If you’re black, the turmoil of finding the right hairdresser can be enough to make you avoid the process altogether. One too many delayed appointments, instances of overcharging or stylists who don’t understand that fine-toothed combs and afro hair don’t mix and few would blame you for opting to do your hair yourself.
I was seventeen when I last had my hair done by someone else. After forking out £100, waiting around for what ended up being a full working day, and avoiding small-talk with a stylist who was less than impressed with my unwillingness to wax-lyrical about…anything, I resolved to do my own hair, by any means necessary. A few dodgy box braids and a failed kinky-twist or two later, I had picked up the necessary skills to do my own hair.
But if you aren’t blessed with a revered local connect, or the time, energy and skill it takes to painstakingly install braids, for example, you may well think that ignoring the shortfalls of your regular hair stylist is the only option you have. Afrocks, the in-home hair styling provider, bills itself as a solution to this well-known issue.
Established in 2016, Afrocks is a new hair-styling start-up that simplifies the process of seeking natural hair care and styling. The London-based service has a number of stylists on its roster and enables customers to book home appointments as well as choosing the length and thickness of protective styles like Havana Twists, Crochet Braids, and Faux Locs, to name a few.
We spoke with the platform’s founder, Hervé Despois, about Afrocks and what lead him to launch the start-up.
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gal-dem: How did Afrocks come about?
Hervé: Afrocks came out of my frustration, as a man with locs, with the process of finding a good loctician and booking styling appointments over the phone. Working in digital marketing, and ordering most of my groceries, clothes, and shoes online, I had a special aversion for this time consuming process [and] finally created the platform in the French Caribbean (where I was on a sabbatical) to take care of my expanding family. At the time I was struggling to find a job so I used the sleepless nights caused by our newborn son to really conceptualise Afrocks. I designed the website myself learning from Youtube tutorials but outsourced technically heavy development work. We had our “soft launch” in October 2016, and properly launched in January 2017 with a good team of hairstylists. Of course, we still have a lot of adjustments to make as it is still a BETA version. We want to widen our range of services and improve the mobile user experience. It’s a work in progress, but it is very rewarding.
What sets Afrocks apart from similar platforms?
Unlike the other platforms around, we focus exclusively on natural hair care and styles. We also specialise in at home services, which is the most convenient way to get one’s hair styled for a busy person. Finally, we are an on-demand platform, which is different from a directory. In a few clicks, you can choose a style, book and pay your stylist.
The Afrocks blog tackles some really interesting topics, e.g. “Why I hate black hairdressers”. How does Afrocks provide a better alternative to the level of service that a great deal of black people often receive through hair salons?
We make a point of vetting our stylists in terms of professionalism and customer service. Beyond the usual background checks, we take the time to interview each of them and also carefully review their portfolios. That is why we only have 11 stylists available at the moment, we want to take our time.
Afrocks is a black-owned business, which is rarer than you’d expect in the UK black hair/beauty industry. What does it mean to occupy the space you’re currently in?
It’s crazy, right? My objective in creating Afrocks is not solely to make it a financially successful venture, I am also very keen on sharing my modest experience as a marketer to promote other black businesses in the UK or around the world, one of our latest blog posts featured innovative and customer oriented UK black-owned businesses.
As far as I can see, Afrocks is only available in London. Do you have plans to expand into other areas as you grow as a business?
Of course! London was chosen because it is where we had the most contacts and is a hub for start-ups. However, we plan to expand throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. We are very much interested in investing in various countries in Africa, such as Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast, where the natural hair movement is growing along with the mobile penetration rate. Also, the skills displayed by the stylists over there are amazing.
Affordability is a huge issue for a lot of people when it comes to finding stylists, but on most of the prices on Afrocks have generally been pretty decent. How does pricing work on the platform? Is it determined by the stylist alone?
When we built the platform, we had two choices. Either we could provide set prices or let the stylist determine their fee. We chose the latter because we wanted the prices to reflect the stylist’s level of experience. This also motivates the stylist to register on the platform and perform. We also have a price control system where we can monitor the asking price. If someone charges way above the average, we can inform them of the price gap, but at the end of the day, it is always up to the stylist.
You’ve been in digital marketing for a while, when did you first turn your sights to the natural hair industry, and why?
All the women in my life have always had natural hair. My mother, my aunts, my wife have natural hair. They were my first “case studies” from my mom’s radical and simple t.w.a to my wife’s tedious “hair week-ends” (unbraid/wash/braid). I have seen their relationship with their hair evolve in an environment ill adjusted to or, at times, hostile to their textures. When I was looking for business ideas, I just had to look around me and attempted to cater for an obvious need.