Ottawa hairstyling app eyes women of colour as key demographic

The lack of hair-care services for people of colour is enough to, well, make you want to pull your hair out.

Bantu is a beauty service app that enables women of colour to find a hairstylist in their area. It offers filters based on location, price and types of hairstyles. Women can chose from 64 hairstyles and can rate the hairstylists on a five-star scale.

The idea came about when John Eke, Bantu’s founder and product developer and a person of colour himself, started getting requests from many of his female friends asking him if he knew any good stylists in the area.

"If a female is asking a guy about where they can get their hair done, it just immediately feels like we need to start an app for something people actually need," the Ottawa entrepreneur says.

"We like to focus on the black female demographic and the discovery component. As they are a minority in North America, it’s hard because the majority of salons and stylists aren’t trained to take care of black hair," Eke adds. “Black women are sort of left to sort through online website pages like Craigslist or Kijiji or word of mouth. We want to make the process more seamless and mainstream.”

Created two years ago and launched in January 2016, Bantu is used across Canada, the United States, France and the United Kingdom. About 400 hairstylists have created profiles and 10,000 users have downloaded the app on iPhones. The app is not yet available on Android devices, but there are already 1,500 people on a waiting list.

Bantu offers simplicity when creating a listing. Once participating hairstylists have created their profiles and submitted their file, their listings are immediately available to anyone in that area looking for a stylist.

Bantu offers many services for the stylists as well, such as generating a card they can share on social media. The app also creates a single-page website for the stylists. Eke says Bantu will also pick a stylist at random and promote him or her on the app’s own social media page.

Meron Berhe, Bantu’s co-founder, says it has further plans on expanding its analytical component.

“In the future, we will have more detailed analytics for the hairstylists on how many people are visiting their page and how many people are actually booking appointments,” she says. “We also want to allow booking and payment through the app.”

Eke says Bantu’s top competitor is StyleSeat.com, which already has traction in the market. However, while it targets all demographics, Bantu focuses specifically on women of colour. It also faces competition from mobile hairstylists, but Eke says his app offers users a choice of a wider range of locations.

Eke says one of his biggest challenges is funding the operation.

“There are competitors coming up every day,” he explains. “We are bootstrapping and can only move so fast. So we want to validate the business first and funding is what we need to move fast and be more competitive. I’m worried about how fast we’re moving and keeping up with the market. Being a bootstrapped startup is tough.”

In terms of the future, Berhe says her team is constantly looking to evolve the app. She hopes Bantu can eventually become a household name in the hair industry.

“In the future, we hope to be the platform where any black female is looking for anything about their hair, hair products, who knows, but we are hoping that Bantu will be the first thing that occurs to them when it comes to that.”