A comb. A tool that many overlook but to Samuel Karanja aka Sam De Salonist, it is one of his most valued equipment and a proof of his mastery in hairdressing.
In 2015, he started his journey as a mobile hairdresser and three years later, he owns two salons in Zimmerman, Nairobi County with 16 fulltime employees. The salons also serve as training centres where he trains enthusiastic young people in cosmetology.
However, for the 24-year old, although he liked experimenting with his own hair- applying hair dye, it never occurred to him that this would be his eventual trade.
“I wanted to be an engineer but when I got to secondary school, I realised that one needed to excel in subjects such as Math and Physics. For starters, I had joined form one-two terms behind my classmates due to financial constraints. My performance at the end of term was unpleasant. With an E score on my grade sheet, I didn’t proceed to form two. I dropped out,” he says.
When Samuel expressed interest to study a course in hairdressing, his father’s first response was laughter before telling him how ludicrous he was to even consider a ‘female’ course.
“I had to do a lot of convincing before he agreed to enrol me at Afro lady, a training centre in Kagwe, Kiambu County. Even then, he wouldn’t accompany me to the centre or show interest in what I was doing. Now, he acknowledges that it was the best decision I made at 19 years,” he explains.
According to Samuel, his journey hasn’t been an easy one and at one point, he considered going back to the village to help out on his father’s farm.
“After my six months training, I decided to leave the village for Nairobi city in 2014. I envisioned having a long list of clientele but that was not to be. First, the trending hairstyles such as crotchet were quite complex and uncommon in the village- it was like I was learning everything all over again. Secondly, most clients were hesitant to be braided by a male hairdresser because most were popular for dreadlocks,” he says.
His breakthrough came in 2015 when he came up with a new hairstyle ‘pencil braids’ that went viral on social media platforms and his phone kept buzzing with potential clients’ bookings. He notes that creativity, confidence, stamina, good people skills and dedication are a pre-requisite for any enthusiastic hairdresser.
“I got so many clients that on some days, I had to attend to more than two. Although I post my work on my social media platforms- sam de salonist, my best advertising tool has been through word of mouth – recommendations,” he says.
Samuel says that having a vision board is what stimulated his growth. For instance, between 2015 and 2016, he was only able to save Sh 5,000. However, when he became intentional about opening a physical salon, he was able to save Sh 100,000, his starting capital, in the subsequent year.
“I opened the first salon in May 2017 with just two workers and this year, I established the second one. Both salons are located in Zimmerman and I have a total of 16 fulltime employees and two seasoned makeup artists. On average, I take home Sh 40,000 on a monthly basis. Our services include braiding, weaving, beauty therapies and makeup application,” he says.
Although he is at a better place now, the challenges he faced in the past years such as lack of clients and poor pay fostered him to start a training centre.
Here, together with a professional trainer, they equip young people with skills on how to braid, weave and apply makeup. His teachings, mostly practical are offered at affordable charges and he has sponsored about five people for the course. Occasionally, different institutions bring to him students for attachments.
“I know where I have been, the problems I have faced hence my desire to guide other youth so that they can realise their potential and talents,” he says.
Besides the sponsorship, every other Sunday, Samuel and a team of volunteers visit children’s homes to offer hairdressing services to the children as a way of giving back to the community. One of the biggest lesson that he has learnt along the way is to be patient yet still persist.
“For instance, when I started, I ensured that in every matatu I boarded, I let someone know that I was a hairdresser. Even on days when I used to take home less than Sh 4,000 at the end of the month, I decided to persist and develop a new strategy. Actually, it has been a journey of new strategies and a lot of going back to the vision board,” he says, adding of the importance of having a disciplined saving culture and trust in God.
His vision for the next five years is to expand his business in different towns across the country and start a hairdressing school. Although his secondary school education is now a closed chapter, he hopes to advance his knowledge on matters cosmetology.