In Conversation With Antonia Opiah, Co-Founder of Yeluchi a New At-Home Hairstyling Service for Black Hair & Women

First, how are you feeling?

I’ve got a little tickle in my throat, but no fever. Overall, I’m feeling great and grateful. There’s so much happening in the world that can beat you down, but there’s still a lot of positive things that we can be grateful for. I’m fortunate to have a loving family and close friends. I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my mouth, and good health (fingers crossed!). So, I honestly cannot complain.

Antonia, could you please tell me about yourself?

Where to start… my ambition is a big part of who I am. I’ve been that way since I was eight years old. Always building, creating, selling. It’s a constant theme in my life. I’m a big believer in designing your life and shaping the world you live in, especially if you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world that has infrastructures that allow you to do so. This post about how I quit my job and moved to Paris is a good example of who I am.

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What inspired Yeluchi and the name?

I had the idea for Yeluchi by Un-ruly when, one summer, I really wanted to get box braids and couldn’t find it in me to invest the up-to-8-hours it would take to get them done. I had a lot of work to do and wished a stylist could come and do my hair while I worked. A few Google searches later I realized that no one was really offering this service for Black women, so I decided to create it and got my sister, Abigail, onboard.
We spent a lot of time on the name. We wanted something that was rooted in our Nigerian heritage, especially because braiding has a long history in Africa. The name itself is a play on my middle name Chiyelu, which means God’s gift in Igbo. Calling the company Yeluchi was our way of regarding our hair as a gift.

A Black woman’s relationship with her hair is a sacred, ever-evolving one that is fostered from childhood. For many, that relationship starts at the hair salon. How was your first hair salon experience?

I think, for a lot of us, it actually starts at home with our mums or sisters or neighbours doing our hair. We actually did a little series about the relationships that shape the way we do and view our hair. It’s called #hairties. I don’t remember the earliest time my mum did my hair, but I remember looking forward to getting my hair braided. I remember my mum would do all kinds of designs in my hair and I’d be proud to show it off even though the braids were usually too tight!

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What has been your experience going to a White hair salon or having a White hairdresser?

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had a White hairdresser. My sister did when we were researching the market for our service. She tried one of the mass-market, at-home services and the stylist that came just had no idea what to do with her hair. He even took a picture of it! I think that’s indicative of a larger problem with cosmetology school curriculums. They don’t take into account the different needs that exist across various segments of the population.

Why do you think it’s important for Black women to have an online space to talk about hair?

I’ve always viewed hair as this universal shared experience. I live in France and travel quite a bit, and almost everywhere I go, anytime I meet women of colour, we always end up talking about hair. And the experiences are always the same. No matter where we’re from we always have these things in common, and Un-ruly is the manifestation of that. There’s also just a practical aspect to it. Different people have different needs. Different hair textures have different needs and possibilities. So, it just makes sense that there’s a space that allows us to address those needs. Also, there’s a lot that can be said about our hair. I launched Un-ruly seven years ago and still haven’t run out of things to say. There’s so much depth to it even though it’s a surface part of who we are.

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What inspired the services to be at home vs opening a salon?

A lot of hairstyles for Black women can take a considerable amount of time, like up to 8 hours (even more if you get really thin box braids, for example). That time investment is eased by getting a style done at home, where you can work or watch your Netflix and just be comfortable in your own space while having the stylist’s full attention.

As the push for inclusivity in the workplace continues, the question is, do you feel the beauty industry is doing the same?

I think it’s going to take a while to see real change. There’s a surge of interest in diversifying and creating inclusive workplaces, but some of that interest will fade. Not all companies will be in it for the long haul, but I think the public will notice. Companies and corporations are operating in a different world, a changing marketplace. Consumers have a lower tolerance for corporate irresponsibility, and we have a new generation of companies emerging that genuinely care about the communities they serve and operate in. So one way or another, change will come, and those who don’t change with the times will get left behind.

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What about women embracing their natural hair in the workplace?

This is one of the final frontiers. I think wearing your hair in its natural state is still uncomfortable in certain workplaces, which sucks because we spend so much time at work. It’s rough when you don’t feel comfortable to show up actually as you are.

Lastly, who is your Mother Muse?

My mummy has always been, and will always be, my Mother Muse. She taught me my work ethic. She’s super resilient. She’s walking sunshine.

Explore Yeluchi Here

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