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Kemi Tijani is the founder and CEO of Wow Braids a for-profit social enterprise located in Abuja. Wow Braids creates globally competitive hair and beauty products from local inputs by working with groups of women artisans around Nigeria. She was born in Lagos to a computer engineering dad and educationist mum and is known to be curiosity filled. Kemi started learning about computers at a tender age; describing herself as a child prodigy, she started her secondary education when she was 8 and after taking 2 years gap, at age 16, went to University to study Computer Science.

For her, technology and business have always been a part of her life. From selling simple programs she wrote to friends in secondary school, Kemi enjoys creating technology solutions that can be leveraged on to increase business efficiency.

Currently working as a Business Applications Solutions Lead for Microsoft, Kemi started Wow braids when she discovered there was a  growing demand for braided wigs and hair extensions around the world and to also create opportunities for people at the bottom pyramid to have a better life.

I started Wow Braids because I realised that there is a huge and growing demand for braided wigs and hair extensions around the world. The cost of producing hand-made braided wigs is cheap in Nigeria but expensive in cities and western countries where demand is high.

The hair industry which is known to be one of the most underrated industry in Nigeria generates more than 7 billion dollars annually and for her starting a business here only meant she was fulfiling a societal need.

Thinking of how she was able to reach 600 female artisans to partner with her brand? Kemi has not only partnered with development agencies but has also built a supplier base through a mix of direct and indirect engagement. For her, empowering these women is a major goal which is why she trains them on how to make the standard Wow Braids wig and provides them with access to capital to produce their first order.

We are able to offer stylists who sign up for be our suppliers flexible work with a guaranteed income. We train them on how to make wigs to our standard and provide them with access to capital to produce the first order. It typically takes about a week or two to turn around the order and the stylists are able to double their income by making wigs in their free time.

With 600 female artisans around Nigeria working for Wow Braids, Kemi who is a technology expert says through technology and work delegation, she has been able to manage her business from Lagos.

At Wow Braids, every transaction or interaction with suppliers or customers has a digital record so it doesn’t matter where I am, I always have access to information on the business required to make decisions. Technology is everything in Wow Braids. To achieve what we have 10 years ago we would have needed like 10 times the investment and the cost will make it unprofitable. We use technology in the production to keep track of inventory and sales, social media marketing and distribution on multiple direct and indirect online platforms. Even when we sell in brick and mortar stores, all orders are processes online and we are able to forecast and ensure that we meet demand in the shortest possible time.

For work delegation Kemi added:

Our supply chain is set up so that the stylist groups are independently managed. They have a leader who is responsible for her group and ensures quality is met before sending the wigs to us. This means my team and I can focus on sales and marketing and engaging customers rather than the manual tasks of supervising the work being done.

Describing her major challenges as finding the right employees and suppliers, getting funds and inefficient distribution channels; Kemi says she has been able to sustain her business by self-funding, family assistance, focusing on international market rather than the local market.

Also, a graduate of INSEAD, a well-known graduate business school, she describes her time there as being pivotal to the growth of her business because she was able to gain access to an international network of alumni that helped her reach customers in other markets.

Kemi who has her products on Amazon which is very rare for a Nigerian product says a lot of persistence and luck saw her through.

A lot of persistence and a little bit of luck. I knew it was important to be on a platform that already served the customers we were trying to reach and Amazon was the biggest one I could think of. But it is virtually impossible to set up a store on Amazon as a Nigerian resident or entity. So I had to get friends and family to help set up a business overseas and then set up a store as a merchant and were selling directly and after a few weeks, Amazon contacted us to join their invite-only Vendor program. So now rather than selling directly on the website, Amazon purchases directly from us and is essentially our distributor in the US.

With a busy schedule, she finds time to relax by travelling, staying indoors or hanging out with friends. She also advises young entrepreneurs not to be too bothered about starting small and to get support from family, friends, employees and fellow entrepreneurs who they can rely on.

Kemi who has been running Wow Braids for 10 years successfully, says she hopes to see the brand in the next 5 years as a diversified brand that produces and distributes handmade products in Africa to consumers around the world.

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