Ziada Abeid is my co-host in our new podcast, Change Making Women which launches this week. In our first episode I asked her to tell me about Kipilipili, a project she has established over the past year in partnership with her good friend, Basia Wellu.
As she describes in the podcast the project began with the mutual desire of two friends to source products to look after their hair naturally. Initially they wanted to organise an event promoting natural hair care for women in Tanzania. But they struggled to get the event off the ground because of a lack of local awareness about the whole concept of natural hair and so they decided instead to build awareness first through online channels.
I was fairly ignorant myself at first, but Ziada explained that most girls in Tanzania are taken to saloons to have their hair relaxed and straightened chemically when they are quite young because their natural hair, known as Kipilipili, is thought to be difficult to care for and control.
To support their desire to raise awareness and challenge commonly held beliefs Ziada and Basia named their business after the colloquial term for ‘natural’ hair to try and challenge the stereotype that curly afro hair is unkempt and difficult to manage.
Ziada’s digital marketing experience and Basia’s flare for design stood them in good stead as the pair began promoting the idea of natural hair via images and videos shared via Facebook and Instagram online. In the past year the project has grown organically with women coming to them to get advice about how to care for their hair naturally and to buy products that will look after it.
Ziada describes their business development as data driven, meaning that, they have grown it by really listening to women and asking them what they want and need. They have then designed awareness campaigns driven by photo shoots in which they both feature, promoting the natural beauty of naturally cared for hair, and featuring local Tanzanian fashions and accessories.
The project has become more than just a hair care business and is now about promoting not only the fact that natural hair is beautiful, but also the message that women don’t need to change their looks or aspire to narrow versions of what is beautiful.
In the podcast Ziada and I talk about the fact that the ideal of straight relaxed hair almost certainly began in colonial times when the ideal of beauty was a European one. But persists today with very few role models for women wearing their hair naturally afro.
There were a few important take-aways for me from this, our first broadcast:
- First the universality of the need to remind women that they are naturally beautiful just the way they are – and, conversely the global internalisation by women of the idea that the way they and their bodies are naturally, is not ok and need remedying
- Second the way in which a business that started with a simple idea to source products can adopt a social mission as it grows.
- And finally the organic way in which old friends have developed a business together from a shared interest by really listening to their customers and creating a structure for this project as it has grown.