We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
Leslassa Armour-Shillingford never set out to be a hairstylist—she studies Planning at Waterloo, with a focus on transportation. But when more and more friends started asking her to do their hair in first year, she stumbled upon a huge demand in the KW region for stylists with expertise in kinky-curly hairstyles. As an advocate and enthusiast for natural hair, she was more than happy to share her knowledge, and Hair by Lassa grew organically from there. Offering a range of services from special occasion up-dos, cornrows, braiding, lock maintenance, hair care consultations and more, she developed a steady client base as word spread through the local region. This term, she decided to devote an Enterprise Co-op term to growing the business.
For Leslassa, it’s not just about the hairstyle she’s creating (although that is undeniably an art form of its own). Just as important is helping people to express themselves and feel confident in their natural hair. She has big ambitions for Hair by Lassa, aiming to expand into her own line of products and tutorials for stress-free natural hair care.
We sat down with Leslassa to hear more about her journey in E Co-op so far.
Q. Were there any challenges in the transition from styling hair for friends and family here and there, to pursuing Hair by Lassa as a business?
The biggest challenge for me was handling the financial aspect of the business and communication with new clients. I have always been good at keeping myself on a budget, but when it came to understanding cost versus price, appropriately determining what I should charge for my time, and so much more... I was lost. Initially, I was very mathematical and worked out how much the products cost and my per hour rate. Then I realized that didn’t incorporate any indirect costs such as advertising, renting a chair, administrative work, and more.
To top it all off, I am very shy when it comes to asking for money. The main hurdle to overcome was actually my attitude. I really focused on what my value is and the value of Hair by Lassa. I wrote down what makes my service worthwhile and this made me more confident in being realistic with my prices.
The second challenge was even more difficult for me because I have always felt that I am a great communicator. Talking to individuals who are not as familiar with afrocentric hair styling made me realize that the way I spoke wasn't easily understood. I used too much jargon and this made my new customers, who didn’t know me, feel frustrated. Also, some customers thought I had multiple people working for me and would be frustrated with the time period I would take to reply. To deal with this, I now clarify from the first interaction that Hair by Lassa is a ‘one-woman show’ and also ask for customers' input on the easiest way for me to explain x, y, z.
Q. Word-of-mouth has been a big part of your marketing, but you’re also actively connecting with customers through social media. What has worked well for you in spreading the word about your business?
Though I use social media and flyers as promotion tools, in the end, it is the relationships that I have with my customers that have allowed me to grow. A person may try getting their hair done by a stranger once, but unless they felt that it was a positive experience, they would not return or spread the word. Every one of my customers has recommended me and those who they recommended have booked an appointment or reached out in some way to let me know. Also, the reviews left for Hair by Lassa are all five stars, which relates back to customer service. From my experience, Facebook and Instagram play a major role in advertising once I make the ads as visual as possible. People want to see images of the possibilities.
Q. How do you balance day-to-day work with clients with your long-term plans for growing the business?
It has taken me some time, but I have finally planned my schedule so that three days a week I only do hair styling, one day I spend on tutorial and advertising info, and then two days on future goals. The future goals I am focusing on are getting processes in place, doing research on legal aspects of the business, completing pitches, and visualizing design of the Braid Bar and products.
Q. What is one thing you’ve learned this term that has surprised you?
What I’ve learned is that confidence goes a long way! I am very extroverted and never thought that lack of confidence would be an issue for me. Speaking up for myself and asking for what I deserve has allowed me to grow so much as an individual and has made my business grow as well. Customers are more trusting with someone who is sure of themselves.
Q. What are you looking forward to about the rest of the E Co-op term?
I am very excited for more formal processes for Hair by Lassa. I am working hard on getting a step-by-step process for all types of bookings and questions as well as shopping for products and equipment.
Also, I am hoping to hire a few people by the end of the semester. Currently, I have two volunteers, but it will be different being able to hire someone and go through the interviews and selection process.
Interested in Enterprise Co-op? Attend an upcoming info session.