Sheer elegance, sheer magic, permanent hair solutions

By Catherine Kuria

When it comes to hair, all women have a story to tell. Whether you are African, Asian or Caucasian, we all agonize over how to wear our hair, toss and turn about what colour it should be and cringe at the thought of possible hair loss. Bad hair days are a constant battle. Sure as a child, it’s long and healthy, but after a decade of using chemical straighter, it becomes increasingly vulnerable to damage. That is a tale that rings true for millions of African women.
One may choose to wear their hair natural but once in a while they can try braiding or weaving. Finding that perfect human hair or braid that compliments your hair and pocket is not easy. The secret to avoiding bad hair days is knowing what works for your hair and learning how to confidently rock the look. Darling, the market leader in hair products in 14 African countries has you bad hair days sorted out.

Background of Godrej
Godrej is an Indian based company. Its presence in business is a three by three approach because basically, they are in three regions; Asia, Africa and Latin America. The other three is that they want to be in three categories; home care, personal care and hair care. The company was established in 1897. It has been in the market long enough to understand the trends and survival tactics to stay on top of the game.
This is the first time that Godrej is testing the waters in Africa. The company came to Africa in 2011 and partnered with Darling Africa that has a presence in 14 African countries where the Darling brand is very strong. Africa is the next frontier where growth will be realized for the company. Godrej already has a very established market in India, Indonesia and Latin America. Godrej as a company is in real estate in both India and Indonesia. Who knew that it was the brains behind the safes used in banks today?
The arm of Godrej consumer products is where the hair care products come in. They have both hair extensions through the Darling brand which comprise weaves, crochets and braids. The anchor market of Darling products is Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. Darling has also partnered with two other companies; Charm Industries and Canon Industries. From Canon Industries is where you find the Valon brand and from Charm you’ll find the TCB brand which is a range of relaxers and maintenance products for hair. Their aim is to gain a sizeable market share in the business.

Godrej products and their success in the last 10 years
Godrej commands market share leadership in the hair extensions business (which is their core business) and this has been led by all their innovations which have been consumer based. They come up with styles that are high on demand by the consumers. They follow global trends, (where the African consumer is headed) and develop the styles that consumers aspire to have. They empower the consumer with the right products to enable them to achieve their desired looks.
One of the key challenges of our African hair is that it’s kinky and hard to manage when you keep it natural. Once in a while, you’ll want to put hair extensions or other relaxers so that it’s easier to manage. Darling gets insights from consumers in the market to ensure that their innovations are not only meaningful, but also pocket friendly.
Recently, they noticed that there were fewer innovations in the market. They went to the consumer and looked at their different segmentations and varying needs. They segmented the braids and recently came up with a braid called Pambo. Pambo is a Kiswahili word that means decoration. It’s a versatile braid that comes with all the fancy colours that the consumer is in dire need of. Consumers have taken beauty to a whole new level and are wearing hair of all sorts of colours. The company wants to ensure that across all hair products from braids, crochets, weaves and extensions, they can give the consumer all the colours that they want.
Pambo is not only colour friendly but will enable stylists to achieve a certain trendy hair style known as Bandika. Bandika is a Kenyan stylist innovation and what Darling is doing is empowering her with the right product to achieve this style that she came up with. Abuja is their flagship brand. The name of the braid originated from Abuja town in West Africa. Darling was started by two Lebanese gentlemen. They started the company in Senegal and that is why most of their brand names come from West Africa. It’s a strong African connotation since braids are known to be more African.
Their objective is not to make money in terms of bringing a premium braid but to provide a good offering to the consumer which gives her a premium brand that she is not getting from the market in terms of quality, and an affordable braid that will get her to rock her look like a boss.

Market Growth
Darling is proud to say that they are the market leaders. The market is raw but they have picked the panels. They are working to get a specific figure by the end of the year through research with stylists and consumer panels . Their growth strategy is to drive penetration since they want more and more consumers to be able to afford their products and achieve the styles they desire. Local consumers keep complaining that it’s hard to find products that suit their bad hair days and what they do is import from overseas markets. Their objective is to ensure that more consumers wear their products and have a portfolio that will enable them to achieve all the styles they are looking for.
One of the major strengths of Godrej is that it invests in research and development. Being a company that has expanded globally, their angel in Africa is very different. They do research with consumer and stylist panels and have built partnerships with top stylists across Africa and celebrities to be able to give them feedback on the styles consumers are looking for.
They invest a lot of resources and have a test centre where they have stylists and consumers coming in everyday to give them feedback on their products. Every single day, they test different products to see what works best where. Above all, they are looking across the world to see if there are better suppliers of fibre. Consumers seek to use extensions that are close to their natural hair and that is what Darling strives to offer through their research and development. They have invested about half a million US Dollars in research in Kenya only and they want to grow that higher because they want to drive innovation in the market. They want to be a fashionable brand ( not just an ordinary commodity brand). When you think about hair fashion, think Darling.
Their local experts are women themselves and stylists who are hairdressers doing testing and giving feedback on what should be improved. Darling manufactures all their products locally and in all their factories they employ women. They have two factories in Kenya; Likoni Road and Road C in industrial area. They have a work force of 5000 employees hence empowering our women by not only providing quality hair products but also giving them a source of livelihood.
As a result of their partnerships with local experts, they have been able to launch 20 new products in the last six months. When a lady wears one style this month, next month she’ll want a change and wear another style and that is why the company is trying to keep up with the pace at which hair styles are evolving. In order to achieve this, for them research and innovation is key.

Elegant Braid
The brand has been developed through consumer insights. They thought that they had the right braids for the consumer with Abuja and Pambo fairing well in the market but as they continued talking to the consumers they realized they had to keep innovating to meet their demands. Braids are heavy and if you tie them up, your head at the end of the day you’ll end up with a massive headache. Consumers were looking for a light braid, that does not pull their hairline and that will make them achieve their desired style. Based on that insight, the elegant braid which is light as air was developed.
When developing the braid, the point of view from stylists was ease of grip and ease of achieving the style. The elegant braid is not as slippery as other braids which make it easier for stylists. It is also light and hence does not pull the consumers’ hairline. Darling wanted to complete the braid portfolio and they felt that it was not complete without addressing this one paint; lightness.
Braids were pulling consumers hairlines when styled in an up do look and this is a gap that had to be addressed for their braid portfolio to be complete. Not only is it light, but you can also easily achieve a hot water curly look. The lightness of the elegant braid is its unique selling point since its light as air. It gives you sleeker and shinier looking braids with high quality fiber.

Darling Academies
Darling Academies are their corporate social responsibility ( CSR) firms since they work in close proximity with women and stylists and they get to understand the pain points also with the consumer. They want to empower women who have a desire to either own a salon or work as stylists but they don’t have the capabilities to go through the training. They have partnered with top salons and stylists in the market and build a curriculum providing them with resources in their factories to be able to train women from slums and less fortunate girls who cannot further their studies past their O levels. They offer them basic hairdressing skills free of charge for three months. They have partners who are experts in the market who help them train these ladies.
In the last one year, they have had about 3000 graduates from their academies. They take them through to see how the hair is made in the factory. If you dream of having a career as a stylist you just apply to join the academies. They target the less fortunate women because it’s an empowerment programme and they want the right people to be able to access these facilities which are free.
They have 5 academies spread out in different parts of the country. Jobs are not easy to come by and big plans need to be put in place. Darling aims to get to a level where they can set up salons for their graduates courtesy of a partnership with the government and other financial institutions that they have approached. So far, they have worked with close to 20,000 salons across the country. In this category, the stylists are the experts. A consumer may have a certain style in mind or in a picture, but they don’t know what they need to achieve that look and that is why stylists are vital for us.

Global Partnership with Kanekalon
Kanekalon are global fibre producers. Hair extensions are made from fibre and Kanekalon is one of the best producers in the world. Darling was the first in Africa to start manufacturing hair extensions so they got an exclusive partnership since they have built the business over time. Kanekalon is in the business to ensure their fibre is properly used and Darling is just the right stop. The partnership enables Darling to get the best fibre in the world. Darling ensures that they follow the world’s trend to provide nothing but the best.

The road ahead for Godrej Kenya in the next five years
The future looks bright and full of opportunities for Godrej. They want to be a fashion brand that represents fashion to the consumer and leaders of the fashion conversation in the country.
Fashion is huge business globally but Africa has not taken it to the level of commercialization. Godrej wants to fill that gap. They want to ensure that every woman wears their products and when consumers come to them, they will find something fashionable to wear.
If the trend of ‘naturalistas’ continue, then that is the street they will follow because they know consumers will need maintenance hair products for that. They will also strive to continue being the number one brand of choice. The ‘ naturalistas’ trend is not a threat but actually an opportunity for them to continue offering hair care products.




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