Most or our memories of at-home beauty “treatments” are actual nightmares: wicked little brothers with scissors and pranks involving your ponytail, moms with torturous combs, and girlfriends who have never met a shade of aquamarine that your face didn’t need more of. Let's not even get started on the time you trimmed your own bangs. But now getting a beauty professional sent to your home (much like a celebrity; specifically the celebrity Beyoncé) is as easy as ordering a pizza.
With apps and services like GlamSquad, the BeautyApp, and a slew of other at-home services, one population seems to be left: Black women and their hair. And that's why New York City based sisters Antonia and Abigail Opiah have come up with an at-home hair care solution for black women. Meet Yeluchi by Un-ruly, a mobile salon of talented stylists that specialize in box braids, weaves and crotchets, and cornrows. With a premium on protective styles, the company is doing what mobile beauty giants have not: offering a service that works for black women, too. Prices start at $50 and work up to around $250, which is the ultimate steal for braiding and weave installs. We chatted with the sisters to discuss how the idea came about from starting with their website Un-ruly to revamping the black hair salon experience and adding the extension of Yeluchi, and how companies like this are catering to a deserving market that hasn’t always seen their needs met.
How did Yeluchi by Un-ruly come about?
Antonia: It came from us needing a service like it to exist. A couple summers ago, I was getting ready to go on vacation and wanted to get box braids but just didn’t have eight hours to to sit in a salon. I wanted a stylist to come to me and do my hair while I worked. That was my aha moment.
Abigail: We wanted to try something that served the New York City area’s hair needs. We started doing research to see if anything like this ever really existed. We couldn't find anything.
What does Yeluchi by Un-ruly mean?
Antonia: Yeluchi is a play on my Nigerian name (Chiyelu), which means God’s gift. Black hair is so versatile and packed with so much culture, history and politics so I see that as a gift.
What has been your personal experience as black women with the black hair community?
Antonia: Black hair, for me, has been a way to unite and relate to others. Any time I travel and meet another black woman, no matter what language we speak, hair always makes its way into the conversation. It’s this really beautiful common ground.
The black community and black women in particular are responsible for a number of hair trends and styles. How did you choose to offer the select styles on the site and how do you vet your stylists?
Antonia: We are indeed! It’s funny, our menu has evolved because we learned very quickly that black hair can’t be put in a box. There’s always something new or a variation of a classic that our customers want. But at the heart of the services we offer is braiding. The braid, to us, is the foundation of most black hairstyles. So we specialize in protective hairstyles, like weaves and crochets that use braiding as a foundation.
What are the benefits of protective styles? How has your business put a premium on hair health and care?
Antonia: Where do I start? There’s so many. I’d say the main benefit is the respite a protective hairstyle gives you from having to do your hair. I, personally, enjoy not having to think about my hair sometimes. And I’m sure my hair appreciates not being fussed with. I attribute my hair growth to wearing it in protective styles because it just keeps it away from the elements.
Part of a communal black experience is going to the beauty shop, how have you revamped that with at-home hair care?
Antonia: I love that aspect of the black experience. It’s why we created our website un-ruly.com. I see Yeluchi as a supplement to that experience. We have a limited service menu, and it’s that way for a reason. Some services–like dyeing one’s hair-are best done at a salon. But there are issues with the salon experience that we’re solving. People complain about having to wait even though they have an appointment. People hate getting a stylist that’s working on more than one person’s hair. People complain about salons not having a nice ambiance. All of those issues are resolved with at-home styling.
Abigail: In customer’s homes there's not that communal aspect, but even if you're in a shop, you're still only talking to your stylist. Unlike other similar services, we actually allow our clients to book the same stylist over and over and over again. That way customers are able to foster that relationship with the stylists. Their stylist is helping them on their hair journey. It's less of a transactional relationship. It's more like we're helping you to get to your goal in terms of what you want your hair to look like. We allow our clients to pick and choose what stylists they want to work with.
Can you speak to the personal connections clients make with stylists?
Abigail: We had one client that was a little bit timid to try us, and she tried us before her engagement photos. She loved her stylist. And then she trusted us enough to take care of her hair for her actual wedding six months later. She came directly to us for her wedding, her big day.
What do you think the beauty conglomerates are doing right when it comes to black hair care? How are black-owned businesses like this moving the conversation forward?
Antonia: Even though 2018 has just begun, it’s been a good year so far for the 'black dollar.’ Companies are starting to get how much buying power we have, thanks to movies like Black Panther and companies like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. Black people show up. We’re seeing more large beauty companies cater to the unique needs of black hair, which is great. Pantene Pro-V, for example has been doing this for a while, but they seem to be more committed to improving the effectiveness of their products.
Abigail: I think there's still a lot more that can be done. I think they should listen more to us, instead of just thinking in a boardroom of what could appeal to us, what could make us interested in their product. They should have more of an ear to the ground and actually talk to us and try to understand what it is that we need in our community. But I'm happy that black people are taking ownership and black people are trying to take a piece of the pie back for themselves. Because if you think about it, the black hair care industry is huge. It's like a billion dollar industry. However, black people don't have a stake in it. It’s owned by everyone else but we’re the ones bankrolling this industry.
What are your hopes to grow your business?
Abigail: Well, I want us to be in more markets for sure. I want us to really empower black women, black hair stylists. We we would love to have a majority of black investors. We really want to use it as a model to let people know what can be possible for a black-owned and black-operated brand.
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