British entrepreneurs, Katrina Emmanuel (31) and Tamara Plummer (28) are the brains behind the Mane Divas Brand. A hair company that is set to stop the myth that wearing a weave makes it impossible or hard for black women to have a healthy routine for their natural hair.
The two young women are not only partners; they have been best friends for almost 10 years. They are both mothers and each has a two-year-old child. Besides their new business, they both have a full-time job. Tamara is a Project Controller for a Military Communications company while Katrina work as a Litigation Costs Manager.
Speaking about their new business, Tamara said, “balancing a full-time job, with being a mother, and having a business of my own is challenging yet exciting, and the more successful Mane Divas get, the most exciting life is becoming. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Curious to know more about these young women and their mission, we took some time to have a chat with them. Below is the full interview with Katrina Emmanuel and some inputs from Tamara Plummer.
AC: You and your partner, Tamara, are the CEO/director of Mane Divas? Can you tell us about your relationship and how the both of decided you to work together as partners?
KATRINA: Tamara and I have been best friends for nearly 10 years. We tend to bounce off each other and although we both have strong personalities one of us will always back down if we think something is important to the other. We thought this was a great basis for a partnership as we would develop great ideas but also support and respect each other. We have a motto which we developed whilst shopping in New York many years ago; if you like it move on if you LOVE it then go with it! We don’t have much time and sometimes have to make quick decisions and this rationale has worked well so far for Mane Divas. We had in the past both moaned about the state of the UK hair industry but after my experience at a hair sale, where I spent a substantial amount of money on hair which turned out to be animal fibres mixed with synthetic elements, we decided to tackle this together. I had lots of good ideas and flair with numbers, probably from my previous job as a financial analyst. Tamara added invaluable expansion on these and her transferable skills from being a project manager also accelerated our journey. She also knows how to reign me back from going overboard which we thought was a perfect combination for a successful business.
ALSO SEE: Afro Hair Care In 12 European Cities.
TAMARA: Trina is my best friend and has been for nearly 10 years now. As our friendship developed, we became practically inseparable. There has not been a significant moment In each others lives that we haven’t shared in that time, and that even goes as far as the birth of our daughters that are only 3 months apart. To further cement the bond of our relationship we are Godmother to each other’s children. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t communicate for one thing or another. And although our opinions may not always be the same, it’s our differences that join us the way that they do. When the first seeds of Mane Divas were planted during random conversations that we would have, there was never a time that we thought it wasn’t going to be a partnership. It just seemed like the natural progression of our friendship.
AC: Is this your first business?
KATRINA: Yes this is my first business although I have recently opened my own Costs Consultancy company for which I have secured two contracts, one with a major boutique law firm.
AC: How did you come about the Mane Divas idea?
KATRINA: The idea came after attending a ‘mega hair sale’ in June 2012, departing excited with my ‘bargain’ purchase, but somewhat disheartened by the lack of regard for my custom by the staff, especially considering I had spent a few hundred pounds. My hair was shoved into a plastic bag with no handle, they didn’t take cards and I wasn’t even offered a receipt. I think I just expected a bit more from the experience, rather like buying an expensive pair of shoes (we do love our shoes!) the buzz was not there. Nevertheless, I installed my ‘virgin Brazilian’ but I quickly realised this was anything but. The hair had a strange smell, which I couldn’t put my finger on and it started to matt and shed profusely. Upon contacting the company I did not receive any aftercare and the extremely poor customer service upset me. Despite spending so much money on the hair I was not offered any assistance with my purchase now that it had an issue. A young man who didn’t seem interested in anything but the profits ran the company and this angered me.
From a young age, I have always thought it ‘normal’ that the Asian society monopolised the black hair shops and that any questions to what was good for my hair could only be found online. After discussing my experience with Tamara we decided to attempt to make a change in the hair industry. A few other factors helped, my local area of Essex lacked a representation of stores for the black women of today, the rise of women going natural but not embracing those that weren’t and the availability of key products like Black Castor oil , We decided a hair experience company was the best way forward. And so Mane Divas was born. We vowed to treat every customer with the individual respect and care that they deserve and how we would like to be treated. We put an excellent after sales care policy in place, to make sure our customers continued to feel valued. All of our events, policies and procedures are set with our customers in mind.
ALSO SEE: 10 Easy And Cute Hairstyles For Kids.
AC: How did you source the funds to finance Mane Divas?
KATRINA: The funds for Mane Divas were sourced from several different places. Initially, during our research phase, funding was from our own personal savings. Every month we would put together some money and buy a new product to test. This was a slow process, but the more products we secured, the more we knew it was worth it. The more we talked about our business venture to friends and family, the more interest it garnered and people wanted to support us. However, in January 2013 we attended a women’s’ business seminar where we were introduced to a start-up loans representative, we applied that week and were immediately accepted. Although Mane Divas would have still been born, this extra funding enabled us to speed things up and buy stock in bulk providing a better cash return.
AC: Which are your most significant products or services?
KATRINA: Our main ethos is the maintenance and care of your mane; weave, natural or relaxed. We found that women who wore their hair natural and even who relax their hair took great pride in their hair care regimen. Weave wearers were amongst the worse with more than a few admitting that they rarely treated their hair and once the flowing tracks were sewn in they forgot about their hair underneath. We, therefore, looked at the reasons behind this and found that there was 2 that stood out, one that people didn’t actually know they could wash, treat and moisturise their hair whilst in a weave and secondly they thought it was time-consuming and hard.
We, therefore, made an empty plastic applicator bottle, our key essential product. You can use this to get between the tracks to oil condition and treat your hair. We sell an array of natural oils, each with various benefits. We guide customers according to their individual needs to select a cocktail of oils that will best suit their hair care regime.
ALSO SEE: Winter Hair And Skin Care Tips.
We also are proud to be one of the 3 manufacturers of the celebrated Jamaican Black Castor Oil. When I wanted to buy this brand I had to search high and low which, given the demand, this product should be more widely available. In terms of our most significant service, I would definitely say the free hair care clinics that we hold every few months. It gives our customers the opportunity to test our products for them selves to feel the quality of the hair and to see the colour and texture for themselves, amongst our other products sold. It also gives them a chance to meet us and put real faces and people to the brand that we’re creating. We find that this additional personal touch is highly appreciated by our customers.
AC: What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
KATRINA: At our launch in Romford Essex we gave away goodies bags for the exchange of contact details that we have added to our contact list. We have a frequent newsletter that covers any special promotions and also any hair events. We feel by creating that personal contact with clients we will do well. We have also made valuable contacts that have led to sales via social media such as YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. In the last few events, both bloggers and customers came over to us recognising us from online. Apart from being a bit star struck, we mainly felt honoured to be recognised for all our hard work in the past year.
AC: One element of your brand is the Mane Divas Hair Clinics. What is it all about? Can you tell us more about it?
KATRINA: The hair clinics serve 3 main purposes; they give our customers the chance to not only meet each other but to meet us as well. We encourage our customers to share any tips and tricks for hair care with each other, whether that be using products that we stock, or even other brands. We, at Mane Divas, pride ourselves on this being a learning company, and we are eager to encompass any other brands on our journey of growth if we know it’s something that will benefit our customers and satisfy their needs.
The second purpose is to feel the quality and the texture of the hair extensions that we stock. We understand that hair is an investment. Once bought, it’s something that can last for months and even a year at a time. So it’s imperative that they are happy with what they are getting.
The third and equally important purpose is to listen and learn from the guest speakers that we have at each session, covering a number of topics. Being a company that covers the needs of natural hair care as well as extensions, these clinics are a chance to educate each customer on the opposite hair choices and their own. We have attended a few hair seminars and as occasional weave wearers, we both felt outnumbered and in a way unwelcomed due to our hairstyle choice. At Mane Divas we welcome all!
AC: Your first Mane Divas hair clinic was hosted on 5th May 2013 in Woodford. How was the turnout and client participation?
KATRINA: I would say that our first clinic was deemed a success. Being our introduction to the world. Trina and I both gave a talk, and we also had Flora as a guest speaker on her natural hair journey. The attendance level was not as high as we would have hoped, but that is something that we will be working on for the future. We understand that our customer’s time is precious and until the Mane Divas brand is established we will need to heavily promote the benefits and gains for their attendance. We predict that the attendance levels will grow and grow as we continue on our journey.
AC: At the moment, you are donating 3% of your profits to the National Sickle Cell Society. Tell us why Mane Divas chose to support this NGO.
KATRINA: Well, Sickle Cell is a prominent condition amongst the afro-Caribbean community that affects around a quarter of a million people in England alone, and it is also a condition that has affected the loved ones of both Tam and myself. I know that having personally witnessed my own little sister suffer from the disorder has been extremely difficult for me. I have watched her grow up with Sickle Cell and have seen first-hand the tremendous challenges that she has faced as she has learnt to deal with this lifelong disorder. It has been hard on my entire family, but she has come a long way to overcome every obstacle so far and we are all extremely proud.
ALSO SEE: “The Afro Hair Industry Really Holds Its Clients At Ransom” Leillah Sekalala.
Like me, Tam has also been witnessing the devastating effects of Sickle Cell from a young age. Her cousin Tyler has it, and growing up they were more like siblings than cousins, especially during the 6 weeks school holidays. Tamara was very aware that Tyler was sometimes limited in the activities that he could do down to the illness. Now that she has grown up and accepted Sickle Cell as a part of Tyler’s life, she is now in a relationship with a sufferer. Thankfully his crises are very few and far between, however when he does get them they are painful for not only him but for Tamara to watch as well. One of the worst things for a non-sickle person is the helplessness that you feel when a loved one is in so much pain and there’s absolutely nothing you can do for them to relieve it except be there for them.
But we aren’t alone; there are hundred more people throughout the UK who, no doubt, have gone through a similar experience. It is for this reason that we feel it is so important to help support the Sickle Cell Society in the work they do to raise awareness and recognition of Sickle Cell. Although the condition has much greater social and medical recognition now than it did 50 years ago, it still has a long way to go, and donating a percentage of our profits towards helping raise funds for research, education and welfare is just one of the things Mane Divas can do to help.
We feel that it is a part of our social responsibility to not only help to raise awareness but to also promote the great work that the charity carries out on a national level. If even one out of 10 of our customers donates money or improves their awareness, then we will feel that it’s a job well done by us.
AC: According to you, your research found 80% of women wearing weave do so with natural hair underneath. You also said they do not maintain their natural hair. How do you intend to change this trend and make them care about their natural hair?
KATRINA: We aim to abolish the misconception that wearing a weave makes it impossible or hard for you to have a healthy hair regimen. We will do this by educating and enlisting women with the tools to do so. We will also try to attempt to join the two worlds together, as Natural Belle a blogger commented ‘sisterhood is not texture specific’. We feel by women just talking to each other they will both learn and enjoy the journey to healthy hair. Weave extensions are nothing more than a protective style and no one should be judged just because of their chosen style.
AC: What’s the toughest feedback you’ve ever received and how did you learn from it?
KATRINA: I’d say that the toughest feedback we’ve ever received was from women with opposite hairstyle choices from us. When we first started Mane Divas Trina and I both had weaves as our chosen protective style. Women who had chosen the all natural route for their hair style would often disregard us and our company as “just another weave company”. It was very difficult to get across our point about universal hair care needs no matter what the style.
ALSO SEE: 10 Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil.
We found this very difficult to overcome, in fact at times we still do. However, we have found that the best way to do this is by continuously talking and explaining our belief system and why we think what we do is important. People that take the time to talk to us, soon realise that what we are saying is the truth, and will then listen to everything that we have to offer.
Since the creation of the company I have recently undergone the “big chop” so my hair is now less than half an inch long and 100% natural. So now Mane Divas represent everything that we are selling, natural and weave.
AC: What is the toughest decision you had made in the last few months?
KATRINA: The toughest decisions that we’ve had to make, I’d say would be based around finding reliable suppliers. There are several companies out there stocking products that they claim to be “real” or “genuine” or “authentic” and then when put to the test are actually not. It’s the case with products as well as extensions. Thankfully with all of the research that Trina and I have carried out we are quite proficient at telling the real from the fakes, but it is still a tough process that takes time and often money.
AC: Which are some of your memorable hair experiences and how did they influence the decision and journey to set up Mane Divas?
KATRINA: I really would say the experience of the “hair sale” that I mentioned in earlier was the critical turning point in the creation of Mane Divas. Without that one experience there’s a high possibility that Trina and I would still be talking about all the things that were wrong with the hair industry and not doing anything about it.
AC: What were you doing the last time you looked at your clock and thought the time went too fast?
KATRINA: Today! I have 6 pieces of coursework to complete, documents to be filed at court and a two year-old screaming she wants to watch Peppa Pig. Planning and the help from my supportive family is what get me through the day. That’s exactly how we get by, taking one day at a time.
AC: What is a typical working day for KATRINA and TAMARA?
KATRINA: I wake up at 6.30am if working in the office, drop my daughter to nursery and continue my two hour commute into the heart of the west end. I then leave the office at 4.30pm, collect my daughter then head home. I then cook dinner, feed then bath my daughter. At 7.30pm when my daughter is in bed I sit down and review any orders and queries from Mane Divas and package up any deliveries for the next day. Tamara and myself communicate continuously throughout the day also.
TAMARA: A typical working day for Tamara would be waking up and getting Ava ready for nursery, dropping her off on my way to work. Working for 8-10 hours a day on my day job, whilst communicating with Trina about any ideas that we may have had since the night before or any developments. Once my workday is over, I then have to pick Ava up from nursery and get her home to have dinner and a short playtime before bed. Whilst doing that I will be checking all of the Diva emails to see what needs action or filing etc. and then discuss it all with Trina as by that time she would have read them all as well. Some evenings will require meetings, so I will organise my parents to collect Ava and I will head to our office with Trina to either restock products or to discuss urgent matters that need resolving. No two days are the same in my life at the moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
AC: What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs looking forward to set up their first business?
KATRINA: The three key pieces of advice that I would give to any entrepreneur is very simple; know your product and your audience. There’s no point in having a great idea that’s only great to you. Your customers need to buy into your vision, and once they relate to the product they will then make every effort to fit it into their lives.
The second piece of advice is networking. Get out there to meet people. They may not have a direct link to your business but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit you in some way. Even if it’s just as simple as providing you with practise in talking to people and pitching your products. You never know when talking to a seemingly unrelated person could put you in touch with the most valuable connection.
And thirdly, I’d say that advertising is absolutely imperative. How will anyone know that they need your product if they don’t even know what you sell? There are so many free forms of advertising in this technology generation, so there is no excuse for not promoting and pushing your products to the highest degree.
AC: Where do you see Mane Divas in the next five years?
KATRINA: The long-term plan is to expand the line to men’s and kids products and establish the brand. We want women to see our black and pink ladies and automatically think “DIVA”. Then in a few years we would like to open a store in Essex stocking all Diva products, and hosting regional hair clinics. In terms of products, we hope to have extended our range dramatically and customers will be able to receive personalised advice and purchase the products all under the same roof. Mane Divas have a lot of plans for the future and we’re very excited to see it all come to fruition.