Chinelo Ikeme:The bold, the beautiful hair queen
The first time we met, it was at a function organized by the City People magazine. She was one of the people celebrated, in fact, her outfit, My Hair Ltd, showed a varying array of hair. We were introduced to each other, but she refused to grant an interview. She wanted me to relax and enjoy the event.
With a broad smile, the amiable Chinelo Linda Ikeme had promised to talk to me some other time. Indeed, the opportunity came and here, we are:The banker-turned hair purveyor has among her customers, top female celebrities due to the quality of natural human hair she sources from across the world.
Hair business was not what she actually planned.
She was working in a bank. In fact, she had worked in two different banks for six years. She noticed that most mothers always want to look their best at their events, but don’t mind cutting cost on everything, except that which would enhance their beauty. So, she started considering doing something lady-like, but definitely not hair business.
Chinelo adds, “I have always loved hair. My mum wore human hair way back then and I loved how it made her look- absolutely gorgeous. I “unintentionally” groomed my passion all through secondary by making my mates and seniors hair. This earned me lots of favours in secondary school. While I was a banker, I met an Indian man who sold good quality hair. I initially bought for my personal use only, but constant admiration from my colleagues and requests to buy the same hair, as mine, got me thinking. The Indian man was very helpful and he encouraged me to sell to my colleagues. I started doing so on a small scale, but eventually, I resigned and started My Hair Ltd. fully, as well as join the family business. My customer service experience in the bank has greatly helped me in servicing my clients better.”
After she lost contact with the Indian man, who introduced her to the business, she fell into the hands of fraudulent people, who sold to her, fake hair. After the transaction, it was all stories, because nobody was willing to take the bad hair back from her. She lost a lot of money, but now, she has people she call ‘hair sourcers’, they source for good hair and she pays them to avoid falling into the hands of fraudsters.
The lady, however, insists that the foundation for a world in business was laid in her home. “We were trained to be God-fearing, self-confident, hardworking and respectful. I am taking after my parents definitely. My late dad was an astute businessman with a generous heart, firm, but fair in all his ways. My mum is an extremely determined, God-fearing and hardworking woman,” she quips.
In boarding school, she started off homesick, all the time, but as soon as moved to higher classes, she made friends and settled in. It became more fun. By the time she got into the university, Chinelo knew she would be a part of the family business. “My dad always drummed it into our ears that we would inherit the business. He made us read and draft letters, read and explain the newspapers and business documents. Notwithstanding, I wanted to gain some work experience in my field of study – banking and finance, which I did from 2006 to 2012 before joining the family business fully in 2012.”
She remembers her parents were very protective of them when they were growing up. “We never had things like play-dates then. My dad being a very successful businessman and breadwinner (even to our extended family) meant relations were always visiting or holidaying with us. Our house was never empty. It was always bubbly and lively. Going off to boarding school was my first opportunity to leave home without my parents.”
She is, however, not happy with the harsh government policies and lack of basic social amenities that is affecting entrepreneurial efforts in Nigeria. “No light, water, roads etc. To run a business, you need all these primarily before anything else. The high dollar rates and the recent increase in the fuel and diesel prices are very challenging too,” she says.
However, difficult situations inspire her. “Starting my hair business was borne out of the desire to overcome the stress I faced as a marketer in the banking industry. When a challenge or hurdle deters me, I start thinking and planning. I don’t give up until I try something. Many times it works but a few times some ideas fail and I try and try again until I’m successful. My friends and family inspire me too. I don’t waste my time being jealous of people’s success, rather I get inspired and try to emulate or surpass their success stories,” Chinelo confesses.
As an entrepreneur, Chinelo doesn’t think she is wearing a shoe bigger than her feet. “No I don’t. I definitely feel stressed, sometimes, or under pressure, but never overwhelmed,” she retorts. “As I said before, difficult situations inspire me, so, when I face a storm, I get more motivated to overcome and surpass it. I never hesitate to ask questions and seek advice from knowledgeable people. When everything else fails, I go down on my knees and talk to God. He never fails.”
Aside from her hair business, she is the financial director in Moore Enterprises Nig. Ltd. “At Moore, we import automotive chemical products used for bodywork refurbishing for cars, boats, ships and metal construction works. I am also a director in Fleetwood Global. At Fleetwood, we import pre-packaged, healthy, edible nuts.”
Anything else? “Oh, last, but not least, I am a wife and mother, which is a full-time job on its own too,” She smiles.
She won’t particularly call herself a popular figure. “I just do what I love doing and I flow with every other thing that comes with it. I like my personal space and privacy, so, I try to avoid unnecessary publicity. Rather, I push my business brand My Hair Ltd in the public eye and not my personal life,” she says.
For Chinelo, gossip doesn’t get to her, but she doesn’t put her personal life in the public eye, “so there’s really nothing to gossip about me. It’s all about My Hair Ltd., which is what I want the public to know about.”
You doubt whether she will tell you her experience when she first met her husband. Was it love at first sight or it was a pane discussion with friends and family members before she conceded to the marriage?
She says, “we met through his cousin, who was my roommate and bunkmate back in the university. He saw my pictures with her and wanted to meet me. We met, got talking, then started dating after some months and the rest is history.”
Chinelo draws a long laugh after saying the ‘the rest is history.” That’s what she enjoys most, being her husband’s wife. “There’s no one else that knows me as well as my husband does. He’s God-fearing, loves and respects my family and me. There’s nothing more I would have wanted in being a wife to him,” she says.
She tells you that the greatest challenge of being Chinelo are having to multi-task and juggle her daily routine. “This is not easy. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with all the things I have to do. The 24 hours in a day are not enough anymore. I have to shuttle from my Lekki store to my mainland store and to Moore Enterprises daily without reneging on my responsibilities at home.”
What she loves most about Nigeria is her food and the people’s way of life. “We are very resilient people in Nigeria and we always find a way out of every situation,” Chinelo says, “but I totally dislike the fact that there’s no single social amenity that’s standard in Nigeria – light, water and basic infrastructures are lacking.”
Why saying her beauty routine is simple: “I wash and moisturize my face twice daily, I exfoliate weekly and see a dermatologist when necessary. I’m not fussy with my face. My dark skin makes life easy for me and removes the stress of rigorous beauty regimes.”Any meal with plantain (dodo) gets her excited. She can eat it three times daily. “I also love pastries. Well-baked pastries are a definite yes for me.”
What is the best restaurant, she’s ever visited?
“It’s called Romano in Malaga, Spain. I went there every single day of that vacation. I practically ate everything on their menu. Their cocktails were amazing too. For Naija food, I love yellow chilli,” Chinelo says.