In 2009, American comedian and actor, Chris Rock, produced Good Hair, a movie that revealed the African American hair industry to be worth a whopping $9 billion. Most of that money is spent on relaxer treatments and products; all purchased by women in search of ‘good hair’ – straight and smooth. The story is no different for African women. African women from the North of the continent to its southernmost tip spend billions on hair care products including relaxers and oils as well as weaves and wigs, some weaves costing anywhere from $50 to well over $1,000. However, some of the best and most natural hair care products are home-grown – in Africa. Carmen Tal, CEO and co-Founder of Moroccanoil, is the Chilean woman that discovered Africa’s ‘liquid gold’ and took it global.
Carmen’s hair tale began in Tel Aviv, Israel. After a bad treatment that left her hair colour and texture ruined, her sister-in-law took her to a small salon where they used an argan oil treatment. The results were instantaneous. Her badly damaged hair became shiny, healthy-looking and manageable and Tal’s first thought was “this could work”.
Tal had previously spent several years in management positions in the fashion industry and after a hiatus to have her three children, she decided to go back work. She was no longer interested in paid employment so she took entrepreneurial risk and start ‘U’ a small hair salon with a friend. Speaking about running a small business, Tal says “It was such a learning curve, but it struck me that there was this incredible relationship of trust between a stylist and a client, that this was the perfect place to sell products.” What she learned from that experience fuelled her search for amazing hair products: “I had a strong desire to bring other salons something different that would excite consumers and attract them into the retail area”. Fast forward to her Israel trip and argan oil treatment, Tal’s intuition told her she had found what she was looking for. All she needed to do was persuade others to see what she saw. “When I had that treatment I knew instinctively that this would work, that I had to bring it home. Everyone told me all the reasons why it was a flawed plan, that it was too crowded a market. Even my husband took months to persuade (he’s the Hebrew speaker, so I needed him to push the deal through), but I can be a hard-headed woman when my gut tells me something is right.” And following her gut, Carmen Tal established a business that has grown from 10 employees in 2006 to about 300 in just six years.
Her strategy was simple: take the best of Africa to the rest of the world. She and her now ex-husband, Ofer, bought the small Israeli company that imported argan oil from Morocco just a year after her first treatment and began importing to North America. Their new brand, Moroccanoil was so well received that distributors in the United States began knocking on her door seeking exclusive rights to distribute the product. It was at this point she knew for sure she had found something special. Argan oil, unique to Morocco, is a plant oil from the kernels of the argan tree. It is often produced as a by-product of processing argan nuts, known for being rich in antioxidants and fatty acids. Although relatively new globally, argan oil has been used by Moroccan women for centuries to treat their hair, skin and nails. As argan trees are endemic to Morocco, revenue from argan oil exports provides a unique source of income for the country’s economy and Carmen Tal has been an important part of developing that revenue base.
The ambitious business woman who recently built a stunning office in New York City is excited about Moroccanoil’s future. The company has since moved from having a single product to launching 12 new luxury brand products. Carmen doesn’t believe in launching new products simply because others are doing it. Instead she adopts the personal hairstylist approach: she listens to what her customers want. Undoubtedly, Moroccanoil has a great future ahead as the brand gains a loyal following globally from women of all races and hair textures.
Despite her enormous success, Tal’s advice to women starting their own businesses is conservative: “I would also suggest to those starting businesses to grow slowly and with caution.” She also cites passion and discipline as key ingredients for success, saying that “without passion, you will lose your focus”.
Although Carmen Tal is Chilean-born and based in North America, her success with Moroccanoil is instructive for African women. The unique and rich climate of many African countries means they have numerous unique untapped resources that could serve a global market and boost the local economy. Perhaps the time to stop searching outside for new products is here; like the argan tree, it could be growing in our backyard.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts on Africa’s unique resources and comments below.