Doris Nkumah popularly known as Mizwanneka, is an award-winning Nigerian entrepreneur born on October 3, 1990. Mizwanneka is the CEO and creative director of one of the biggest hair brands in Nigeria – Wanneka Luxury Hair. She originally hails from Ebonyi State, Afikpo North. Nwanneka Nkumah started her hair business in 2013, which has thrived ever since. Wanneka is an astute businesswoman and entrepreneur who owns other chain of businesses. Every year since 2016, (except 2020 and 2022) Wanneka has brought together women in business towards the end of the year to let off steam, share ideas, network and get refreshed for the year ahead.
Talk to us about your entrepreneurial journey and how you built the formidable Mizwanneka brand.
NWANNEKA: My name is Doris Nwanneka Nkumah, I am the CEO and Creative Director of Wanneka Luxury Hair, a wife, mother of four adorable kids, and, as people love to call me, The Hairboss International. I am from Ebonyi State. My journey, my story, and my business has been like a magical one. I started Wanneka Luxury Hair 10 years ago, I had just gotten married at the time and was pregnant with my daughter Emily. I relocated to Lagos, where my husband lived at the time, and was trying to understand my new environment. Every time he went to work, I’d stay home alone, pick up my phone, and go through Facebook, as I wasn’t doing anything that period. As I scrolled on Facebook one faithful day, I bumped into hair videos and pictures being advertised by a hair brand. They all looked so appealing to the eyes, especially for me, who was a hair lover. In that instance, I knew I didn’t want to just buy and wear, but buy and sell because the pictures and videos were just too beautiful.
So I started by taking those pictures, reposting them on my BBM (Blackberry Messenger), and indicating they’re available for purchase. From time to time, people will message me to inquire, and I’ll get the prices from the Facebook page where I saw the photos, add a small profit, and give the client’s price. This continued until I sold my first hair. I was surprised and pumped, knowing people loved hair and would actually pay that amount for it. I continued the same method even though it was difficult, and the lack of sales most times made it very stressful and discouraging, as I could go weeks or even months before making any sales. After my daughter was delivered, I proceeded to get a small store in Festac and then ordered my first hair outside the country, which was 1.6m, I was so excited and looked forward to filling up my new shop with products, but unfortunately, when they arrived, it turned out I had bought fake hair. Everything I ordered turned out bad immediately after you installed it and when I tried to reach out to the suppliers, I was blocked. It was my first setback in business, as I cried morning and night because that was all the money I was given for my business. I went back to the Facebook vendor I saw and continued ordering from them until we moved from Festac to Lekki, which was about a year and a half later. When we got to Lekki, we got another store, and this time I found some good suppliers, but the problem was that after I got the store, there was no means of buying again as there was no money. I gathered the leftovers I had just to put something in the store and went ahead with my pre-order approach.
The year went by so quickly, and I made nothing. At the end of the year, I could barely stock up the store or even renew the rent so I packed up my things and left. I went into another round of night crying, and at this point, I was sure I would stop, but somehow I didn’t and started pitching for another store. Imagine falling twice already and still wanting another store. This time, I summoned the courage and we agreed and rented another store. After we rented the store, my husband was supposed to give me some money to stock up, but he never got what he was expecting, and so that was it—new store, no products. I packed all my personal clothes, hair, and accessories and filled up the store just to be able to have an opening. Half of the year gone, and there was nothing to show for it again. Now this will be the third time. As we were approaching the end of the rent, I told my husband I felt that if I traveled out of the country people would believe in my brand more and would patronize me, so I started planning a trip to Dubai.
While I was in Dubai, I did a “buy one, get one free” promotion, and no one bought still, this time it was depression Pro Max. I saw so many beautiful things I wanted in Dubai but had no money to buy them. It was in Dubai that I made up my mind that I’d make it in life because I wanted to come back to buy all the things I loved. It was time to leave, and I returned to Nigeria. It was close to my son’s birthday, and we didn’t even have the money to buy him cake. So I sat on my bed that morning, thinking and thinking about what I could do to make money, even if it was for my son’s birthday only. So I messaged my supplier and told them I wanted to buy a lot of hair, like $20,000 worth. I had never even seen $20,000 at the time. They sent me the price for that amount of hair, and goodness, it was different, it was way less than the price I had been buying, so I begged them that I’d send them the money that I was trying to get an agent to change it to dollars when I actually didn’t have the money. I started uploading the hairs on Instagram at a much more reduced price and to my surprise, a lot of women were interested. I made over one million in one day and trust me I wanted to go crazy, I ran to my husband and my mom, who was living with us at the time, and told them I’d be handling my son’s birthday all by myself. I let the clients who ordered know I needed some days to ship, and to my surprise, they all agreed and that was it. I kept on doing the same thing, and every time I did, the sales doubled. I continued this and started to even go to different states for sales (physical sales), and it just kept getting better and better to date.
How does your brand empower women, and what impactful initiative(s) have you organized or supported to this end?
NWANNEKA: First of all, I am a big fan of women in business, or should I say women with their own money. I believe it is vital for women to understand that it is okay to have their own money and have something going on for them, regardless of how affluent their husband or family is.
I don’t think any woman’s first dream as a child was to sit at home and ask her husband for money. I believe that everyone has expressed their desires for life at some point, thus, I believe that regardless of who you are, who you are married to, or who your father is, you should still aspire to establish something for yourself. I encourage women to be financially independent, helping out in the home no matter how small by supporting their husbands occasionally with bills, and most importantly, earning respect and having a voice in the marriage.
Anybody who has ever lived in a house where the man pays all the bills can attest that the wife will not play a significant role in making decisions. This is absurd because most men who take care of everything, including buying sanitary pads for women and sending money to their families monthly, will get away with doing anything they want.
You almost can’t say anything because, on your own, you can’t afford the good life you enjoy with them. As a result, you are obliged to deal with his contempt and everything else he throws your way. As a result, I’ve hosted women every year since 2016 (except in 2020 due to COVID and 2022 due to my fourth child’s pregnancy). I’ve collected a group of women, told them about establishing a business and making their own money, and then empowered as many as I can with funding to start something for themselves. In 2023, I hosted over 200 women, and we had a good talk, learning, unlearning and relearning.
Some women in attendance won some money to start up a business. One million naira was given to a woman, five hundred thousand naira to two, and two hundred thousand naira to roughly seven others. This is just a small example of the many ways I use my brand to empower women by giving back to the community, encouraging other women to launch their own businesses, and making their own money.
What are some past experiences, lessons, or achievements that shaped your journey as an entrepreneur?
NWANNEKA: Some past experiences, lessons, or achievements that shaped my journey Include the multiple failures I encountered while building my business. I failed two times, and it was towards the end of my third attempt that I got my breakthrough. I didn’t give up. Wanneka Luxury Hair is 10 years this year, and it has been an interesting journey where I have had to adjust and make changes along the way.
We recently rebranded and moved totally towards a luxury hairline because being a business owner in Nigeria in this climate is a big challenge. There is no constant power, and the dollar rate is unstable, but I refuse to be deterred; I’ll keep pushing, changing strategies, and evolving.
Before now, I used to take orders for hair before going to the vendors to supply them, but that is no longer feasible with the way the naira fluctuates against the dollar. I could take a set of orders, and before I go back to my vendors, the Naira crashes again, and I record losses. So now what I do is buy straight up and sell. So whatever happens with the Naira and Dollar, I already bought and have them, and I am selling as I go. But giving up is not an option, especially in Nigeria, where we do not have the kind of support we need from the government. My biggest motivation is that I don’t want to be broke, and for my children, I want to give them the best. The worst thing that can happen to anyone is the uncertainty of not knowing where the next meal will come from. Having enough money to run my business effectively while helping people (something I really love to do) is very important to me.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs venturing into the same industry?
NWANNEKA: My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs venturing into the same industry is to not limit yourself, you can find inspiration anywhere. You can gather ideas from anywhere. Also, know there is nothing like copying, nobody invented anything, everything is evolving. The only thing I recommend is that you add your spin to it so that it becomes your design. Always show up. Put up your content. There is nothing like doing too much for your brand.
What are your future plans in terms of growth and expansion?
NWANNEKA: My long-term growth and expansion goals include being a one-stop shop for luxury hair. I rebranded to just sell luxury hair, and there are ongoing plans for opening additional stores throughout the world, especially in the United States.
We now have a shop in Ghana, and as part of the rebranding, we are reopening the one in Nigeria. We are also considering entering into wholesales for luxury hair for wholesalers in other countries who cannot afford to go directly to the suppliers.