If I had a dollar for every time someone said they were moving overseas, I would be at the top of the FORBES list of 40 Richest Africans. If I had to give a dollar back for every time they returned, I probably wouldn’t lose much. This is a story of a girl, who after making her dreams come true in the United States (US), came back to Africa and brought her hair business with her.
Nyasha Zimucha walks into the room dressed in a blue dress, cream jacket and sky-high heels. Her accent could easily fool you into thinking that she is American, but as she talks of her Zimbabwean roots and South African upbringing it becomes clear that even accents can be deceiving.
Zimucha was 13 when her family moved to Kansas, in the US. It was here where her interest in hair began. Every weekend, Zimucha and a friend would go to their local neighborhood to buy extensions and experiment with different styles. Later, it was her work that drew her closer.
“I started out in the entertainment industry as a dancer. I danced my whole life, from the time I was six until my twenties… I was an NFL cheerleader for the Patriots and so I had a lot of experience with wearing makeup and changing my hair for competitions and shows.”
After graduation, Zimucha moved to New York City with the Frank Sinatra song ringing in her ears. Referring to the Big Apple, Sinatra sings ‘If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere’.
“Fashion week was a turning point for me… I realized how hair influences fashion. Hair is the tiara of everyone’s fashion ensemble, whether you like it or not, your hair is your crown.”
With her laptop, the internet and only herself on the employee payroll, Zimucha started her business, Embrace Your Hair.
“The idea wasn’t about me wanting to get fake hair on women. It is a big misconception that hair is fake… the way I see it, hair is a fashion accessory,” she says.
She sourced the hair from a factory in India and started selling to a few people online. The business began to grow but she wanted more.
“I knocked on the door of every major fashion house in New York City and about 60% of them said ‘no’.”
Through a few connections, Zimucha got the opportunity to supply hair for celebrity designer, Zang Toi. The show was a success and suddenly Zimucha had celebrities such as rapper, Eve, calling for her hair.
“We went from having a small cubicle in Tribeca to a full size office on Seventh Avenue,” she says.
Business was booming and Zimucha was supplying hair to 30 stores across the US, but she wanted her business to make a difference in people’s lives. After both her aunt and friend’s mom beat breast cancer, she realized that hair was important. This was the inspiration for her charity, My Hair is Your Hair. A portion of the sales from Embrace Your Hair goes to My Hair is Your Hair, which donates wigs to those who have suffered from breast cancer.
“It wasn’t about making them cover their hair loss because they should be ashamed. It was about saying, ‘you’ve struggled enough, you’re going through the chemo, which can be physically painful on your body, and now I want to give you something to make you feel good about yourself. You don’t have to be ashamed; I want you to feel good.’”
Then came the move to South Africa.
“I wasn’t sure how strong the buying economy was and I wasn’t sure if hair was even big there… after doing a lot of research, I found there was definitely a market. I just needed to make sure that it would be financially lucrative and something that would make an impact nationally, instead of just launching a little store and hoping for the best.”
In 2012, Zimucha partnered with retailer, The Foschini Group, in an attempt to take advantage of their network across the continent.
“People still have misconceptions about hair and there is still a little bit of growing to do in terms of seeing that the black consumer and the white consumer can go to the same place and get the same thing.”
Besides the hair business, Zimucha has her hand in reality shows and music. So, how does the 27 year old manage to keep her head above water?
“Planning, preparation and performance are the three ‘P’s’ I live by. It is one thing to say something but to actually do it, implement it and go through with it is another thing.”
As for the notion of people leaving Africa for greener pastures overseas, Zimucha is proud to consider herself a global citizen.
“I believe that traveling is what makes you grow as an entrepreneur. If you think you are going to succeed without traveling, even within your community, you’re wrong. I think, as a world, part of the reason we are the way we are is because we all migrate all the time. If we didn’t, how would an American know what Chinese food was like?”
It could be the next trend: Africans leaving the so-called greener pastures to come back to the continent. If that is the case, a bet on them returning could put you on the top of FORBES’ rich list.