Charlotte Mensah is an award-winning UK Afro Hairdresser of the Year (2013 & 2014). The success of her Portobello Road salon, HairLounge is now complete, for Charlotte has introduced a luxurious line of Hair products called the Charlotte Mensah Manketti Oil Haircare
Collection. Free from SLS, Parabens and silicones, the range is designed to deliver moisture, softness, definition and shine to Afro, mixed-race and curly hair types in general, whilst still allowing weightless movement. I confess I’m very scent-driven, but Charlotte, ‘she had me at sniff’.
So many hair products have (dare I say it..) a ‘cheap’ fragrance, but these carry a scent I’m very happy to waft about! And performance? This range has proved ideal for my temperamental, fine, half-Trini hair. Once I’ve shampoo-ed and conditioned, the Manketti Oil is there to style my frothy ends and hairline. I’m making Thandie jealous because I got there first- hee hee.
Here, Charlotte shares her childhood memories and inspirations, and discusses how she achieved her lifelong goal of creating her own product rang-plus her ultimate aim to become the number one hair training academy in Ghana.
How old were you when you moved from Ghana to the UK?
I went to Ghana when I was 3 months old and brought back to the UK when I was 11 years old to be brought up by my grandparents.
What was your experience like growing up in the UK? Was it easy for you and your family to make it feel like home?
My parents had already lived in the UK for over 15 years before I joined them so our home was already set up. However, my experience of growing up in the UK at the time was very strange. I now realize that I was subjected to a lot of racism and bullying;
I was considered an outsider because I was different. In Ghana, it was a very dissimilar culture. Everyone looks the same, speaks the same languages and knows Ghanaian culture where as London culture is very diverse.
When did you first think you might like to be a hairdresser?
Well, my love affair with hair first began when I was 13. I just loved looking at magazines like Ebony and Essence. Looking at beautiful black women made me feel empowered. I would try to replicate the styles I liked in the magazines on my 3 year-old sister. As our mum had just died, it was a great way of spending time together and helped us through our grieving process.
Who inspired you as a child?
My inspiration definitely has to be both my grandparents. My grandmother was an amazing lady; she could do everything from sewing, cooking and she also did hair, but unfortunately she never took any of her skills to a professional level. It made me think a lot about my own future.
Where do you think your confidence came from, did you always have big dreams?
That would be from my Grandfather, Dada. He was an extremely good businessman and being the director of a brewery, he would always take me to his business meetings. Being a child sat in a boardroom, I suppose those surroundings somehow had subliminal influences that materialized later on in my life.
What did you see lacking in hairdressing from a WOC’s perspective, and how did that inspire your approach to hairdressing?
I have always been aware that hairdressing for WOC sometimes lacked professional customer service within professional surroundings, along with quality hairdressing. I’ve always strived to be the best I can be and have always set my standards extremely high to incorporate both of these elements.
What did you want to achieve with your hair products that was not already out there?
Being in the hair industry for over 26 years, I noticed the need for premium products that keep hair moisturised, but without the heavy, oily finish found with existing ranges.
When I discovered Manketti Oil, which has been used in Africa for centuries and is one of the richest, most hydrating ingredients that nature has to offer, I knew this was the oil that could achieve what I was looking for so I decided it would be a key feature in my collection.
Now, after six years of research, development and testing, my product range delivers moisture, softness, definition and shine to Afro, mixed-race and all curl hair types, whilst still allowing weightless movement.
Tell us a little bit about the idea behind Charlotte Mensah Academy, the workshops, and the importance of education and mentorship.
I’m so proud of the Charlotte Mensah Academy. It’s in its early stages, but the aim is to offer less fortunate young Africans an opportunity to learn a vocational skill, like hairdressing, carpentry, fashion or textiles, that will enhance not only their lives but also the lives of their families. Education and training really is our future; if we don’t invest and train our young people, then we have nothing.
From concept to execution, how long did it take to create your range-tell us about any obstacles and how you got around them?
Launching this range took over 6 years of hard work. I was involved in every stage from working on the formulas, branding, artwork, website, product packaging and development.
This all had to be fitted in alongside my full-time job of running a busy salon, managing a team, looking after clients, being there for my children and family, plus all of the other activities I’m involved in such as photoshoots, shows, and educational presentations.
It was a huge challenge, but I’m a very positive person, so I just focused on achieving my goals and kept going. The support of my loved ones and their words of encouragement was also invaluable.
It always starts with an idea and from there you begin to work on logistics. I had to test, try and evaluate many formulas, prototypes and versions before approving the final elements. There are many components to factor in when creating a new product; fragrances and ingredients have to work harmoniously together.
Some of my favorite scents are those from my childhood growing up in Accra, so I’ve captured those moments and put them into my products. Most importantly, the performance had to be up to my high standards. I always tested the products myself and prior to launching, my team also tried them on our clients’ hair to get their feedback and ensure that it made their hair look and feel fantastic.
What would your advice to beauty entrepreneurs be?
My advice would be to have a vision for something and really believe that you can do it. Keep challenging yourself and never give up.
What next for Charlotte Mensah, how would you like to see yourself, and your business in ten years?
To launch the business across Africa is definitely my long-term goal. I’d also love to expand my Manketti Oil range and establish the Charlotte Mensah Academy as the number one training establishment in Ghana.