Join us as we sit down with Grace Ume, the owner and founder of Braided Elegance.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Grace Ume. I was born in the UK and spent some of my formative years in Nigeria. I moved to the USA [from the UK] in the year 2000. My career has spanned from food manufacturing management to IT project and program management. I am at a stage in my career where I want to do things that I have a passion for; hence the birth of Braided Elegance, my online wig store.
Give us a brief narrative of your naptural hair journey and why you began.
I grew up in England at a time where we were the only black family on our street. I played with blonde long-haired dolls, desperately yearning to have a similar type of hair. I felt my hair was too thick and difficult to handle and I hated it. As soon as I was allowed, I got it chemically straightened and also went through the whole wearing of weaves; I was brainwashed into thinking that straight hair was pretty and mine in its natural state was not.
Only as I got older did I begin to accept my hair type realizing that God did not make a mistake and now I appreciate the beauty of my hair type. I began to appreciate the cushiony feel of my hair. I also began to think back to how I had liked my hair when I had it in braids or plaits; remembering how pretty I had looked in these styles. I was annoyed mostly with myself for not accepting my own hair sooner as I would have prevented all the damage [from the chemicals and tight weaves] I subjected my hair to for all those years. I made a decision to cut out all the perm from my hair 10 years ago, now I wear braided wigs or other wig looks that mimic natural hair styles. Now I like to counsel younger ladies to learn and appreciate their own hair so they can prevent the damage us older ones have done to ours.
Describe your product selection journey when you began. Has it changed?
I started off with chemically straightening my hair using all the associated creams and lotions to now using all natural products on my hair. I wash my hair with African Black Soap and use a 100% African Shea Butter, sometimes mixed in with Virgin Coconut Oil. It is a complete reversal for me.
How does your occupation impact your Naptural Hair choices?
Since leaving corporate America I have the freedom to style my hair every natural way I choose. I tend to either wear my hair in my current close-cropped style or wear one of the braided wigs from my collection.
How do you handle negative comments about Naptural Hair?
I Ignore them! With confidence comes freedom and so I don’t allow other’s narrow definition of beauty to define me.
What do you do to keep healthy and positive (health, fitness, spirituality, etc.)?
I became a Vegan in 2009. I recently introduced my mother to the Vegan diet too and her health has improved immensely. I also work out regularly and love to take Zumba or spinning classes. I believe in a Higher power. And I had a unique Christian awakening in 1993 and life has never been the same since.
What is your philosophy on community involvement and what projects are you currently involved in?
Due to the nature of my former profession, hands on community work was not feasible. However, I did write a book called “Embrace with His Grace” and all proceeds from the book sales goes to charitable organizations.
Who do you see as positive influences in your life and why?
Definitely God, first and foremost. He guides me daily in all things. I always joke to my friends that God even helps me buy my shoes. I love shoes and whenever I go shopping for a pair of shoes for a special occasion, He leads me to the best shoes and they are always on some crazy sale. Secondly, my sisters are a great positive influence on me. I tell them they are the smartest women I know and we are able to co-mentor each other. I remember once praying for a mentor and God impressing upon me “what about your sisters?’ It suddenly dawned on me that collaborating with my sisters was the best mentorship program I could hope for.
Tell us about your business.
The name of my business is Braided Elegance. It is an online store but we are based in Houston, Texas. We sell premium handmade braided wigs. You can connect with us online at www.BraidedElegance.com or @BraidedElegance on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
How long have you been in business and why did you start?
Braided Elegance opened earlier this year and I started the business because I believe that as women of color, we are at our most beautiful when wearing Afrocentric hair styles. We are at our most elegant when we are sporting a head full of micro braids, twists or locks. Unfortunately, our naturals styles have, for so long, attracted negative undertones from the mainstream. The good news though, is the tide is finally turning and more woman are beginning to wear natural styles with pride.
The bad news is that these styles can come at a cost to our overall hair health, especially our edges! This is why Braided Elegance introduced a range of high quality, hand knotted wigs. With our wigs, you can enjoy these styles but protect your natural hairline.
Getting these style on your natural hair can be a time consuming activity – sometimes taking all day. With our wigs, you can enjoy the braided look in an instant with the versatility to change your style as you change your clothing.
What makes Braided Elegance different from your competitors?
Our braided wigs are exquisitely crafted. We model our actual product. If you are like me, you have probably purchased a wig from Asia and when it arrives, it looks nothing like the wig you saw on line! I am confident that once you get one of our wigs in your possession, you will buy another one. Our prices are very competitive too!
Do you have any tips for up and coming entrepreneurs?
Yes! Find a group of like-minded women to co-mentor with. In these type of groups, you all are bringing something to the table. I strongly believe in “sisentrepreneurship,” especially for the dark days. Don’t give up if you believe very strongly in your business idea. There will be the highs as well as the lows. The hardest part is getting the business off the ground. Once that is done, spend the time to bring awareness to your business. Getting folks to trust or even engage with your brand will take time. Accept the fact that growing your business organically may result in some slow seasons. But at the right time, there will be that exponential growth and you don’t want to be caught flatfooted, so use the slow periods to fine tune things like your delivery model your website and the other operational aspects of your business. You want to be prepared for the “harvest.”
Any final words?
We as black women need to begin to run businesses that uniquely cater to black skin and hair. It is absolutely criminal that we invest so much of our money into Asian owned hair businesses and we hear that they are trying to shut out black owned businesses from the same line of business. We need to start investing in our community by making a concerted effort to invest in our businesses. We need to stick together and build that community of sisterhood. It is crucial to us advancing forward.