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How I found my way in a crowded industry

By Mona Ombogo | November 6th 2019
Joseph Zigumbye, hairstylist. 

Joseph Zigumbye, 28, became a hairstylist out of necessity. His original plan was to become an engineer, but his parents couldn’t afford the school fees.

“I was studying and working part time at a salon to make ends meet, but soon realised I couldn’t do both successfully,” he tells Hustle.

So, Joseph opted out of school and decided to give the beauty industry his full attention.

“Coincidentally at the time, a friend of mine had returned from Rwanda and told me about this style, temporary dreads, that was becoming very popular there. It interested me.”

It took him a month to learn the basics behind faux dreads, a technique that gives the end result of locked hair, without actually locking the hair itself.

Unlike real locs, these temporary ones can be removed after a period of six to nine months, with minimal to no damage to the actual hair.

 “It’s hard to explain how it is done without someone actually seeing the procedure, but essentially, we fold the hair down and fix the dreads over it, so that the hair is not a part of the dreadlock strand. This way, it remains undamaged,” Joseph explains.

“People like temporary locs because as the name suggests, they don’t last forever. When you get tired, you undo them. The bonus is that hair grows in this style since it isn’t being tampered with daily.”

After Joseph mastered the art in Kampala, he visited friends in Nairobi, some who were stylists, and introduced them to this method of locking hair.

“No one, to my knowledge, was doing this in Kenya at the time. Whenever I got a client, it would attract the attention of other customers who had come in to do something else. Most were just curious, but some came back to have the hairdo.”

Joseph first worked at a salon at Nairobi’ Capital Centre for three years, steadily growing his client base before moving to a space shared with three other stylists.

They coined the name Locks Chapter to market themselves on social media.

“By this time, I had a steady stream of clients, even as more salons started offering the same service.” 

But Joseph wasn’t daunted by the competition; he was confident in his technique.

“It’s about consistently doing a good job and being honest with your customers. Some stylists will lie to get business. For instance, they won’t tell a client how long they can keep the dreads before removing them. They will simply give the answer they think the client wants to hear, since it’s a common question,” he says.

The answer is, how long you keep the dreads depends on the hair texture. People with thinner hair shouldn’t keep the dreads for longer than six months before undoing them or their hair will break. People with thicker hair can keep the dreads for up nine months,” he says.

Typically, however, one needs to have the hair retouched every four to six weeks, depending on one’s preference and profession.

Locks Chapter charges Sh6,200 for shoulder-length dreads. The cost can go up to Sh10,000 or higher depending on style specifications.

“It takes about two and a half hours to crochet the hair in, though the actual dreads are prepared in advance,” Joseph says.

“What I like the most about this style is that it’s opening up options for women from all sorts of careers to wear their hair how they want. Before, employers were skeptical about dreadlocks in the workplace.  But now, because the style is temporary, there’s no difference between this and braids. Employers are accepting it and, in a sense, that helps us accept the uniqueness of our culture.”

Joseph gets up to three clients a day. “Our biggest marketing strategy is referrals, and of course, repeat clients. To repair the dreads, we charge Sh1,700, which includes treating and styling the hair.”

Locks Chapter is also on social media. “I’ve got calls from many potential clients who see our designs on our pages. The thing is, few if any, ever show up right away. It takes a while for them to actually walk in through the doors,” Joseph says.

“This business is about consistency and persistence. If you advertise once and stop because you got no response, you will sleep hungry. You have to keep going. I am a strong believer in using what you have to do what you can.”  

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