Interview by: Jade Earle
The natural hair movement in our community is driving a decrease in relaxer sales and increase in styling product purchases. As more and more women are embracing their gorgeous textures (some for the very first time), the search for the best product and the most flattering style is an ongoing quest.
With so many products and styles to choose from, the options can be overwhelming to say the least. As the owner of NZO Hair Studios in Washington, D.C., Ngozi Opara has been a God-send to countless women in the area making the transition from relaxed to natural hair. Protective styles aren’t for everyone, but Ngozi quickly realized that women needed more options – and fast. The purpose of protective styling is to shield the hair from heat and the damage associated with it (let’s face, we’ve all been there). After giving it plenty of thought and consideration, Ngozi figured out what the industry was missing – hair that more closely matched her client’s multi-textured hair without using any heat. She totally nailed it and began taking steps towards bringing Heat Free Hair to life.
Today on In Her Shoes, Ngozi talks about the challenges and successes of her journey to remind you that if you have an idea you’re ready to take to market, the only thing standing in your way is YOU.
In Her Shoes: Now that Heat-Free Hair has been up and running for two years, is there any concern, topic or issue within the natural hair community that you hope to address specifically with your line?
Ngozi: Absolutely! When Heat Free Hair first launched we were a foreign concept to a lot of people. The idea of having human hair extensions that blend with the different textures and curl patterns of natural hair was something that the Black hair care industry was not exposed to so naturally, we became an easy target for a lot of criticism. The biggest being that some people felt that “you cannot be considered natural if you’re wearing extensions”. I think in our two and half years of operating that mindset has shifted and natural women are now seeing that having this option can aid their natural hair journey. I hope to continue to address these benefits as we go forward.
In Her Shoes: Many entrepreneurs choose to expand their e-commerce business by investing in a physical brick-and-mortar shop. Do you plan on growing your business off-line as a store?
Ngozi: When I started The Heat Free Hair Movement my mind was set on not just creating protective style options through our products, but on creating an experience that women could really feel connected to. Years ago, I worked for Carol’s Daughter and had the pleasure of managing one of their retail stores. My experience there taught me how much women value an in person experience and really allowed me to service customers’ needs in ways that an online presence could not. A physical brick-and-mortar shop is definitely a future goal of ours and I cannot wait!
In Her Shoes: You’ve mentioned before that you’ve conducted business internationally with an interpreter. How do you balance your business matters on an international level, especially when there are language barriers?
Ngozi: I am blessed to have a very solid trustworthy team of managers, technicians, and workers in my factory overseas, but cultural differences do make things a little more challenging. What has made things easier for me was the time I spent living in China while in hair manufacturing school. Most of my factory managers today are my former classmates so we taught each other a lot about our respective cultures. Although I am in the process of learning Chinese now, when I am there I have a full-ime translator with me so that the language barrier is not an issue. I think the most important way to balance matters on an international level is to plan in advance and prepare for the worst.
In Her Shoes: What is a day like in your shoes?
Ngozi: A day in my shoes consists of getting up at 6am to meditate and pray, followed by an intense work out with my personal trainer or a bike ride through my neighborhood. After I exercise, I usually read for 30 mins to an hour and then head to our office (thankfully 5 mins away from my home). Between the clients that come in, conference calls, staff meetings, and planning, I am usually in the office for 8-10 hours a day. After the office, I usually have a dinner meeting planned and then HGTV is my best friend till I fall asleep lol. My daily routine is fun for me, however I make sure I make up any lapse in excitement when I travel (I must do that often to stay sane).
In Her Shoes: Have you noticed any differences in the way women from other countries regard your Heat-Free Hair movement versus American women?
Ngozi: Generally speaking Heat Free Hair has gotten a positive response from women all over the world. I think with the help of YouTube and many other social media platforms, women all around the world get instant access to what’s “trending” stateside and also have beautiful imagery online that evokes hair inspirations. I have to be honest, I was shocked when I arrived in Africa last year and women knew who I was or had heard of Heat Free Hair because for the longest kinky textures of hair were not what women there strived for. It was really beautiful to hear that Heat Free Hair encouraged them to wear their natural texture confidently.
In Her Shoes: With the saturation of the natural hair market, how do you stand out from your competitors?
Ngozi: One of the reasons I think Heat Free Hair is unique is because we manufacture the products that we sell. I never wanted to get into buying and selling (via trading company sites or 3rd party vendors) because I wanted to confidently be able to know my product in and out. I was a part of creating the technology to develop the textures of hair we have and that gives me the ability to develop based on our customers’ needs and stand behind our product with confidence. I simply believe that if you have a good product, remain consistent, and focus on your goals, you will always stand out.
In Her Shoes: I’ve read that you actually saved almost every paycheck from your previous job in finance before Heat-Free Hair really took off. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurial women who need to balance their passion with the cost of living?
Ngozi: Gosh those days (lol)! Yes, I never spent a penny from my job as a financial analyst and was eventually able to use the money I earned as the seed needed to start and operate Heat Free Hair. I had a small hair studio on the side and used the money I made from that to survive so I will always suggest having multiple streams of income especially when you have a goal in mind. I will never forget when my college pastor asked me “If your job is your only source of income then how will you pay your bills if you lose your job?” That hit home for me and I have never had one stream of income ever since.
To learn more about Ngozi and Heat Free Hair visit heatfreehair.com.