Meet Charlyn Kentaro, founder of Kentaro Handmade Organics

By Mark Kawalya

If you are a woman that likes to wear your hair natural (i.e. without adding any chemicals to remove its natural curls), you have probably heard of or used one of the Kentaro Handmade Organics Products. The company’s best-sellers like the Anti-Dandruff Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo, the AvoGhee Deep Conditioner and the Berry Grow and Restore Hair Oil must ring a bell.

Charlyn Kentaro, the founder and CEO of the Good Hair Collective, shares her journey of building a business that offers women safe natural hair products and how the company has become a brand to reckon with in the natural hair industry.

How did it all start?

Like many businesses, The Good Hair Collective was born out of pure necessity.

After her A-Levels, she decided to relax her hair since she was no longer bound by her former high school’s rules requiring all students to have their hair cut short. She wore her hair relaxed and kept it that way for most of her post-high school life until she started noticing women on YouTube wearing their hair natural and was enamored by the full curly appearance the hair had.

Charlyn wanted to try the new hairstyle but had no information about how to transition to natural hair. She started reading on the subject and after exploring various shopping outlets, realized that the market was lacking in good hair products that catered for natural hair.

On researching more, she learnt that oil from shea butter was one of the best hair foods for natural hair. Interestingly, Uganda was among the few countries globally where shea trees grew. Kentaro bought some shea butter, made a hair preparation with it, and started using it on her hair and was thrilled with the results. She started making shea butter hair oils that she shared with her friends and relatives, who were delighted with how well it worked on their hair.

“I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. I thought I would have a normal 9-5 job, “says Charlyn, who trained as a lawyer. But fate had other plans for her.

During this time, she was working as a legal researcher for Margaret Ssekagya, a human rights activist, and at the end of the day, she would return home to do more reading on natural hair products and try out new preparations.

When her husband saw how much her friends appreciated the hair preparations she was giving them, he advised her to start selling the hair product because he believed it had the potential to become a tangible business.

“I didn’t have a business background, and it had never occurred to me to do it for money. It was my husband that made me see that I could make money from this. So, I just randomly put a price tag on the products and started charging my customers, who were still mainly my family and friends.”

This is how the Kentaro Handmade Organics brand was born.

Tough decisions 

Charlyn’s passion for her business was in full bloom, leading her to toy with the idea of leaving her legal research job to focus on her business full time. Her family was concerned about this and thought the move was a little risky because her business was still in its initial stages and was not yet able to fully support her financially.

She juggled her full-time job with her newfound passion for about a year until she realized she wasn’t being fair to her employer.  

 “My attention was split and I found myself trying to get through my work every day just so I could go home and focus on making hair products. I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that I wasn’t giving my employer 100% of my time and attention, so I decided to quit and pursue this full-time.” Her family was not happy about her decision, but her husband threw his weight behind her, coming from a business background himself.

The lack of her family’s support was demotivating because she was running a new business and wasn’t sure she was making the right decision. While she was determined to make the business work, she occasionally got into periods of self-doubt that were fueled by people who asked her questions about what she was doing.

She decided to follow her intuition and bought plastic packaging materials for her hair products. Since she could not afford to hire skilled personnel, she designed the product labels herself and went downtown Kampala where she had them printed.

Social media played a key role in jumpstarting her business. She used Facebook to advertise her finished product and used boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) to make deliveries within Kampala.

The initial investment 

At the start, all her money went to buying essential oils and the different materials that she needed for her business.

“I put a lot of money into the business and didn’t even track a lot of these expenses, something I wouldn’t recommend to someone starting out because it’s easy to lose track of what the real costs of your product are.”

Now that she knows better, she understands the importance of tracking every shilling that goes into the business. Things like transportation costs and the cost of internet data used in research have to be documented, otherwise, you might think you are making money when you are not.

“You will find yourself having to constantly fund your business that should ideally be funding itself, and if you’re not tracking your costs, you won’t ever know why.

Initially, she treated the business like a baby and didn’t withhold from depleting her cash reserves to finance the venture as a way of trying to guarantee its survival. As she studied more about entrepreneurship, she learned to control this pattern of behavior.

She needed to raise some capital, so Charlyn registered the business and onboarded some family members who invested, enabling her to scale up her operations.

“I was intentional about putting the money made from the business back into it. So, the initial capital was from my savings, my husband and some family members. She did not want to get external sources of investment, and thereafter grew the business organically with whatever was available.”

The greatest lesson

One of the biggest lessons Charlyn has learned is to closely monitor the numbers because they are a direct reflection of business health.

 “You can’t have a business without monitoring your numbers. It took me a long time to realize this,” She says, “I thought as long as I was making the product and people were buying it, the money would work itself out. That’s not the case. “

She has learned to give attention to business finances and monitor variables like input versus output and how expenses are controlled. Most importantly, the price has to be right. Charlyn remembers how, for a long time, the business ran with prices that she had simply plucked from the air and did not consider the costs that went into making the hair products. Additionally, business expenses had increased over the years in comparison to product prices, which had stagnated, making it difficult for the business to break even.

“We had opened a store in Kisementi and were paying rent and were paying rent in a couple of other beauty shops around Kampala. But our pricing was still the same. The team knew there was a problem when they realized that they were selling products yet there was no cash being reflected in the bank. “

Charlyn sat down and revised the pricing for the products because it was not making sense to work so hard yet not see the fruits of the labour. Learning to set the appropriate price was one of the greatest lessons that Charlyn learned.

On the flip side, she credits having a product on the market that does what it says it does as her biggest success.

“In this industry, people have been taken advantage of by being sold products that promise to do amazing things but don’t. That’s something we are intentional about – having our product do what we say it will. “

On her next move, Charlyn says the company plans to increase its footprint across Uganda so that its products can be accessed in more supermarkets and salons in different districts. Additionally, they want to organize their hair clinics to show women how to care for their hair as opposed to simply taking part in general hair exhibitions that happen every so often.

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