A few years ago Ngozi Opara was so sure that a natural hair wave was going to hit the U.S., that she opened up a new business in anticipation. Already the owner of NZO Hair Studio in Washington, D.C., she went on to found Heat Free Movement and Heat Free Hair in 2013. And she left her job as a financial analyst to get ready for the hair trend. She even lived in a factory in China in order to learn how hair extensions were manufactured. Heat Free Hair is a protective style initiative offering 100 percent virgin hair exclusively for natural looks.
Opara talked hair and more with TNJ.com
TNJ.com: What prompted you to start the company?
Ngozi Opara: I own a hair studio in Washington, DC, and the most popular style women would request was a weave. One of the reasons our studio was sought after was because of our healthy hair philosophy and approach to styling. But when I noticed that women who wore weaves experienced tremendous hair growth on the sections of hair that were protected but experienced breakage on their “leave-out” because they had to continue to apply heat to their hair in order for it to blend in with the weave, I felt like a hypocrite.
I immediately started thinking that there had to be some type of way for women to wear the protective style of choice, while also protecting all of their hair at the same time. Thus, the initial idea for Heat Free Hair was born.
TNJ.com: How did you fund the startup?
N.O: When I first got the idea to launch this business, I was working full-time in the finance sector in D.C. and I also ran a full-service hair studio. Once I knew that Heat Free Hair was what I wanted to do, I saved all of my checks from my finance job for a year and lived completely off of the money that I made from doing hair. I used the savings to launch the business.
TNJ.com: The natural hair trend is heating up, had you expected this trend?
N.O: Absolutely. As a cosmetologist and as a woman who has gone natural several times (I’ve been natural now for the last 11 years), I had direct access to women who had already transitioned or were thinking about transitioning. As the number of women inquiring about natural hair in my studio increased, I was also noticing a growing natural hair community online, so I am not in the least bit surprised to see how much the community has grown.
TNJ.com: There is a lot of competition in the hair industry, how do stand out from the crowd?
N.O: Heat Free Hair was the first company to create 100 percent virgin hair extensions and products that match a woman’s naturally curly or textured hair. Quality in product, operations and brand image have been very important in helping us stand apart from other brands in this space. Those are the areas where you will not find us compromising on excellence.
TNJ.com: Have you seen an increase in Black-owned business in the hair care industry?
N.O: I have and it’s been really amazing to watch! For years, we were inundated with stories and statistics about this billion dollar industry that we had no ownership in and I feel like over the last two decades or so, starting in the Lisa Price/Carol’s Daughter era, Black women have been creating their own products and brands and reclaiming their place at the ownership table. I’m happy to be a part of that movement.
TNJ.com: What are your goals for this year?
N.O: My goals for this year have been to continue to grow the business and create a really strong core operations and management team. We introduced The Blowout Collection, a new product line this year and took our pop-up shop concept to Los Angeles which was really successful for us and gave us an opportunity to interact with that market and get an idea of what it would be like if we were to open a retail storefront there.
TNJ.com: What are your longterm goals?
N.O: Continued but steady growth. New products and ultimately I’d love to see Heat Free Hair retail/salon locations in the U.S. and globally.
TNJ.com: What has been your biggest business lesson?
N.O: I have a few but I think the three most important business lessons for me have been to trust in your vision, don’t ignore your gut instinct and to always use your faith/spirituality as a foundation and springboard because there will inevitably be some difficult moments in your entrepreneurial journey.
TNJ.com: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
N.O: There are so many things that I enjoy about running Heat Free Hair, but I would have to say talking with our customers is number one. Hearing stories about how our products have made a woman feel better about herself after undergoing chemotherapy or how it gave another the confidence to embrace her own natural hair texture inspires me more than they will ever know!
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