We have all experienced the typical salon in Nairobi. Surrounded by an overcrowded blend of clients, hair stylists and nail artists in a small cramped space with the radio booming in the background in a setting that lacks aesthetic beauty and most of all an experience.
Nestled in a quiet space, 14 Riverside, the Amadiva first flagship franchise salon will give you a whole new perspective on going to get your hair/shave, nails or facial done. With carefully selected high end products, carefully curated music playing softly in the background, you are sure to leave pampered and relaxed not hot and bothered. We sat down with Maureen in her salon to speak about what Amadiva stands for and the story behind it.
For Maureen Murunga, her journey into creating Amadiva Salon began as a challenge: “where are the cool African brands?” Many years ago, she recounts, she attended an event where Magatte Wade, a Senegalese self-described serial entrepreneur spoke about Africa’s future with SME’s and the need to create strong African brands. She had always been interested in the beauty industry, and like fashion, realized that we incorrectly buy into foreign brands rather than create our own. Magatte Wade spoke of Africa being the last frontier with everyone running to make something out of it. Magatte challenged Maureen into creating this franchise. The reality Maureen was challenged by was the fact that out of the top 100 companies in the world at that time, only one was from Africa; South African Airways.
“We find that a lot products are actually sourced in Africa, we export it all and it comes back to us as a packaged product yet we are not involved”
“Sheer butter is one of the best beauty products in the world and is grown in Africa and yet we do not produce major beauty brands.” The unfortunate reality is that we make things here selling them through charities with subpar packaging perpetuating the narrative of plight and need for foreign aid in Africa yet we provide most of the raw products to the world.
“We find that a lot products are actually sourced in Africa, export it all and it comes back to us as a packaged product yet we are not involved” she says. She described the major problem by stating one simple fact; “we are the farmers and the end-users. We are not involved in anything in between, we don’t process, we don’t retail, and we don’t distribute. There is a huge mismatch.” Of all the top beauty brands in the world, Africa is nowhere, she exclaims. She would even go so far to say that African brands are not even in the top 100.”
At the time Amadiva was but a dream, Maureen knew she had no intention of being a cog in the existing wheel in the beauty industry in Kenya but to make a difference. “Ultimately, the goal is to go into manufacturing and distribution and build a brand that can stand anywhere in the world. I wanted to start here, in Kenya, a national pride element.” Without training in the beauty business or credentials in the industry, Maureen stepped out of her banking role, quit her job and ventured into an industry she has more than an affinity for; “a deep love.
“The best way to start off is to really understand what people want so going into the salon business sounded safe from an investment perspective.” She quit her job at Barclays Bank 5 years ago and started travelling to look for ideas on the type of salon she wanted. Amadiva was created to become a franchise to the level of Regis Salons, using that as a base to create a brand that Africa can be proud of. “My thing is, the bar entry level is so low, we all assume we set up salon anywhere and anyhow that is good enough. I thought, hang on, don’t you want to have an experience when you get your hair done?” That was what she noticed was missing in the market, the experience in the salon industry.
Amadiva is not for an expensive niche exclusive clientele, “we are open to all to ensure that you have an experience without breaking the bank”, she explained. She told us that Amadiva has come a long way, from getting people on board, funding and setting up shop; “it was not a walk in the park, we are still underfunded and it is stressful but step one has been achieved; I have people who believe in that vision.” The salon, located in 14 Riverside, is the flagship store to the Amadiva Salon franchise and is a template for what is to come.
“I thought, hang on, don’t you want to have an experience when you get your hair done?”
“I was very clear that I wanted it to be African but not AFRICAN- no zebras and lions and stuff like that. I wanted to be clever about it- if I uprooted this into Oxford Street in London, it should sit side by side and look just as good as international Salon franchises.” The logo itself is a careful merging of clean lines, edgy, contemporary and a pop of color. It is all about the vibrancy of Africa with an emphasis to remain clean, which has filtered into the aesthetic design of the salon compounding into the overall customer experience. “Everything has to tie into the brand image and the vision including the uniforms made are from Vlisco fabric- African and contemporary.”
Located in the store is the collection by Kenyan fashion designer Njema Helena as a means for Maureen to further support Kenyan brands. “In terms of design, it is not overtly African and the styling is westernized and modern so I like the juxtaposition which is the Amadiva ethos.” In everything about the brand, Amadiva was the result of a considerable amount invested in the branding, image and the story. This is clearly evident when you walk into the salon, as there is a seamless theme of African pride, heritage with a contemporary edge.
In Amadiva, they ensure they use products that come from accredited suppliers and if Maureen has to import, she will do so to ensure only the best original products are being used. “Its been an exciting journey to see this Salon coming to life, creating a brand and a place that is fit for purpose, a place we, as Africans can be proud of.
For Maureen, Amadiva is not created to spread her name, its not a ten year plan but a legacy she seeks to create. “We are now in the time and place where the only way you can survive is by building a brand. The affinity has to be with the brand created to be internationally competitive. Don’t play a small game by playing it safe.”
The name of the salon was a rather serendipitous play on words. Believe it or not, the salon name “Amadiva” is the unaltered exact name of Maureen’s grandfather. Her full name is Maureen Kadeiza Amadiva. It may seem to read ‘I am a diva’ but that was not the intention. “It was perfect, like a gift and we ran with the name seeing as though it is also a good talking point,” she said. At some point, she mentioned, the name would need to be altered minimally to cater to her male clients. One of her proudest moments, she recounts, is when a lady pointed out to her the Salon and asked where the franchise was from. “I was so happy to hear that she thought that it was a franchise and must have been from outside, breaking the mold that nothing excellent matching international standards comes from Africa. If someone thinks that this is foreign, that is great.”
“Its been an exciting journey to see this Salon coming to life, creating a brand and a place that is fit for purpose, a place we, as Africans can be proud of.”
The Amadiva Beauty Salon franchise is about an African brand, African pride, quality service, consistency and overall creating a great product. The reaction to the salon, she describes, has been fright and others put off simply by the address and the appearance of the salon. Most, she says, will look at it and state as a matter of fact that they cannot afford such a place. Maureen, taking note, noticed however a separate issue to that judgment call; “it is a true reflection of how we feel about ourselves as black people. We are so used to going to a cramped spaces that are not well set up, no design or aesthetic appeal so when something appears to be too nice it’s deemed foreign or too expensive. Perception, I am not worthy of this. We have accepted that if I am going to the salon it is fine for me to go downtown to get it over and done with, its not expensive and it’s not about the experience.”
Amadiva is founded to present a different face of African brands, a step away from mediocrity and a call for higher standards in the beauty industry. This is a new wave of an African Salon franchise, take our word for it, try Amadiva just once and we can guarantee it won’t be your last visit. To find out more about Amadiva, check out their Facebook page here.