Recently, I have been learning about the politicisation of hair. Phoebe Waller-Bridge said that “hair is everything” in an episode of Fleabag; “it’s the difference between a good day and a bad day…we’re meant to think that it’s a symbol of power, that it’s a symbol of fertility”. And in the black community, hair’s importance is arguably more apparent.
It can be “good” or “bad”, an afro or braids, a wig or shaved. It can serve as a political symbol, like the Afro during the Civil Rights Movement. It can get you sent home from school, like Ruby Williams, who won an £8,500 payout in an out of court settlement, after being told by the head teacher of Urswick school in Hackney that her hair was “too big”.
Black hair care is worth an estimated £88 million in the UK and some people are taking advantage of this, like Mercy Kutie, the owner of Kuties Hair, a hair extensions service based in East London. Her business helps to challenge preconceived notions about beauty so I spoke to her about her business and her aspirations.
When did you start making wigs and why?
I started properly making wigs for people last year May. The main reason why I started making wigs for people was to make money from it because it was something I enjoyed doing.
Are your clients your friends or is there a range of people?
Initially, when I started my wig business it was mainly my friends who were coming to me because my business wasn’t really out there properly. But after a lot of promoting from my friends and family and the small platform that I have on social media, I now…have a range of clients.
Do you get non-black people booking appointments, given the popularity of wigs and the advances that have been made?
99.9% of my clientele are black African/Caribbean. This is mainly because it’s people of those races who usually wear the type of wig services that I offer, although there are a few white people who also do.
Can you walk me through the process?
The process is simple. I usually ask people to drop off their hair five days before their appointment (the amount of days can vary depending on what service they want). Let’s say that they would like a frontal wig constructed and installed, I’d need the hair a minimum of three days prior. On the first day the frontal will be bleached and plucked. Then on the second day I’ll use [the frontal] to construct the wig. And I’d use the day before they come to style it on a mannequin head so that on the day of the appointment it’s just the install that’s needed.
Has business been affected by lockdown?
Initially…I was no longer able to take bookings so…a lot of appointments had to be cancelled. But after a while I started to introduce contactless services which basically involved the hair being posted and me constructing the wigs, styling them and posting [them] back to the clients. I’m now taking booking as normal and still offer contactless services because some people still want them.
How far do you plan to take it?
I…plan on continuing it for as long as possible. I do have a main career that I’m going to focus on obviously and I’ll probably have my wig business on the side to make extra money. I don’t think I’d ever want to stop my wig business. [However], there could be times when I would have to put it on hold just so that I can spend my time properly in pursuing my actual career.
It’s not something that you plan on doing full time then?
Running my wig business full time is something that I definitely do not plan on doing. I know that there could be a lot of money made in it and it’s a lot of people’s careers…but personally it’s not something that I would actually want as my main career.
I do enjoy it, it’s not something that I find very difficult, I feel like I could even be quite successful in it if I actually put in all my time and effort into it but it’s definitely not something that I would want to do as a full time job and that’s only because I have something in mind that I would want to do as a full time job.
What do you have in mind instead?
I’m going to [university] to study Adult Nursing but I will definitely be continuing to do hair on the side and if that develops, I would love to do it as a main job…Adult Nursing is my back up.
How does your business make you and your customers feel?
I just think it makes me feel happy to be honest because they’ve come to me for a service and I was able to provide that service to them. And for me that means that there’s probably going to be more promotion…which is good for my business and for them they’ve just got their hair done really well. It just makes me feel happy.
It’s encouraging to see Mercy’s business acumen as she takes advantage of a business with so much potential. It’s also beautiful to see the celebration of young black women throughout her Instagram feed. Both of these factors motivated me to learn more and I share some of my thoughts in this audio: