natural hair is easy, sorry I’m going to be real, it’s actually like riding a bike. You have stabilisers (your relaxer) then they go and really you want them back, it would be so much easier to have them back, but you push on and finally you get the hang of it, you slowly go up the gears as you get better. You might fall off i.e. have a bad hair day, but you have gotten to a point where you know what to do and you get right back on your two wheeler and forget all about the stabilizers. It took me just over two years to forget about my stabilizers lool.
The 17th of Feb from 6-10pm is an important date in the calendar for all naturals based in London, and anyone considering a natural hair journey. We thank Belinda for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with Africa Fashion and we’re looking forward to her event.
Guys if your beautiful Queen is on her own natural hair journey, how about considering a really thoughtful gift this Valentines? You can change it up from the run of the mill – the fancy underwear, flowers & the chocs…consider treating your #1 to a ticket for an evening with BEUNIQUE Hair Care ON THE 17TH FEBURARY!
Remember: 25% of all ticket sales will be donated to ECHO – Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation, a cause close to Belinda’s heart.
ECHO’s mission is to provide support for children and young people with heart conditions who receive treatment at the Evelina Children’s Hospital and the outreach clinics at local General Hospitals attended by Evelina Cardiologists.