They say a woman’s hair is her crown and glory, but the truth is that not every woman is privileged to have her natural hair look healthy, long, and full. We are coming to terms with this reality check after an insightful interview with Rahmat Omolara Animasaun, the founder of a fast-rising hair extension and wig company called Protean Tresses.
Her personal journey serves as an inspiration to women across Africa who are facing similar challenges, particularly those who may not even realise they could be affected by alopecia.
Alopecia is a chronic, immune-mediated skin disease characterised by the sudden loss of hair on the scalp, beard, and sometimes eyebrows, eyelashes, and body hair. It can also be described as bald spots or bald patches. This patchy hair loss is unpredictable, as the hair growth can return to normal at any time and suddenly fall out again. The affected areas show no signs of inflammation or underlying causes for hair loss. This condition arises when the immune system attacks and destroys hair follicles, and there are various contributing factors, such as nutrition, hormonal imbalances, medication use, infections, certain diseases, malignancies, immune system disorders, environmental factors, age, and genetic predisposition. During our conversation with Rahmat, we explored her experience with alopecia and why it motivated her to establish a successful business.
When did you get alopecia, and what caused it?
I first noticed it around 2011 while I was still in university. Its size was like a grapefruit initially, but it got worse over the years and is now like a circular slice from a big pineapple—that should help with visualising it better. Genetics played a huge role in the cause because my mum and grandmother have the same patch on their heads. Mine unfortunately developed quickly over the years due to the extremely stressful and abusive relationships that I had to endure. Stress is a huge factor contributing to hair loss or thinning because large numbers of hair follicles are significantly pushed into the resting phase.
Did you ever search for ways to treat it?
Yes, I did, actually. In addition to consulting a trichologist, I took to studying on Google, and based on my research, I came to find out that there is no actual cure, but instead, there are methods a person infected with hair loss can use to grow their hair quicker, like topical immunoxidine, immunotherapy, oral corticosteroids (which are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can suppress the immune system), hair transplant, and basic self-care, which includes frequent massages and eliminating the stress factor, which can generally be very helpful. Also, I found a product named “Growthentic”, which helped with the growth of some of my strands, coupled with constantly massaging the scalp with numerous hair oils and masks that helped stimulate the scalp and improve my hair’s thickness. Natural elements like aloe vera, coconut oil, fish oil, ginseng, onion juice, rosemary oil, and Viviscal supplements are just a couple of the things I use frequently.
So how has it been for you socially?
Well, I’ve had to learn to love myself with it. Sometimes I wear just my scantily plaited hair for school runs and to swim. And in situations when I remove my wig, people ask me the reoccurring question, “What happened?!” usually with pity in their eyes, while some others go as far as even asking me to cover it. But to be honest, it’s become part of me, and I absolutely embrace it. I came to understand that my hair is my crown, and I must be grateful for the crown God has given me! Although I’ve considered shaving it all off at some point, for now, It’s personal to me, and I rock it like it’s trendy. [laughs]
When did you realise you wanted to run a hair company?
Around 2007, when human hair extensions emerged in Nigeria, I took pride in purchasing numerous types. I maintained a standard of wearing only high-quality hair extensions, which I bought from the best vendor at the time. Due to how passionately I adore hair and my active mind for business, I knew I would get into the hair business someday. So, while waiting for the right time, I began sourcing for the best hair vendors across different continents, eventually finding a supplier who had been in the hair business for decades and was gracious enough to put me through. During my contemplation and preparation stages, I developed alopecia, which created a need for me to help women feel more confident by providing high-quality hair extensions for those who experienced hair loss due to stress, cancer, and other autoimmune diseases.
In what way did your condition help with creating your hair company?
This is a really good question! Being that I’m a highly impactful and determined person, doing this gave me a much deeper meaning in terms of purpose. The fact that it was personal was all the driving force I needed to keep me vested way more passionately rather than focusing on the financial benefits involved. The thought that I could help restore confidence in women dealing with alopecia, general hair loss from cancer, and severe stress gave me immense joy. At Protean Tresses, we empathise with women suffering from hair loss, which is why we give as much as 20% discounts on all their wig and extension purchases to spread awareness about hair loss and, at the same time, declare hair extensions as the undeniable solution.
How would you say hair affects one’s behaviour?
As a woman, your hair is very important to your appearance because it’s one of the first things people see when looking at you. It is so unavoidable that it affects your confidence levels, which in turn directly impacts every aspect of your personality and the life around you, such as your relationship with yourself, your career, your relationship with others, and so on. Your hair can be artistically transformed to shape how you want other people to view you, and eventually, that’s bound to affect your behaviour and how you carry yourself directly.
What sets you apart from other hair companies?
First of all, we have set a standard of providing readily available, high-quality extensions within hours of purchase, as opposed to most hair retailers who have to order, and sometimes it takes as much as weeks or months before products finally reach the buyer. Our customers say we sell arguably the best hair across various hair types. We do not deal with virgin hair, provided there is a raw donor collection, which is why all our frontals and closures are typically of top raw quality only. Also, we continue to increase our hair categories to accommodate new hair types while looking into further innovations in the industry to stay abreast.
What is the best business advice you have for new companies selling hair?
First of all, know why you want to be in this business. It’s not the smartest thing to get into business because everyone is doing it. Next, it is imperative to maintain a good relationship with your customers. You shouldn’t just reach out to them when you want to make a sale. In addition, having a more collaborative approach to business is key to success. The market is big enough for everyone, and there’s enough space in the sky for every bird to fly. Think collaboration, not competition!
Do not get discouraged. Keep showing up! Everyone has different seasons; be patient and don’t speak badly about other people’s businesses. You don’t have to be popular to make sales.
May I add that if you are struggling with the high cost of starting up, we can collaborate with you by selling to you to resell to grow your business, though, as said, we don’t sell virgin quality.
Finally, social media sells, and it’s the new cool; however, do not underestimate the power of traditional marketing methods. Walk up to people; one-on-one marketing is golden. Make conventional flyers and place them in strategic locations. Don’t be hyper-focused on social media marketing; focus on your unique way of communicating about your brand. Dancing—and shaking your bum—is not for everyone. [laughs]
Always put God first. Remember, God is the ultimate source. Pray for your clients, prospective clients, and your business; you will excel!