Black women have been the largest consumer base for beauty supply stores, although the industry has been Korean dominated for decades. Visionary entrepreneur and mother of four children, Ms. Queensly Aji sought to disrupt this system. She was driven by a strong desire to establish a Black-owned beauty supply store within the neighborhood that felt like home. Undeterred by the dominance of Korean wholesalers and the obstacles they presented, Ms. Aji opened Havilah Beauty Supply. It was one of the first successful black-owned beauty supply stores in Queens, NY. Against all odds, Havilah Beauty Supply has thrived for over ten years, remaining a symbol of resilience and empowerment.
Upscale writer Dr. Adia Winfrey interviewed Ms. Aji’s oldest daughter, Princess Adenike in celebration of Havilah Beauty Supply’s 10-year anniversary.
How It Started
Dr. Dia: Besides a desire to make more money, what was the inspiration behind Havilah Beauty Supply?
Princess Adenike: The primary inspiration behind Havilah Beauty Supply extended beyond the pursuit of financial success. As a teenager and even as a young girl, one of my favorite places was the beauty supply store. It had everything a young girl like me wanted like lip gloss, jewelry, hair products, lotions, and perfumes. In high school, I would save my lunch money just to make my daily stop at the beauty supply store to buy some new goodies. However, I consistently felt frowned upon, watched, or followed as I shopped in Asian-owned beauty supply stores. It just never felt welcoming, as there was this racial tension built on stereotypes that always made me feel unwelcome. Even though I would still show up, it was always a bittersweet experience. I told my mom, “I think we should open up a beauty supply store.”
We wanted to create a sense of immense comfort and belonging for the community. Overall, Havilah Beauty Supply aimed to be more than just a business; it was a way to foster a welcoming and supportive environment for the local community, and that’s exactly what we did.
CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY
Dr. Dia: What were the biggest challenges your mother faced when opening Havilah Beauty Supply?
Princess Adenike: Some of the biggest challenges included industry competition, particularly from Korean-owned beauty supply stores. We encountered difficulties in obtaining products from vendors due to industry dynamics and had to contend with competition from larger corporate stores like Target, Amazon, and Walmart. Staying up-to-date with evolving beauty trends was a continuous challenge. Additionally, there was the issue of rent and inflation, which presented numerous challenges that persist to this day. We continue to persevere, but there is a lack of awareness regarding what it takes to keep our doors open. Over the years, I’ve observed several Black-owned beauty supply stores open their doors and close within five years. The challenges we face to establish a lasting presence in this field are formidable.
Dr. Dia: What sets Havilah Beauty Supply apart from Korean-owned beauty supply stores?
Princess Adenike: Havilah Beauty Supply distinguishes itself by offering unique and authentic products from around the world, including genuine African oils and Shea Butter. My mom and I are Nigerians, and she keeps a good relationship with so many entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Ghana. They are always sharing their new products, and my mom prioritizes giving them an opportunity to place them on our shelves.
Dr. Dia: What roles do you and your siblings have in the business?
Princess Adenike: I’ve been in the business since the very beginning when I was about 14 years old. I even helped during the construction phase of our store. Over time my day-to-day involvement shifted gears. With college, post-grad, and building my own career, I’ve taken more of a behind-the-scenes role, helping my mom with the big picture stuff. On the flip side, my younger siblings William, Elizabeth, and Israel, all in their twenties now, have really rolled up their sleeves and dived into the nitty-gritty of running things. They handle the cash register, manage the store, and keep tabs on our inventory, among other things.
For me, it has become a personal mission to shed light on the challenges and the real deal of running this kind of business. It’s not just about us; it’s about making the path smoother for fellow Black entrepreneurs and shifting the way folks look at things. I’m all about making sure people understand what it takes to succeed in this industry and making sure that Black business owners find a more welcoming and supportive landscape to make their mark.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE
Dr. Dia: What advice would you give a Black entrepreneur interested in opening a beauty supply store?
Princess Adenike: Don’t be afraid to fight. It sucks, but we really must fight, stand tall, stand strong. You belong here. You deserve to be here. Do your part and pay attention to the details of your business, prioritize customer experience, and especially the negative reviews because there will always be negative reviews. Keep learning and never let pride get in the way. Always be a student because it helps to evolve your business when you need to. The strongest companies/businesses know how to change with the changing times. Never get stuck in the old way of doing things.
Dr. Dia: What does the future hold for Havilah Beauty Supply?
Princess Adenike: The future of Havilah Beauty Supply includes plans to tell our story on the big screen through a feature film that highlights our journey as Black entrepreneurs in an Asian-dominated industry. I want to introduce people to this world and really raise awareness. The beauty industry is owned by other races, and Black people have a very small percentage. I want to remove stereotypes and instead show people the real deal. My mom and I are planning to step away from the beauty supply industry at some point. We have been very interested in health and wellness. We want to embark on a journey where we open up a space that combines beauty, health, and wellness but utilizes West African traditions and practices. That’s the next step, and it’s coming very soon!
The Havilah Beauty Supply story is a testament of faith, tenacity, courage, and family. Ten years of service in an industry that profits off the Black community while systemically excluding its members from profiting is no small feat. Upscale proudly salutes Ms. Queensly Aji and her children for establishing a legacy in the hair care industry. We look forward to seeing their next steps.