Former legal professional Kemi Lewis stepped into the unknown with a belief in herself and her vision. She tells FORBES AFRICA about her journey to becoming a beauty entrepreneur.
It’s been around a decade since Kemi Lewis traded a thriving career in law to live out her childhood dream of making natural hair a norm for Lagosians, and she has never looked back. The success of her business, and the strength of her determination, has seen her go from two members of staff to 30 in three locations.
As she speaks from her first location in Dolphin Estate in the wealthy suburb of Ikoyi in Lagos, Lewis is still amazed at how far her dream has come. Growing up as the first and only girl out of four children, Lewis felt she had a responsibility to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was a judge at the time.
“Law was intense in terms of the sheer amount of stuff you needed to learn to understand the cases. I did not absolutely love all aspects of the law but being the first-born child and a girl, you just get on with it and I thought I was going to give it my best. So, I studied it at the University of Lagos and went to law school in Abuja, and then got a Masters in International Business at the University of Dundee (in the United Kingdom),” says Lewis.
She was determined to take her legal career as far as she could but after securing a role with a public-private partnership company in Lagos as a legal advisor, she began to have second thoughts about her future.
“Back in 2013, I had a glowing feeling in my heart and I knew that I wanted to do something for myself. My heart kept saying something in the beauty and health sector but I was not sure what I wanted to do. A good friend of mine had opened a salon so I asked her for advice.”
“We had gone to college together so I’ve known her since I was 10 years old and she said to me, ‘you have always known how to do hair and right now, I’ve opened a salon and a lot of girls want to go with their natural hair’, so she said if you open a salon specializing in natural hair, it will do well. And it ignited something in me and the feeling in me was this is it, this is what I want to do,” says Lewis.
Her initial vision was to create a safe space where people who had natural hair would come and take care of their tresses. And this is how KLS Natural Beauty Bar was born.
“I wanted to create a space where when you come with your natural hair, you would be welcomed and your hair would be treated with the necessary care and respect, and you won’t be told to go and relax your hair. You would have the right products for your hair and, most importantly, you will have your hair styled according to your specific needs,” she says.
Until her eureka moment, natural hair in Nigeria was a hugely underserved demographic in the beauty industry which meant that Lewis had to overcome several obstacles to ensure her success.
“The initial reaction when I told immediate family was shock, horror and dismay. The question was, ‘what are you going to do with your law degree?’ Hair dressing was seen as a derogatory profession and for people who did not go to school. So, it did not have the prestige that my legal degree had and a lot of people thought I was making the wrong decision.”
The next challenge was getting the right space and, most importantly, convincing her stylists about her vision of working with natural hair. This is also why education and training is a big focus for her.
Lewis believed so much in her vision that she liquidated her life insurance policy and scraped together enough money to make her dream the success it is today. Ten years on and her lesson for entrepreneurs is rooted in what she learned in the early days of her business.
“Even if there are no laid-down steps to follow, if you want to do something, you just need to create your own steps and create your own market. Secondly, not everybody will believe in you and even if they don’t, as long as you have conviction in what you want to do and you believe in yourself, just give it 150%,” says Lewis.