Getting your hair done at a salon can sometimes feel like a hostage situation: You’re at the whim of someone who doesn’t seem to care that you’ve moved heaven and earth—and spent a small fortune—to sit in their chair for hours on end.
Folake Oguntebi knows, and she cares. That’s why she’s launched GoodHair, “a quick-service salon that’s both good for your hair and good for your schedule.” The salon offers both blowout and natural hair styling for busy women with textured hair at an affordable price (both services are a smooth $65, and add-ons like steam treatments and trims start at $15)—in two hours or less. It also offers appointment times that you can book online that won’t have you running out of the office or spending your precious weekend under a dryer (appointments run from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.).
To prove what we already know—that tons of women want this kind of salon—GoodHair will first launch as a pop-up salon in New York City at Sola Salon Studios (222 E. 34th Street) from July 25 to August 8 before opening up a permanent location in 2016. (Use the offer code matermea to get a special gift when you book your appointment!)
And after that?
“I really see the opportunity to expand domestically and internationally,” Oguntebi says. So do we after chatting with the entrepreneur and soon-to-be mother of two—her 2½-year-old son Babawale will be a big brother soon! Oguntebi tells us why a Drybar for black women hasn’t existed until now, the challenges of making it happen, and how she landed on the name GoodHair for the salon.
Why do you think this type of hair salon hasn’t existed before?
One of the issues is that it requires a very unique combination of skills to make this come about effectively. Just finding someone who has both the technical expertise and the business mindset [who hasn’t] started their own thing has been quite the process. We’re trying to do blowouts as well as natural hair styling, and it’s hard to find stylists who are really comfortable and adept at both. But the good news is [that] there are a ton of talented hairstylists out there and a lot of people who are eager to learn. (Oguntebi has partnered with celebrity stylist Angela C. Stevens, who serves as the company’s senior creative and educational advisor.)
Trying to make something pretty different from what’s already happening is not straightforward. There are a ton of people who have this idea and want to make it happen. Hopefully GoodHair will be the first.
That’s really inspiring that you’ve noticed other people are trying to do the same thing that you’re doing, but it hasn’t deterred you. Why is that?
As an entrepreneur you need to be prepared for competition. I think this is such a huge market opportunity: There are so many women with textured hair in New York and the world, and it’s only growing. Maybe we’ll be the first to do it, or among the first, but there’s definitely going to be other players in the market. And that’s great, because so far we don’t have enough out there.
If [GoodHair] can help the industry overall, if this can help encourage black hair salons to figure out better operations and get people in and out more quickly, [then] that is good for everybody. I think it’s great if there are other people who are thinking about this, because that’s a great opportunity for collaboration. I [have] a very open mind about competition and partnerships. [This is] an important market that needs to be served in a better way. Let’s figure out how to make that happen.
“Good hair” is such a loaded phrase in our community. What made you decide to name the company GoodHair?
I wanted a name that was really simple. I thought of the name GoodHair, and it was so straightforward. I had a really good conversation with Anthea [Kelsnick], my good friend who was working on this [and has since taken on] an investor role. At that point we were actually thinking about being a blowout salon, and I was like, “Isn’t that really bad to call a salon that’s straightening curly people’s hair ‘GoodHair’?” She was the one who said, “I think you should think about it as us redefining and reclaiming the term.” I was very compelled by that argument and decided to just go with it, and we’ve [received] a really positive response from the marketplace about the name.
So what is GoodHair going to look like in practice? How will it differ from the typical experience?
When you come in, you have an appointment at a scheduled time. You come and you sit in the chair at that scheduled time. [Editor’s note: AMEN!]
The first visit you’ll have a short consultation with the stylist, because a lot of what we’re trying to do is promote healthy hair care. From the consultation you’ll get your hair washed [and] throughout that process, the stylist is talking to you about the type of product that they’re using. We’re making sure to use products that are customized for textured hair types, and even more than that, the specific hair texture. So if you have wavy textured hair, you’re probably going to use a different product than if you had a kinkier hair texture, and if you’re getting a blowout, you’re probably going to get a different product than if you were getting a wash-and-go. After the wash, you have your hair styled based on the styling option you chose. Our goal is to get people in and out of the salon [in] two hours or less.
[For] our business model, it really needs to happen in an hour and a half on average. With Drybar and more mainstream blowout salons, they have an average service time of around 45 minutes—that’s easier to achieve when a majority of their customers have a not-as-curly hair type. A lot of hairstylists can do a blow out in two hours, but it’s harder when they’re working with kinkier hair. We’re saying two hours to set the level of expectation in the mind of customers but in reality, for our business model, it needs to be an hour and a half.
Did you have an entrepreneurial background before you decided to open up your own business?
Both of my parents are entrepreneurs so I kind of have it in the blood that way: my dad’s a dentist, my mom’s a lawyer, and they both have their own practices. Before my mom became a lawyer, she owned an African import store so I kind of saw the retail side of entrepreneurship. From a young age I’ve been exposed to it, and had that interest.
After college, I worked for a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in Nigeria. That was my first job out of college; it was a very pivotal career experience and really solidified my interest in entrepreneurship and my belief that it’s a way to [affect] positive change in the world.
Even though I hadn’t had my own direct experiences trying to launch anything, I had a lot of exposure and interest and work in entrepreneurial settings. But this is my first time trying to launch my own business. There was a lot that I did not realize about the entrepreneur experience that I’m getting now.
What have you learned about yourself and business in the process of opening GoodHair?
Oh boy. (Laughs) I’ve learned that my faith in God is one of the most important [motivations] and sustainers of me as a person and in my endeavours, more than I had previously realized. [Also] the importance of connections and the people you work with. It’s all about realizing your own individual limits—as a business person, you’re constantly having to rely on other people. I think I’ve always thought if I want to make something happen, I’ll make it happen. (Laughs) If you go into it with that attitude, you will not be successful, because there’s just so much you can’t do alone, especially as a mompreneur. That just adds a whole other layer of needing help and [needing to] coordinate and collaborate with other people.
So I think I just learned about the importance of being able to work well with others, delegate, communicate, and network. You never know who is going to connect you to the right person or have a good piece of advice that you never would have thought of.
There’s a social good element to GoodHair as well. Why was it important to you to have that be a part of your mission?
My personal philosophy about business is that it should be a force of positivity in the community, especially a business that is employing so many women of color. We just have a personal commitment to try and deliver the best experience for everybody in the salon, both the stylists as well as the clients. Because there are so many women of color employed by this industry, the opportunity to be a model for how you do that in a way that’s respectful of your employees is very important. I think people are going to be excited to support a black-owned business that they know is treating their employees well.
Some of the things that we’re thinking about are tuition reimbursement programs for cosmetology school and being thoughtful about the experience that people have when they’re at work, so making sure the products that we’re using are nontoxic. Even thinking about the weight of a blowdryer—are there more lightweight, more ergonomically appropriate blowdryers to make things a little more comfortable.
We’re trying to pay a living wage, and that also goes into the price we’ll be charging. Earlier versions of our business plan had a good-for-your wallet component that I now have taken out because we want to offer a service that’s affordable and competitively priced, but we want to have the flexibility to pay our workers fairly well and that means charging a higher price point
What are your hopes for your company and yourself as an entrepreneur?
I hope that we totally blow this out of the water! (Laughs) I want to see GoodHair become an international company that our kids and our kids’ kids go to to get their hair done.
I think I’ve always had this aspiration of being a successful entrepreneur: starting something from the ground up and having it come to life and make a positive impact both for the immediate clients it serves and for the world at large. Being an example for other businesses and pushing the envelope for how business can be done in a socially responsible way. I would love to leave that legacy as an entrepreneur. And to leave a legacy for my own family. I am hopefully setting the building blocks for something that my [children] will admire and [they’ll] be inspired to do awesome things because of [it] in the same way that I’ve been inspired by my parents.