With stylists ready to style our hair in the UK, France, Canada and the US, we’re certain Bantu is on to something major. Co-partner of Bantu, Meron Berhe shares the vision behind the app dedicated to Black hair.
What made you even think to join Bantu?
From as far back as I can remember there has always been a gap between hairstylists and women looking to get their hair done. There are always Black women searching for a new hairstyle and probably just as many stylists that can do that very style.
My partner John created Bantu in 2014. International students at our University who moved to our city would often not know where to find a stylist. I think after several queries, he thought about how best to use technology to help out. I entered the picture a little later. I found out about the app in 2015, and I thought immediately that this would be so helpful to more than just international students but to Black girls everywhere.
There’s a trend of geo-targeting apps for women of color specializing in our hair textures (i.e., Swivel). What makes Bantu stand out?
Yes, that’s definitely true. I saw a recent article in ESSENCE heralding the top 10 beauty apps, and what was most exciting is that women of color are getting recognition in the beauty space, which has for so long not served us well. It’s also exciting that many of these geo-targeting apps are mostly [owned by] women of color themselves.
One thing that makes Bantu stand out from the rest is that we operate in many different locales. We focus on discoverability. We’re continuously growing our network of stylists but have stylists on the platform in the US, UK, Canada and France. Whether you’re new to an area, your usual stylist is busy or traveling, we want you to be able to find the stylist that works for you.
What has been the recruiting process to finding top stylists?
We’re in an age of social media now. Anything you need to find can be found by searching a series of tags or just simple words. So for the most part, our recruitment process starts with social media whether it is a blog, an Instagram page, or an online profile. We sift through the various hairstylists and hand pick those that we feel have produced quality work that would cater to our target audience. From there, we personally reach out to each and every one of them offering the hair stylists an opportunity to list themselves on Bantu.
What have you found that Black women with natural hair really crave from their salons that they’re still not getting?
Most naturals have a story or a journey wrapped intimately in their coils. The natural hair movement is big now, but I recall going to salons (both black salons and non-black salons) and the focus was always about “taming” my Afro. Beautiful was synonymous with European.
We’re shifting into an age where curls are gaining a place at the beauty table, and what black women want, whether natural or not, is someone who they can trust will style them in the manner they desire. For me specifically, that means having a stylist that can properly cut, shape, or trim kinkier hair types. I have found that, thanks to Bantu.
This may be more of an opinionated question, but what do you think is happening to the women who still get relaxers?
I really believe that a black woman’s hair is a very personal extension of herself. Some may see it as liberating to keep their hair natural, start from the beginning with a big chop, or have it relaxed. Whichever direction a black woman decides to go in is entirely up to her. As far as we are concerned, at some point the woman with relaxed hair still is, or at some point was, a woman with kinky, coily, or curly hair but made the decision for herself to change her texture.
Within Bantu, they aren’t left out of the market. The hairstylists that we have listed cater to Black women with relaxed hair as well as women with natural hair. Within the larger hair industry, it would appear that way as more and more products are being targeted for the natural demographic. I don’t think relaxers are going anywhere, though.
How much of this was really connecting to the community and how much of it was truly tech development?
If I had to give it a number, I’d say 60/40. The entire birth of Bantu is centered around creating, developing, and maintaining a connection within the Black community. It was literally created to link black hairstylists and clients.
Thankfully, we have a very skilled team that are not only competent, but are passionate about app development. We are fortunate that we have a software developer as a founder, who mentors other engineers of color. Our team is also made up of others who don’t have a technical background, but rather focus on building connections and outreach. It’s a very interesting and dynamic environment, which has certainly opened my eyes to the app development process, as a non-technical person myself. Every feature we add into the app is carefully deliberated. We really consider ourselves a tech startup catering to black women, and their hair.
This may be obvious, but why the (cute) name, Bantu?
We wanted a name that our target market could relate to. Bantu is a word and style that is distinct to a Black woman’s hair. It embodies the unique beauty, poise and grace of a Black woman. This app echoes the very sentiment of the word as it was made especially for Black women – to celebrate her with whatever style she pleases.