KNEADING and plaiting her sister and friends’ hair in the often unforgiving high-density suburb of Glen View 1, Harare, Elizabeth Kanyasa-Buard never in her fanciest dream thought that she will one day count celebrities like Eryka Badu — the multi-platinum award winning singer and songwriter — among her clients.
Her upbringing, having been born in Murehwa in 1972, was modest. So, too, were her aspirations.
At a time when hairdressing, just like a career in music, was considered — and is still is by many — to be a better-to-be-avoided vocation, Elizabeth’s stubborn heart “unfortunately” fell in love with the profession.
A hair affair
Against her parent’s advice to consider enrolling in nursing school, she took up a Cosmetology apprenticeship at Harare Polytechnic.
“Although my sister excelled in doing hair better than me, I ended up falling in love with the trade more. By the time I finished high school, I was doing so well in hair dressing, so much that I was making my (own) pocket money.
“After I finished my high school, my parents had wanted me to enrol into nursing school because hair dressing was looked down upon and not considered a profession. Behind their back, I enrolled myself into cosmetology apprenticeship at Harare Polytechnic College.
“At polytechnic, my lecturer was Mrs (Doris) Jere, who simply encouraged me. Mrs Jere used to say to us, ‘Hair has no boundaries, it can take you anywhere in the world and help you reach heights you never expected’,” said Mrs Kanyasa-Buard in a recent interview with The Sunday Mail Business from her California base.
Just as the 19-year-old was breezing through her studies at college, something unexpected happened: she fell pregnant.
All of a sudden, she had her hands full.
However, her friends came in handy; they encouraged her all the way through.
“Having my child at that age made it very challenging to balance school, attachment and being a mom. I never thought I would finish college, but because of my mentors Linda Sweet Love, Caroline Makuvire, Sarah Chamunha and Myriam Manatsa who pushed and encouraged me, I finished my college and got licensed as a cosmetologist.
“After I finished Cosmetology School, I had built a clientele base and started working at Tres Chic and then Jyrome’s Cosmetology Centre,” she said.
Braiding a dream
The harder Elizabeth worked, the “luckier” she became. Her clients, purring about her excellent customer care, became her blessing.
“My blessing came from clients. Good customer service and clientele care led me to being rewarded by one of my clients. One of them offered me a return ticket to the United States of America as a Christmas gift, and that’s how my American dream started.
“It was not easy settling in a foreign land, but through God’s faithfulness and favour, I became a cosmetologist within a month of being in the USA. A kind salon owner and cosmetologist took me under her wing upon seeing my talent and character.
“She processed my immigration paperwork and helped me enrol into a higher education institution. From there, the ball started rolling for me. Fast forward, four years later, I moved to Hollywood, California and the dream continued.
“I worked on Kimberly Elise from Tyler Perry’s ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’. I made the wigs for the ‘Dream Girls’ movie set, and I also do Erykah Badu’s hair, including the NFL Cowboys’ wives hair.”
“Dream Girls”, a 2006 American musical drama film, features a cast of talented and inimitable musicians such as Beyonce Knowles, Jeniffer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose.
US$1 000 weaves
For all her accomplishments, Elizabeth feels she hasn’t achieved her goals yet. She intends to expand her salons —trading under the name Caliz B Hair and Beauty Salon — across the globe, but most particularly in Zimbabwe, leveraging on the experience she has gained over the years in the United States.
“The secret of being a good hair stylist starts with good customer service and a passion for the trade. If you have a passion with cosmetology, you have to take it as a profession, not as a hobby.
“Customer satisfaction should be the main goal and with this, the sky is the limit . . . Yes, it is very expensive to get hair styled in the Diaspora. But again, people are very much into their looks and they will pay whatever.
“For example, a weave sew-in could range from US$250 to US$1 000, single braids from US$200 to US$550 or more, depending on the length and type, and people still pay.”
Business and family
The life of female entrepreneurs generally tends to be quite demanding and taxing relative to that of male businesspersons. There are obviously more societal expectations and responsibilities, especially related to the welfare of households.
“Thankfully in the United States salons do not open on Sundays and Mondays, so I take those days to catch up with my life outside of work. I have only one daughter who is 23-years-old and in university; she is equally busy as she works too, but we make sure we create time within our busy schedules to sit and talk and discuss how school and life is going.
“My husband is very supportive of my work and how hectic it can be at times. I spend time after work everyday to catch up with him on his day and work. Some of our favourite hobbies are fishing, watching movies or American football game as we are both football fans.
“So, overall, my husband and daughter are the source of my strength, comfort and encouragement, be it in my work or life in general,” she added.
She is a firm proponent of Zimbabwean stylists and entrepreneurs following their dreams no matter what.
“Do not stop dreaming, and do not stop aspiring to be the very best in all you do. For entrepreneurs and those aspiring to be one, remember, it is not easy to own and run a business, but it is achievable. You have to treat your employees with dignity, compassion, care and respect.
“Also, keep in mind that the customers are what makes and builds a business, so respect them and their opinions. Remember to stay humble always as it will lead you far in life.
“Lastly, I would like to encourage parents not to take their children’s talents and gifts lightly. Let us encourage our children to prioritise education, and also learn a trade along the way, because you never know what will be their key to success!”
Elizabeth Kanyasa Buard, who owns Caliz B Hair and Beauty Salon, has been in the hair business for 20 years. She is fully licenced in Texas and California in the US, and recently won the inaugural Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the Zimbabwe-USA Achievers Award on November 19, 2016