In the bustling neighbourhood of Jamaica, Queens, New York, lies Havilah Beauty Supply. For over a decade, this unassuming store has stood as a symbol of resilience, community, and empowerment, defying industry norms and serving as a beacon of hope for its patrons. At its helm is the remarkable founder, Ms Queensly Aji, whose inspiring journey from Nigeria to New York birthed the brand that has now become a cherished community treasure.
A journey from Nigeria to New York
Born and raised in Edo State, Nigeria, Ms Aji, at 28, embarked on a journey overseas with her younger brother, seeking better opportunities and a brighter future. Their pursuit of the American dream led them to Europe, where they faced numerous challenges and took on various jobs to make ends meet. From cleaning toilets to selling meat pies and puff-puffs, they navigated the arduous path of starting anew. ‘We were hopeful for a better future, and we believed that overseas was the land of milk and honey, especially America.’
Ms Aji’s life took an unexpected turn when she landed a job as a waitress at a Nigerian restaurant in Germany. There, she met her future husband, Tunde, who lived in Brooklyn, New York and their love blossomed despite the distance. It eventually led to an engagement and the birth of their first child, Princess. Determined to provide a better life for their growing family, Queensly & Tunde set their sights on New York, where they believed their family could have the opportunities they dreamed of.
‘Getting a visa wasn’t easy,’ Ms. Aji recalled. Princess was born in Canada, and with her husband’s assistance, they made the challenging journey to join him in New York as love, hope, and determination guided their way.
Triumph over challenges and promoting inclusivity
One of the biggest challenges I faced was that the industry is mostly run by the Asian community, and some were not welcoming to Black people trying to enter the industry.
Ms Aji’s indomitable spirit and commitment to providing for her children’s education and confronting her late husband’s financial obligations led her to the world of entrepreneurship. Despite the obstacles from the dominance of Korean wholesalers in the beauty supply presented, Queensly Aji fearlessly forged her path. She founded Havilah Beauty Supply, one of the first successful black-owned beauty supply stores in Queens, New York, making her mark in a fiercely competitive industry.
Running her beauty shop came with significant challenges because the industry sometimes only welcomed newcomers. ‘One of the biggest challenges I faced was that the industry is mostly run by the Asian community, and some were not welcoming to Black people trying to enter the industry. They were very protective of their turf, and it wasn’t easy to get vendors to sell to me or avoid price surges.’ The emergence of big corporate stores selling beauty products at lower prices posed additional challenges, but Queensly Aji found a way by offering unique products from all over the world. Her customers appreciated the authenticity of her products, authentic African oils, Shea Butter, creams, and more, brought to them.
Globally, the beauty industry often lacks representation of Black-owned brands despite significant Black consumer power. Queensly Aji shares her top tips for a newcomer in an unfamiliar market, “Stay informed, be adaptable, and always watch industry trends”. She also preaches the power of collaboration and inclusivity in the industry as a whole.
“Inclusivity is key. We need funding, we need our business ideas heard, and we need support.”
Her profound entrepreneurial skills inspired her children to be a part of business, working alongside her since they were teenagers. It took a set schedule and her sister properly caring for her children and the shop. ‘I’m all about spending time with my kids… All four bring me immense joy: Princess, William, Israel, and Elizabeth. And Saturdays are our big family day since everyone’s off work. We like to do all sorts of things together, like going out to eat, seeing a movie, or hitting the mall. Saturdays are sacred to us.’
Building a community and corporate social responsibility
The shop itself, Havilah Beauty Supply, is more than a store; it’s a vital community asset.
Havilah Beauty Supply has become a welcoming space for customers to shop with comfort and camaraderie. Beyond the shelves of beauty products, the store resonates with the spirit of unity and belonging.
‘Our regulars have become more than just customers; they’re our friends, and we make sure they have a great shopping experience.’
Beyond exceptional customer service, Havilah Beauty Supply religiously carries out its corporate social responsibility. During Christmas, the store spreads joy by offering cups of hot chocolate and playing festive tunes. Quensly’s daughter, Princess, has also initiated the ‘One Girl At A Time’ campaign, empowering women through workshops, events, and school tours based on the performing arts. The store actively supports these endeavours and provides beauty goodie bags to needy people.
Embracing the Nigerian heritage at Havilah Beauty Supply
While Havilah Beauty Supply caters to a diverse community, Ms. Aji stays connected to her Nigerian roots. She begins each day with prayer, a deeply ingrained cultural practice. ‘Let me tell you, there’s nothing like some good Najia gospel music to get the energy up in the store!’
The store also proudly sells imported Nigerian items, supporting entrepreneurs from her homeland by offering their products on her shelves. ‘I’m always looking for Nigerian beauty entrepreneurs trying to get their products on shelves. I mean, why not help each other out, right?’
Authentic Nigerian beauty products, including Geles, scarves, and headwraps, are top sellers, reflecting the enduring appeal of these cultural items.
Queensly Aji shares her vision for the future
Her journey from Nigeria to New York, unwavering determination, and commitment to her community exemplify the power of entrepreneurship and cultural diversity. Ms. Aji has ambitious plans for her future projections. She envisions her story on the big screen with a feature film highlighting her journey and showcasing Jamaica, Queens’s rich culture and unity.
‘Stories like ours bring hope, and I have seen how powerful television and film are. We want to use our story to shed light on the struggles of having a black-owned beauty supply in an Asian-dominated industry.’
Additionally, she is exploring opportunities at the intersection of beauty and wellness, focusing on health, fitness, and nutrition. She aims to promote wellness practices rooted in Nigerian culture while supporting inclusivity and opportunities for black-owned businesses. Queensly Aji’s story is far from over; it continues to be an empowering source to guide others on their entrepreneurial sojourn.