Once upon a time, a Ugandan (or rather black) woman’s only option for wigs were silky straight weaves that mimicked European and “Brazilian” hair. But as the booming natural hair movement like Kinks and Kurls Expo sees more Ugandan women trading in chemical relaxers in favor of their own hair texture, kinky and coily hair extensions have exploded onto the market. We talked to one of the people promoting natural hair in Uganda.
How the movement started
“It started out as a general discussion amongst our peers about 3 years ago, on how to care for our natural hair. It evolved into making small batch skin and hair products that were not readily available to us in that community then.” Charlene Noble, one of the Co-Founders of the Kaweke Movement, explains.
When they came back to Uganda, they wanted to continue with the conversation, and thought to bring awareness to it using apparel/accessories that Ugandans could relate to.
Choosing the name ‘Kaweke’
‘Kaweke’ generally has a negative connotation to it, implying that people with kaweke have ‘bad hair’.
“What we want to do is take back that word and use it in a positive light, so choosing it as a headline for our accessories was a no-brainer for us. Plus, it has a rhythmic sound to it. As creatives, it speaks to us and that led to the birth of Kaweke Movement.” She says.
In short, “Kaweke movement” is a drive for people (especially girls and women, since the topic of hair is most sensitive to us) to embrace their natural hair in all its forms, shapes and colors.
Kaweke Movement’s lines of production
The movement’s main line of production is Rhanika which can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Rhanika is a series of hair and body butters, oils and scrubs and all these can be found in Shop EZN F3, Kisakye Mall (next to the big Tusky’s in Ntinda). They do arrange for deliveries as well.
“So far, with the ‘kaweke movement’ line, we’ve pushed out a line of tee-shirts. We are anticipating launching more in 2018. We’ve also partnered with Natural Hair Uganda to organize the Kinks and Kurls Expo – Uganda’s first natural hair and lifestyle expo – a festival where naturalistas and natural lifestyle enthusiasts gather to learn from each other and the classes we put together, share in some fun activities and engage with other businesses that are also in the natural cosmetic & lifestyle industry.” Amelia, another Co-Founder says.
Inspirations and lessons the team has learnt.
The greatest inspiration for the team at Kaweke Movement, has the general reception towards our stuff, which has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve had requests from outside the country to send our tee-shirts; it’s also been a teaching moment not just to the people who buy them, but to us as well – and a constant reminder of the beauty of our kaweke. We’ve seen gorgeous heads of hair in and around Uganda, and we know for sure that people are starting to realize that too, and take better care of the hair that grows out of their scalps.” Charlene notes.
The challenges experienced.
Attempting to grow a business in Uganda is very challenging, and this is common to all start ups and emerging entrepreneurs in any country.
“Our greatest challenge has been finding reliable sources for the raw materials we use, or to make the things we want to our specifications. On some occasions, we’ve been told by some of the people we’ve contracted that “our standards and expectations are too high”, and on other occasions, our timelines have not been met, with no explanations.” Explains Amelia.
Given what they have seen, and knowing that Ugandan soils are home to incredible plants, fruits and spices, they is an urge for the need for industrialization.
“A lot of things that we get from other countries and continents can be produced here with even better quality, we believe.” she states.
But despite the challenges, the Kaweke Movement is expanding to stock at 2 other outlets; their range is growing; and they have seen the Kinks and Kurls Expo grow quite a bit as well.
All this has been possible due to working with people that see the vision. “We’ve met a lot of people along the way that have been keen to help and we’ve latched onto that. We are also keen on collaboration and partnering with others.” Charlene explains.
Advice to young and emerging entrepreneurs
“ stop learning (and reading). Look for ways to collaborate or partner with others. You can go far alone, but you can go even further with others (that are like-minded and passionate too). This is cliché but don’t hold back from starting, however small.” she says.
“Uganda has the best shea butter in the world. Fun fact, but true.” Charlene concludes.