Former maid’s formula for curly-kinky hair leads to a 12-store hair salon in Rio, a rare example of a successful black Brazilian businesswoman

afro brazilian women

Former maid, businesswoman explains how a formula for curls changed her life

Julia Dias Carneiro, BBC Brazil in Rio de Janeiro

Heloísa Assis spent ten years with dipping her hands in cream, mixing all kinds of products, trying out different combinations and then testing them on her brother’s hair.

Thanks to the formula, Zica became a success.

 

“Because he’s a man and has short hair, if anything went wrong, all we had to do was cut it,” she explains. The guinea pig, her brother Rogério Assisi became one of the four partners of the Beleza Natural salon. Today, the company has 12 salons in Rio, Salvador and Espírito Santo and it continues to grow. But 20 years ago, it all started in a backyard salon the northern section of Rio de Janeiro.

 
 

The experimentations of Heloísa, better known as Zica, brought about the formula that she called “Super-Relaxante (Super-Relaxer)”, the driving force behind the company. The treatment is behind the loose curls worn by poster girls of her chain of beauty salons. Thanks to the formula, Zica, 51, has become a rare example of a successful entrepreneur among black women in Brazil.

Straightening

Zica grew up in a slum in Rio’s Tijuca neighborhood and began working as a maid at the age of nine to help support the youngest members of a family of 13 siblings. “I come from a very humble family and in my house there was a law: whoever was old enough to work had to help out”, she says.

She worked as a maid until the age of 33, but changed her life on a whim. Zica was determined to find a way to manage for curly/kinky hair that didn’t resort to straightening, which was the only option available in the 1970s and 1980s, she says.

  

“70% of the population has curly and wavy hair. The market didn’t see it before me! Most products were for straight hair was, and people had no choice but to straighten (their hair)”, she recalls. The businesswoman discovered a large pent-up demand. Today, Beleza Natural does 80,000 treatments per month and attracts caravans of women from other states and cities who want to try Zica’s curly formula.

 
 Beleza Natural Salon in Rio de Janeiro

But she herself straightened her own hair between the ages of 14 and 21.

 “When I went to work in people’s homes, I realized that my hair, which was very full, was associated with being dirty and carelessness. I didn’t want to straighten it, but I felt compelled to do so”, she says. At 21, she decided that enough was enough. “I didn’t want that for myself. I wanted to wear my hair naturally, with beautiful curls. So I went after my dream.”

 

The first step was to take a hairdressing course that offered by a church in the community where she lived. Then came the experiments, with a decade of trial and error. And finally, she found the right formula. When she finally discovered the formula she was looking for, Zica persuaded her husband to sell his taxi and invest about R$3000 to open a salon in the back of a small house in Tijuca in 1993.

Super-relaxante

Soon, the lines began to appear. The product, enriched with high-powered moisturizing nutrients, such as cocoa extract and the açaí berry,was patented. Starting with four employees in the beginning, the company now has 1,400. The company opened a training center in Rio and a factory that puts out 250 tons of products per month.


 

Beleza Natural has a strong appeal for black or mulatto women but Zica doesn’t define her target audience by the color of their skin but by the type of hair, emphasizing the large number of people with curly hair in Brazil, be they black or white.

Most of her customers are women between 18 and 45 years from Brazil’s B, C and D economic classes (1). Treatment with the “Super-Relaxante” costs R$69 (US$35). There are packages for when mothers, daughters and grandmothers appear together in the lounge, with prices slightly lower for families.

Zica says that keeping prices affordable is a concern for her chain of salons.

 

“We’ve come down, we know what people go through. I could never take care of my hair in a salon. I haven’t forgotten this reality,” she says. Today, Zica and their three children live in a house in a condominium in Barra, in the western area of Rio, but her greatest reward, she says, is seeing clients’ improved sense of self-esteem. “Every day I meet people who tell stories of transformation about how their lives have changed, just like it happened to me,” she says.

Zica continues to dream. In 2012, the forecast of Beleza Natural is to grow the business by more than 25% and eventually expand into other countries. “I’m sure we’ll go very far and conquer the world out there. There are many people with curly hair waiting to be treated,” says the successful businesswoman.

1. For an explanation of Brazil’ economic classes see here

Source: BBC Brasil

About Marques Travae 3144 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.