Alexanderia Haidara is the brain behind the upcoming Kigali Natural Hair Show and Beauty Expo slated for November 3 and 4 in Kigali.
She is the proprietor of the Marina Bella Natural Hair Salon located in downtown Kigali. She is the organiser of the hair expo, the first of its kind.
Haidara is American, and hails from Tennessee, in the Southern part of the US. She, her husband and three children moved to Rwanda about three years ago, when her husband, who works for an international organisation, was posted to Rwanda.
Before moving to Rwanda, she worked in the beauty industry in Honduras, Central America.
“I was mostly supplying beauty salons and supermarkets and when we moved here, I decided to do more of salon because this is a smaller market. The distribution network here is not really huge for beauty products,” she explained when I visited the Marina Bella Natural Hair Salon last week.
“Marina Bella is a Spanish name because in Honduras I had to have a Spanish name to start a business, so I just decided to continue with that brand,” she explained.
Here, she heads a team of three young and dedicated beauty care specialists –two boys and one girl. The first thing that strikes you about the place is the Afro-centric interior art décor and Kitengi fabric uniforms adorned by the hair stylists.
“They knew how to do hair already, but I trained them on how to do natural hair, which is not really taught in beauty schools here –well at least not aggressively. So we had to learn about natural hair basics like natural hair needs lots of moisture so when you wash you need to use really good shampoo, and hair oils to keep the hair and scalp healthy and clean,” she said.
Haidara explained her deep attachment to hair and beauty care.
“My mother was always into makeup. She always made sure I look beautiful. And I grew up in the South where hair is really such a big deal in the black community in the US. How you look, especially your hair, is more important than your clothes and it sets the tone of how people perceive you. So I’ve always been conscious of making sure my hair is done. Even if I didn’t have the newest clothes I knew at least my hair was going to be done,” she said.
Upon arriving in Rwanda, the idea for a natural hair salon came naturally to her.
“I figured that having a natural hair salon would be good because women who are natural really struggle to find natural hair salons here and when they do find one, the hair dressers usually encourage them to go back and relax their hair, which I find really disturbing. If someone wants their hair natural, just work with that,” she said.
Asked what the term ‘natural hair’ means, she retorts cheekily that ‘it’s hair that grows out of your head naturally, afro hair particularly’.
“All races have natural hair but I think Africans and black people in general are the only race of people that really buy products to change the structure of their hair,” she said.
She said that the Kigali Natural Hair Show and Beauty Expo will be about educating women about hair. There will be different workshops at the expo where the different beauty companies will be facilitating workshops teaching people different aspects of hair care and the different hair care products on the market.
“We are bringing East African companies to showcase at the show. When you compare a US brand to an African brand, unfortunately a lot of customers choose the US brand but I really feel like most of these products from the US, like Shear Butter and coconut oil are got from Africa, so why not support our own who are making these products using the same ingredients and they are more natural. We’re trying to use this as a platform to boost them,” she said.
On display will be a variety of natural hairstyles, from braids, dreadlocks, to twists and blown out hair.
There will be hip hop dancers, traditional drumming, poetry, and a kids’ performance, to mention but a few.
Haidara is a self-confessed hair nomad who changes her hair styles at will.
“I have always changed my hair every couple of days or every week and I do this to keep my customers motivated to stay natural,” she said.
In three years of relocating to Rwanda, Haidara says that she has “learnt a lot”.
“It’s been humbling, especially knowing the history of the country and where it is now. It’s kind of motivating to see how people push forward and try to forgive each other and make peace with what happened in the past and look to the future,” she said.
Visiting the Akagera National Park was one of those unforgettable highlights.
“After my trip to Akagera I would never go to a zoo. Actually in the hair show, we are going to have a collection of hairstyles inspired by the animals in Akagera. Our models will be dressed as different animals – they’ll be gorilla, zebra, and antelope hairstyles,” she said.