Mrs Melford Marah is a third year law student and hair entrepreneur. Her company I-GRO Hair Recipe is the Sierra Leone’s fastest growing natural hair brand. We caught up with her earlier this year to hear about her startup trials and triumphs.
Here is Melford in her own words from the current issue of GoWoman Mag
“Two years ago, I had to cut my hair in what people refer to as the ‘big chop’. My hair was really damaged from heat processing and relaxers. So I had to cut off all my hair. When I did, I struggled to find the right products for my hair. At that time, the natural hair community was not too big in Sierra Leone, so I had to do a lot of research. I turned to the Internet, YouTube specifically. I did extensive research I came about the fact that Shea butter is very good for natural hair, as well as various essential oils, like coconut and avocado oil. I actually went in search of them, but they weren’t here. The ones I saw online weren’t available here, so I was trying to get it locally. That’s when I found out that we produce Coconut Oil in Sierra Leone as well as Olive oil. I got them and that’s when I started doing my mixtures. The recipe for my hair worked really well. I saw a lot of growth and volume added to my hair. Seeing my progress friends started to ask that I produce the mixture for them, and when they got good results, they came back. So that’s how I-GRO started. So I got a little startup capital, I made 5 tubs of the mixture, promoted it on my product on my Facebook page, and more people became interested and soon I was in steady production. I-GRO works well with all kinds of hair; relaxed, natural, or transitioning.
I often get asked what exactly goes into the I-GRO mixture but the specific combination is a trade secret. What my customers should know however is that I-GRO has Shea Butter what we call Ori or Ma Doni and other essential oils that support hair growth and volume.
The I-GRO Hair Recipe comes in one size and retails at fine hair stores nationally.
In the near future I hope I can have I-GRO retailing in countries across Africa and in Europe. I want to grow to a point where I can manufacture I-GRO from my own factory and export it out of Sierra Leone. For now however, I’ve started small.
I have already overcome some challenges that made it difficult to sell initially. When it all started, many people didn’t want to buy I-GRO and those who did had many questions. “How can it be effective if it’s made in Sierra Leone?” “Are you sure this won’t negatively affect my hair?’ I actually learnt a lot about customer service and patience in those early days. And now that I have many customers and the product speaks for itself, I don’t have to answer as many questions. My current customers become brand ambassadors and with word of mouth I get new customers. The other challenge was with the retailers, when I started marketing my product they didn’t really believe in it. One guy on Howe Street said that my packaging was not the best, and he was right. But little by little it’s gotten better, because now he called again to say he wants to stock it.
There are also those who have been surprised and wondered why a Law student was starting a hair business. The truth is that hair is my passion. I read a lot of books on business, on success and many people that are successful in their businesses have passion and love what they do. So based on that, the love you have for it, you keep on moving.
Balancing the business has its challenges but it’s all about time management. As a second year Law student I study at night. I don’t produce I-GRO every day. I increase supply as demand changes.
So far the highlight of making I-GRO has been having satisfied customers come back to say how well the product has worked for them. They send me photos of their hair growth and they leave me in awe. I even have customers who suffer from alopecia and in 2-3 weeks, they call happy and satisfied that my product has worked. It gives me the kind of joy that money can’t buy.
To those who are curious about I-GRO I’ll ask them to check out our Facebook page and see the client testimonials. For those who doubt that a product made in Sierra Leone can bring them hair growth I say give us a try. Today I’m selling I-GRO at shops, but also on Whatsapp. I use mobile money to accept the payments and then I tell them to collect their I-GRO from one of our retailers. There is a widely held myth that black African hair doesn’t or can’t grow but I totally disagree. Our hair can, and does grow, and I-GRO is helping make that possible not just for myself but also for our customers.