Oluwakemi Alli is intentional about women’s hair and the beautification process

Hair is special in a woman’s life, reflecting her personality, culture, and individuality. For hairdressers, it’s not just about cutting and styling; it’s about understanding women’s unique connection with their hair and helping them feel confident and beautiful.

In this week’s #MCNWorkLife, we meet Oluwakemi Alli, a hairstylist who believes a woman’s hair is her beauty and that her sole destiny on earth is to beautify women’s hair. From the obsession of a little girl to the unwavering decision of a teenager and the determination of a woman, Oluwakemi has displayed dedication to the craft of hair styling.

Alli styling a customer’s hair via Oyindamola Adebiyi

How would you describe yourself?

I am easygoing and cheerful, but I can be very stubborn, especially when making decisions about my business.

What was your childhood dream job, and how did it translate to your current work?

I have always wanted to be a hairstylist. I always liked seeing hairdressers make hair; sometimes, I skipped school to watch them at the salons. When I was fifteen, I told my parents I did not want to attend university; the mere thought was unbelievable, and my father was angry. I didn’t just want to go to school; I also wanted to become a hairdresser, which to him meant I wanted to be a sex worker because, according to him, only sex workers cared so much about looks and being fashionable, so he decided to make me suffer.

He took me to a boutique and told the owner to teach me how to make and sell clothes. I was there for a few weeks, and when they saw how miserable I was, my parents took me for prayers to try and deliver me from my unseriousness. Still, after the prayers, the spiritualist told them my destiny was tied to hair making and that it was heaven’s design for my life.

I was withdrawn from the boutique, so I applied for an apprenticeship at a salon. It wasn’t easy at first, as I had to pay for my training myself simply because my father didn’t like the “sex worker’s job.” However, I was stubborn and didn’t let his objections stop me. I was there for 19 months, then I had my freedom, and that’s when my parents finally became proud of me. So, I started making hair for people and have grown my business over the years.

That’s truly inspiring! How did you go from being just a girl who loved hair to making an entire business out of it?

I had a tiny beginning; I would do word-of-mouth advertisements on the streets and do women’s hair for free to get referrals, and I did. Mastering the craft was essential, and it made my work speak for me. I was also charming, which attracted a lot of people. People don’t know that I became jovial because of my job. I was very reserved, but I am different now because my line of work thrives on making women feel comfortable and good about themselves, and when they feel comfortable with me, they keep coming back. My customers grew, and my business grew, too. I became famous among women and the hairdresser’s union.

You mentioned being popular in the hairdresser’s union. What’s the union about, and what are the perks of being a part of the union?

It’s a union for hair stylists. Their representatives came to my salon and said a few words to me—their slogan—and I didn’t know how to respond. My inability to respond let them know I wasn’t a part of them yet. They introduced themselves and told me about the benefits of joining the union, so I did.

The hair industry constantly evolves, and new styles are invented daily. I learned those new techniques, styles, and much more at the union, and they also support hairdressers when they want to do graduation ceremonies for their apprentices. It’s perfect to be a part of a community that shares your experiences and challenges.

Cornrow braiding by Alli via Oyindamola Adebiyi

What kind of challenges did you encounter as you grow your business?

Imagine growing your business so much and investing everything into it, but then you lose it all and have to start all over; that happened when I married. Don’t get me wrong, marriage is good, but I lost a lot when I got married because I had to move, and you can’t exactly retain your customers or move them with you. When I moved, I started all over again with the oral advertisements. I remember greeting everyone I saw on the street just to tell them about my skills, and over time, my business grew again.

The economy is very unstable, too. As the prices of goods inflated, businesses suffered, too. My salon carries fewer products than it used to, and service prices have increased, too. This results in more women opting to cut their hair and maintain a low cut, which could be better for business. But I am grateful for the customers who come to me.

Speaking of apprenticeships, why did you decide to share your knowledge?

I love making hair. Seeing people make good hair makes me happy, so training other women to make beautiful hair is another way to express my love for hair. I have trained over 20 women and counting in my current location, and they continue to do well.

Alli is in the process of relaxing hair with an apprentice via Oyindamola Adebiyi

How has the current inflation in Nigeria affected your business?

Inflation has killed businesses. Before, my salons were normally filled with hair products for sale and use. I could easily spend a few thousand to stock my salon, and it would be filled, but now, you wouldn’t even notice if I spent hundreds of thousands; you wouldn’t even notice. I used to buy both human and synthetic hairs to sell and use at work, but now I don’t even bother to ask for the price of the human hair. Even the synthetic extensions that sold for N2,500 and N3,300 before now sell for N5,700 and N7,000, and to make full hair, we would have to use 2 or 3 for a style. That’s spending close to N15,000 just to buy extensions. Who will buy them now?

When women come to get their hair done, they complain of the hike in price, even for the hair service itself, but there’s nothing I can do. I could make full-length braids for N3,000 early last year, but now I charge N5,000 for neck-length braids. I even had to tell customers to come with their hair creams because the small hair cream I used to get for N800 now sells for N3,000. My cost of living has also increased, so my service costs must also rise.

I don’t think the inflation will end anytime soon. We hoped it would last year, but it only got worse. We can only brace ourselves for the future and hope that the government will look into reducing inflation.

What are the challenges of being a hairstylist?

I get body pains from making hair, and sometimes I get exhausted and have to take a day off, but my apprentices are available to work. I am a wife, a mom, and a hairstylist; everything is demanding, and it gets overwhelming to manage everything. There is that expectation to be good at everything, so it affects others when I get frustrated with one aspect.

I also offer home services, which sometimes take me to different locations. The financial cost and physical costs of my body often stress me, but my passion for hair drives me.

A customer of Alli with newly permed hair via Oyindamola Adebiyi

How do you find work-life balance?

Honestly, I don’t know. I take it a day at a time and try to be. I also have a very understanding husband who understands the work I do. He knows that sometimes I work late, especially during festivities, so he helps in the house. On other days when business is slow, I’m home early and get to spend time with my family and rest.

Looking back and reminiscing on your choices, do you have any regrets, especially regarding school?

Absolutely none! This is my life. I live and breathe hair, and I will continue to do so. I also make a lot of money, and that keeps me happy.


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