Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E. NANTABA | Margaret Nakato Kisitu loves hair, especially natural African hair. And she has turned her passion into one of the leading hair styling businesses in Uganda. Together with her twin sister; Maria Babirye, she runs Afros and Mo, a top beauty parlour in Kampala city. Their customers are mainly high income people, some from the corporate world.
Nakato and Babirye are riding on a new trend of people eager to express their African heritage through hair. Their business is to encourage and guide women of African descent to keep their natural afro-textured hair beautiful whether coiled or curly.
“We are natural hair people because our goal is to see every woman return to her God given beauty,” says Nakato.
Their approach is unusual as it treats beautiful hair as a matter of health.
“We deal with matters of health so the natural way is healthier,” she says.
Nakato says their passion for hair dates back to their early days in school. She says everyone knew them for following the latest hair trends.
“For every trendy salon that opened in Kampala city, we would be among the first clients to experience the new touch,” she says.
Back then, it was all about relaxed and treated hair. This was mainly because growing and maintaining African hair is not easy. At that time, they questioned why many people with natural hair in Uganda never or rarely had it longer than average, why it was not bouncy and often looked unhealthy.
Everything changed when Nakato’s twin travelled to America where she learnt skills in styling African hair to grow, look bouncy, and full of body.
Her journey of self-discovery would encompass not only hair but identity and embracing the new her. Babirye spent two years in the U.S. and, when she returned home, everybody was wowed by her hair. Nakato was convinced to follow the natural hair trend in 2013. It was not easy.
She says, “The journey of natural hair is not just trimming and it can take as short as six months or even long as a year”.
Nakato also started sharing her experience on a blog. She offered DIY tips. Then she realised that not everybody is into doing their own hair.
She decided to open a brick and mortar shop where she could style natural African hair. That is how Afros and Mo came to be.
“We identified the need and jumped into the space to fulfil it,” says Nakato.
The name is meant to show that while they focus on natural hair, they have the ability to go beyond Afros. He decision to quit paid employment as a customer relations officer in a major bank was criticised by family and friends who feared the uncertainty of the entrepreneurial world. But passion is powerful and Nakato says her belief in God to ensure success strengthen her resolve.
“It’s very exciting when you begin start the journey with faith,” she says, “We followed the process, took time to learn before making regrettable financial decisions that lead to loss.”
Nakato started with two stations that have since multiplied to 34 and the queues of clients just keep growing.
She says it has been a journey of self-growth and learning with intense reading and research daily. And they now have an added mission; to return respectability to the hairstyling job.
She says, “Our pursuit is respect to return back to the hair industry because the hair stylist has never been rewarded for their skill”.
And to further their dream, the twins are taking on trichology (professional study in hair care management that deals with the science of hair and scalp health. Babirye is taking the course first, and Nakato will follow.
Nakato and her twin are the fifth born in a family of seven. She believes they are a perfect fitin business.
“We are business partners who trust, agree and have the same vision and passion,” Nakato says.
Nakato went to Namugongo Primary, Makerere College School, St Balikuddembe Secondary School and Makerere University where she pursued a degree in social sciences.