This month we catch up with Ekwy Nnene who decided to create and launch her own range of natural hair and beauty products following a bout of hair loss caused by an inflamed scalp. After researching every ingredient under the sun, Ekwy managed to grow her hair back successfully. Using her analysing skills, Ekwy has created a line of highly concentrated products proven to work on natural hair. Here is Ekwy’s story.
What inspired you to create Equi Botanics?
Seven years ago, in 2010, I lost a patch of the hair on my crown to a weave-on extension which caused scalp inflammation and intensive hair loss. It was a traumatic turning point for me. Shortly after, I had my second daughter. She was born with a full head of hair which made me wonder if it was possible to keep our hair thriving and growing. I started researching into haircare extensively over the next seven years and learned from my mistakes with my hair and my two daughters’ hair. I was looking for a salon or a hairstylist locally that could help me stay off weaves enough to nurture my natural hair. There were zero. At some point, I came across YouTube tutorials and learned from trial and error using our three heads of hair. The products on the UK high street don’t cater to Afro hair needs as they can contain silicones and detergents which block moisture from getting into coily, kinky afro hair. They are also diluted which makes them less moisturising for thick, dry Afro hair. So I started making homemade potions by mixing overripe avocado, carrier oils, honey and ripe bananas for a deep conditioning mask and family and friends would pay for small jars. I assumed everyone was also researching and learning how to nurture their hair. The turning point came in December 2015, while I was visiting Nigeria and a stranger reached out to touch my hair (it wasn’t even that long but it was super thick), wondering if it was real. I realised that maybe there could be a market here.
Did you face any challenges when you began your own business?
Internally, I was beset with a lack of self-belief where I would ask myself: can I really deliver? Who was I to sell something I had created to people? It took me months to overcome that kind of thinking. Externally, it was getting to know the industry. I had no clue where to start, from formulating to packaging to testing to marketing. My other challenge was getting people to work with me. Once, a prominent male chemist told me that there was nothing that could work for black women’s hair so I could pay him if I wanted but he knew nothing would work. He did ask to see my formula, which needless to say, I didn’t share with him neither did I work with him. When I did find two lovely female chemists, it took us several months before we could crack the formula – mixing oils and avocado in your kitchen is very different to formulating effective products that will also pass the EU’s stringent tests. And because my older daughter has 4c hair, I was determined that all my products would work on her hair otherwise they hadn’t passed my user test. That’s why our formulations are highly concentrated and took us a long time to agree on. Another issue was the minimum order quantities required for the rare ingredients I was going for. There were very high initial costs and I had to use our family savings and borrow from family and amazing friends to meet up.
Who has most inspired you on your entrepreneurial journey?
My daughters, definitely. Having them ignited something within me that made me realise I could no longer be lazy about things. Apart from teaching them self-love and self-care, (which in my mind, for the black woman definitely starts with our natural beauty and hair) I also felt compelled that they saw me fall down and get back up again. I share my ups and downs with them but also share with them that difficult doesn’t mean impossible; no doesn’t mean never, it just means not now. It’s funny when they encourage me with my own words.
Describe your work routine.
I take time in the mornings to meditate and do some yoga before all the madness begins. I structure my day so that I work on the things that have the highest impact. So you will not see me posting on social media if I have a big order from a salon I need to fulfil ASAP or writing a feature for a global magazine. It’s all about priorities. I will catch up with family in the evenings and cook a meal which we’ll eat. Because the business is in its infancy, I’ll carry on after that until I sleep.
What advice would you give to young women who harbour the desire to start a business but lack the confidence to really go for it?
If you feel that fire in your belly, please go for it. The world needs that light that only you can shine. Don’t be stopped by the thought that everything is already taken or has already been done. You can make your own mark and build your own tribe. There is so much market out there to tap into. Seek advice from old hands in the industry you are looking to enter – buy someone a coffee or even send a good email. Do your research but don’t get drowned in it, make time to take action too. Join groups of like-minded people and seek to pull each other up. One last thing – don’t listen to anyone who tells you you can’t do it, they are speaking from their own perspective. Focus on yours.
What do you hope to achieve next?
Expand my work with salons on hair education workshops, partner with the community on inspiring young women to love themselves and create more amazing products to launch the rest of the haircare range.
To find out more about Equi products visit here.