Ngozi Opara, founder of Heat Free Hair, is a motherland mogul. The DC-based Nigerian entrepreneur is a leading provider of 100% virgin hair extensions designed to perfectly blend with a woman’s natural hair texture or curl pattern. By empowering women to embrace their natural textures through an innovative approach to protective styling, Ngozi is changing the face of the beauty industry. Heat Free Hair was recently selected as the 3rd place winner in She Leads Africa‘s annual pitch competition. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke to Ngozi about her love of hair and the entrepreneurial hustle that got her where she is today. Check our interviews with all of the winners of the pitch competition over the next few days.

When did your love of hair begin? What has been your hair journey?
I’ve always loved hair because there are endless possibilities that you can do with it. I also became a stylist in my late teens and have tried every style under the sun including a few big chops.

How did you get the idea for Heat Free Hair?
I own a hair studio in Washington, DC and the most popular style women would request was a weave. Our studio was sought after because of our healthy hair philosophy and approach to styling. But when I noticed that women who wore weaves experienced tremendous hair growth on the sections of hair that were protected while experiencing breakage on their “leave-out” (because they had to continue to apply heat to their hair in order for it to blend in with the weave), I felt like a hypocrite.

I started thinking that there had to be some type of way for women to wear the protective style of choice, while also protecting all of their hair at the same time. Thus, the initial idea for Heat Free Hair was born.

In your opinion, what are the most common ways that black women mistreat their hair?
I think the biggest thing is neglect, whether she’s natural or relaxed. We all could stand to show our hair some additional love through regular washing and conditioning, moisturizing, and being gentle with our tresses. And don’t forget to care for your hair while you’re rocking your favorite protective style.

Ngozi Opara, Founder of Heat Free Hair

Ngozi Opara, Founder of Heat Free Hair

You moved to China for some time to become a hair technician. What prompted that decision? Did you know Chinese? How did you find a place that would train you? How did the skills acquired during your course there help you with your business?
I did and that was a very intense, but crucial period in Heat Free Hair’s growth as a company. The decision to move to China for six weeks to enroll in a hair manufacturing course that would normally last for six months was based on the fact that our initial product samples we received just did not meet our quality standards. After months of sending texture samples and notes to our first manufacturing partners, I realized that this was one of those “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” moments. So I packed my bags and went to China so that I could learn the entire process in and out and now I’m happy to say that we have our own factory and Heat Free Hair manufacturing team. For us, this was the only way that we could ensure that every single Heat Free Hair product is made with the highest integrity and quality. And no, I did not know Mandarin and no one else in the factory spoke English, so I had to hire and work with a translator 24/7.

Is Heat Free Hair natural or synthetic? How should it be cared for?
All Heat Free Hair products are made with 100% unprocessed, virgin hair. The short answer is that you care for them as you would your own natural hair. Virgin hair extensions last the longest of all hair extensions and can be worn for eight to ten weeks at a time for over a year if cared for properly. The exact length of time depends on the hair type/quality and the style. Synthetic hair and regular human hair generally last about six to eight weeks and cannot be reused once done.

The price for Heat Free Hair is high. Why should people get over the initial sticker shock?
Heat Free Hair offers the highest quality of extensions for women with natural curls or textured hair on the market. If well cared for, our products can be washed and used for up to one year. The price is also comparable to a lot of extension products that exist on the market, so most of the sticker shock may come from women who are first time extension buyers, who through Heat Free Hair have finally found an option that works for them. Another important thing to note is that because we manufacture all of our products, total production costs are much higher than if we were to purchase product from a third product supplier, which is something that we will never do.

What’s the biggest sacrifice you have had to make to make your dream come true? What’s the biggest thing you’ve gained through this experience?
One of the biggest sacrifices that I’ve made to launch Heat Free Hair was running my hair studio while also working full-time at a financial firm. For a whole year, I lived completely off of the money that we made in the studio and banked all of my finance job checks. I used these savings as seed money for the business.

What was the response you received from the natural hair community?
At first, the response was tepid. Many women in the natural hair community have (or should I say had) a very thin definition of what “being natural” was or should be about, and they couldn’t understand how hair extensions, even if they were designed to match our texture, fit into the equation. I’m happy to say that over time and with the right product(s), education, and outreach, we’ve been able to change a lot of minds and are now very well received by the community at large.  

What are your favorite hair products?
Each Heat Free Hair package goes out with a product-specific care card that lists our product picks and recommendations. These picks are not pitched or solicited by the brands, but are actually all handpicked and reviewed by the Heat Free Hair team. A few of my personal favorites include the Hicks Total Transformation Edge Pomade, Tangle Teezer, and Denman Brushes for Detangling.

Learn more about the Heat Free Movement via their website or visit NZO Hair Studio in Washington, D.C. to get your hair styled by the hair guru herself.