#10Questions With The Lady Boss, Akunna Nwala-Akano, CEO- Kuku’s Hair, “Female Entrepreneurs are changing the world, building our own tables and inviting other women to join us, anyone who doesn’t like it, can get out of our way”

Akunna Nwala-Akano is a Lawyer, a chartered tax professional and a Beauty entrepreneur. She is very spirited about women looking beautiful and she does this through her companies, Kuku’s Luxury Hair Salon and Spa and Daryl Teatox, a detox tea outfit which she co-owns. As a multifaceted woman juggling multiple businesses, Akunna shares with LLA her tips for leading a productive life.

Can you briefly describe yourself and your business?

My name is Akunna Nwala-Akano. I am a Lawyer, an entrepreneur, a mother and a wife. I am in the business of making women look beautiful from the inside out and boosting their confidence and self-assuredness. I do this through my companies, Kuku’s Luxury Hair Salon and Spa and Daryl Teatox, a detox tea, which I co-own with my friend, Uju Ania.

What is it like being a female entrepreneur, and why did you choose to be one?

Being a female entrepreneur can be equal parts exhilarating and challenging. Nigeria has the highest number of female entrepreneurs in the world, so it’s really not that much of an anomaly as people tend to see it. In Nigeria especially, there’s a great spirit of camaraderie and collaboration among female entrepreneurs. We’re creating our own Old Girls Club and we’re not bringing a seat to anybody’s table; we’re building our own tables and inviting other women to join us.

This is also a business where mentors and inspirations are important, with so many female entrepreneurs, there is a lot for young women to aspire to. I personally have older women and peer mentors who have served as inspirations to me on my own journey and I’m glad to do the same for younger women.

Women also have a competitive advantage when it comes to Emotional Quotient (EQ) because, on the average we have higher EQ than men, which gives us exceptional leadership ability. This serves me well, as someone with a lot of staff and dependents. My feminine side gives me self-awareness and empathy, as well as the ability to perceive and understand both my own emotions and the emotions of others, which is invaluable in business.

Being a female entrepreneur also has its challenges. In my case, I have a son who is about to turn a year old and parenting, while juggling several businesses as well as other responsibilities on the home front can prove quite tasking. I always assumed I could have it all, but on this journey, I’ve learned to cut myself some slack and outsource as much as possible. There’s a popular quote by Shonda Rhimes, which says: “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.” And I feel it is so true of so many women, we strive so hard for perfection, that we forget that perfection isn’t humanly possible.

After I became a mother, I discovered a very important hack though, multitasking. Multitasking is a parenting skill that comes in very handy as a female entrepreneur. Most women who are mothers have become adept at handling many aspects of their lives simultaneously. This ability to manage competing responsibilities also, is important for entrepreneurs. We’re born to be leaders and I’m so happy to be able to show my son that women can be successful and do anything they want to.

I chose to be an entrepreneur because I’ve always had a deep need to make my own money. Financial independence is a goal many women should strive for. It is the only way we’re going to break what’s left of the glass ceiling. I’m also aware that most women cannot even afford to lift themselves out of penury, which is why it is so important to be your sister’s keeper. I am invested in collaborating with other female entrepreneurs and helping the less-advantaged in society, one step at a time.

Secondly, I adore the beauty business. I love hair, I love looking beautiful, and I love the entire value chain that is invested in maintaining feminine beauty- makeup, hair, getting massages, nails etc. Taking care and investing in myself makes me happy and is also my way of unwinding.

Being an entrepreneur is all encompassing. I’m able to fulfil my dreams and not skimp on my femininity. Basically, it has given me the freedom to be able to live my life exactly as I want and also provide value to society. I am invested in giving back to disadvantaged people and communities. I’m also responsible for almost 40 members of staff every month. Those are duties I do not take lightly, and I am proud of what I have built that has been able to give me this freedom. I have come very far and I’m not even where I want to be yet.

What new innovation have you introduced to your business?

We have introduced a patent form of colouring which has revolutionized the hair dyeing business in Nigeria. Most hair dyes involve harsh chemical components like ammonia, peroxide, or paraphenylenediamine, that can make your hair weak and brittle, changing the structure of your strands in the process and even cause breakage. However, our system coats strands rather than penetrating them, can last up to 30 washes and is also anti-static and antibacterial. This is a revolution in the beauty world and has made us the number one destination in Nigeria for colouring.

Secondly, as a lover of beautiful spaces, it was important to me that the space I work in be aesthetically pleasing as well. Most salon spaces are functional rather than beautiful. But we’re beginning to understand that a trip to the salon is no longer about “wash and set”. It is now an experience. It is now about accessing a space that provides as much aesthetic pleasure as if you walked into a luxury hotel. Every aspect should permeate the senses and I feel I have created such a place with Kuku’s Hair Luxury Salon and Spa.

What will you say is responsible for your success so far?

A combination of several qualities including, focus, exceptional customer service and humility. These qualities have helped me build my side-hustles into sustainable businesses.

From day one, Kuku’s Hair has been unwavering in its commitment to providing the best possible luxury hair for the ultimate woman. That message has never flagged and never changed. Customers know that when you buy a Kukus Hair wig, get a treatment at Kukus Hair Salon and Spa or use Daryl Teatox, you can never have a single complaint. Customers respect consistency and that is what I give them.

I am also very focused about where I’m going, I have a target of where I want to get to and milestones detailing each step of the way.

I initially had a 9-5 and ran my business parallel to my main job. That’s why I am so proud of what I have built. My little baby born 8years ago has now become a household name.

In your opinion, would you say that there are any unique challenges that female entrepreneurs face?

Yes, as a female entrepreneur earning respect is a struggle. Nigeria is very patriarchal, and woman are generally not taken seriously. Especially when you choose to enter and dominate supposed male territory, like business, the pushback is even greater. You’re judged off the bat, solely because of your gender.

Being in the beauty business, has another level of misogyny as women who are invested in beauty are thought to be “airheads” which is very hypocritical because a man who owns a barbing salon or sells male hygiene products will never be thought of as unserious. Running a business, whatever form it takes is no walk in the park. Even someone running a corner store is a manager, accountant, supply chain operator and marketing specialist all in one. But somehow when a woman is doing it, suddenly everyone thinks it’s as easy as getting out of bed in the morning.

Besides running multiple business, I’m also a lawyer and a chartered tax professional and people tend to be surprised that I wear so many professional hats. The assumption being if I have such “serious” qualifications, why am I running a beauty business. Human beings are multi-faceted, but we tend to judge people in black and white but give ourselves the benefit of grey areas. Everyone else in the world must be either a or z, while we’re allowed to be the whole alphabet. I’ve learned to not take such comments personally as I recognize it for what it is; misogyny and a deep-seated insecurity.

Luckily, it’s beginning to be understood that women don’t have to fit society’s mold to be acceptable. Especially female entrepreneurs. We are changing the world and anyone who doesn’t like it, can get out of our way.

What values and principles have helped you so far?

My core value is fairness. I am committed to treating every single human being, regardless of age, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, tribe and education; fairly, equally, respectfully and with compassion.

Why did you decide to go into this particular line of business?

Like I explained above, the hair business, salon, barbing salon and spa were born out of my love for beauty. Before I went into the business myself, I spent so much time in the salon, I just loved getting my hair done. Going into the hair business was a natural fit.

Daryl Teatox however was inspired by my pregnancy and wanting to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. It followed my own weight loss journey and showed me that there was a market for helping women get back to their pre-baby bodies. Our mantra is “drink tea and shrink”.

I love looking good, not just on the outside but on the inside as well. Working out, drinking my tea and taking care of myself is a lifestyle.

And from just selling hair, it made sense to get my own space to house all my businesses and that’s how Kuku’s Hair was born.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and what’s kept you going?

I’d say saturation, because the hair business seems to be infinite in Nigeria. Nigerian women love looking good and demand follows supply, so there are new hair retailers springing up every day, new salons etc. On the flipside though, saturation can be seen to be a good thing and has been beneficial to me because I’ve been able to branch out into being a wholesale supplier of hair and salon products. I even encourage young women to go in the hair business, because it really is a bottomless pit of opportunity, there will always be women who want to look good and the market is big enough for all of us.

A much more serious issue is clearing goods at the ports and import duties. Human hair in Nigeria is imported at a standard rate of 5% and this covers the sum of CIF value, duty, excise and other taxes as it applies. However, clearing the goods can prove to be a headache, and the 5% rate is a suggestion at best. Most times this leads to goods being delayed which cost money for every single day they sit with customs. Running an import-dependent business is not for the faint-hearted,

Dishonest suppliers are also a very personal pet peeve. They constantly attempt to supply sub-standard products, expecting that most people will just accept it so as not incur extra expenses. However, I refuse to sell my customers hair that is below the high standards I have set for myself and I have proven to be a thorn in several suppliers’ sides by sending goods back as much as possible until I get what I paid for.

It has not been easy, but consistency has helped me overcome these challenges.

What’s your five-year plan for your business?

My five-year plan is to have a branch in every city I do business in. Not all my customers or people who use my products have proximity to my flagship store in Lagos, so I am devising a means through which I might come to them instead. I’m also gearing up for gaining more international exposure. I have so many other business ideas I can’t wait to unleash them one by one. Everybody get ready!!!. 

What do upcoming female entrepreneurs need to do to be successful in this path?

Consistency. I will keep using the word consistency. That has been my watch word and it has brought me this far. Be consistent in what you do. Start out no matter how small. Start out strong. Be confident in what you are selling and once you are sure you have gotten the right service, please remain consistent, don’t relent. There will be very discouraging days, there will be days when you feel like not waking up at all but just remember that you have a goal and you are going somewhere.

The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.

It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.

If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email lead@leadingladiesafrica.org, and she could possibly be featured. 

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