Out of nearly 1,000 entries, Uhai Hair, a Liberia-based company founded by Susan Edwards and her husband Varsay Sirleaf, has been selected as one of the 16 finalists for the BrownGirlSwap Grant.
The grant — BrownGirlSwap is a groundbreaking initiative between BROWN GIRL Jane and SheaMoisture that includes an investment of a $250,000 grant fund plus comprehensive programming in support of Black Women-owned, independent beauty and wellness brands offering Black female founders a platform to amplify their business, receive entrepreneurial mentorship from industry veterans and be awarded critical funding.
To vote for Uhai to win $20,000, supporters are asked to visit www.browngirljane.com/vote. Voting can only be done on a desktop/laptop computer and ends Friday, September 18 at midnight.
The concept for Uhai Hair sparked in Nairobi, Kenya, where Susan and Varsay were working and discovered that women there were suffering from dry hair and severe hair breakage. So, to find a solution to their problem, she decided to create Uhai — a product infused with high quality African ingredients such as superfood baobab, coconut oil and shea butter, which deliver key health benefits and address dryness and breakage.
After the company was established, Susan said getting Uhai up and running in 2015 was challenging. The challenge has to do with her moving to Liberia with Varsay and their one year old daughter and adapting to a new culture and environment (Liberia’s emergence from Ebola, no running water, unstable electricity, poor roads, etc.).
“I completed market assessments, went through several rounds of product formulations and even changed the brand name several times but two years later, I was offloading products in Liberia and my life was never the same again. Our first time selling Uhai products was stressful – I had just come out of my first trimester with our second child and had lost 40 pounds due to extreme morning sickness (IV drips had become my means of survival). But we were determined to get out there despite it all and introduce Uhai to our friends and family in Liberia. We have since expanded to Ghana, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire and the United States.
For Susan, Uhai is more than just a hobby that gave birth to a beauty product. It is a compendium of passion, scholarship and sacrifice.
“My connection to the hair care industry dates as far back as high school,” she explains. “The summer before I headed off to college at Stanford, I received a scholarship named in honor of Fred Luster Sr., the founder of Luster Products Company. He founded Luster while a barber on Chicago’s South side in the 50s and grew it to a workforce of more than 300 people with offices in 32 markets. The scholarship was administered by the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute which comprised Black owned hair care companies and that scholarship meant a lot to this girl with big dreams of majoring in chemical engineering!”
“After graduating from Stanford, I went to work for Abbott Laboratories working in operations and engineering roles for products such as Ensure. After several years at Abbott, I decided to enroll at business school (the Kellogg School of Management) where I met my husband and fellow grad student, Varsay Sirleaf.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“Since our humble beginnings in Liberia, Uhai has grown to become more than just a line of hair care products showcasing powerful African botanics. It has become my love letter to the continent I called home for close to a decade and its women, the “Aunties”, I met along the way,” Susan said.
According to Susan, her vision is to build Uhai into a global brand, beloved by millions of people of color, and especially loved by African and African American communities, the source of our heritage.
“I envision Uhai products being the staple of healthy hair regimens and giving our Tribe the confidence to walk AND live unabashedly, just like my Aunties,” she added.