Inspired by her children, ‘hair’s the story of Locsanity! Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Charmaine James used to have a very complicated relationship with her naturally curly hair.

From the culture-shocked, six-year-old girl who emigrated from St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica to the United States with her family, to the distraught pre-teen whose hair fell out when it was first permed.

Then, there were the unpleasant adolescent memories of the 1980s Jheri curl era which she recalls as being ‘… hell… to this day, I can still smell the chemicals burning my scalp and nostrils.’

Transitioning into adulthood, James, then working in corporate America as an e-commerce and warehousing executive, had her ‘Come-To-Jesus’ moment of self-reckoning through Alicia, her eldest of three children and a pre-teen at the time.

Locsanity’s Founder and Managing Partner Charmaine James and her chief operating officer hubby Alister with their children (L-R) Alicia, George and Alyssa. The family share a ‘locversary’ each October to commemorate their joint journey of having loc hairstyles.

When Alicia’s desire was to have straightened hair like hers, James realised that her actions didn’t align with her words. It was impossible to ask Alicia to celebrate her natural hair when her mother had not done so.

‘That was like a gut punch, it made me take a step back and reevaluate everything I was preaching to these little kids,’ a teary-eyed James recalled. ‘What I felt was that the truth I was breathing into them, wasn’t the truth that I was living. I was being a hypocrite.’

That encounter with her daughter was an awakening for James, who shortly thereafter, made the decision to quit relaxing her tresses and go the route of locs.

Here it became a personal hair journey — embracing her roots and shrugging off Eurocentric beauty ideals.

Now tending to her newly reverted natural hair, as well as those for her ‘little humans’ would prove to be a task given James’ demanding 60-hour work week schedule.

James labelling haircare products in Locsanity’s 3,500-square-feet warehouse in Coral Springs, Florida.

She was also carefully particular about the products she wanted to use. ‘Initially, when we converted to our locs, there were no products we could find.’

‘There were one or two brands on the market, but being that I am very health conscious, I only want the best for myself and my children.’

‘So, as I was looking at the ingredients on some of the products out there — mineral oils and petroleum — I don’t want that on my body or my hair, and I certainly don’t want to put that on my children.’

So, I started to create different concoctions in my kitchen.

James’ at-home experimentations ran the gamut with rosewater, Jamaican black castor oil, argan oil and an array of other mix-and-match sourced ingredients.

‘Once I got to a point where I figured I had developed a pretty good formula, which took about six months, I reached out to an organic chemist, because I knew this was something I wanted to offer to other people … I asked him to stabilize the formula as it needed to have a shelf life once a bottle was opened.’

After much trial and error, the formula was perfected. This entrepreneurial leap of faith birthed Locsanity, which was officially launched in 2017, a hard-won resolution to the deep-rooted issues she had lived through with her hair.

The seven-year-old Locsanity hair and skincare company is today a multi-million business on the strength of a growing customer base with loose natural hair and locs. Brand ambassador Ensie Dunn is photographed here being misted with the brand’s Passion fruit infused moisturizer.

‘I had to recognise where it [the struggle] was coming from,’ said a reflective James during a recent weekday morning sit-down at Locsanity’s expansive warehouse space in Coral Springs, Florida.

‘There was a beauty standard put in front of every single one of us from the moment that we were first able to even decide on beauty. We were being told this is beauty: straight hair, light eyes, light skin, this is your standard…and no, it’s not a standard! Beauty is a rainbow, it’s not black, it’s not white.’

Being Jamaican, James was aware of dreadlocks. ‘But there was always a stigma associated [with it], you think of the Rastafarians, and it was always presented to me in a very negative way, and I first had to overcome that. The more I explored beyond the negativity projected onto me, and society as a whole, I discovered how perfect locs actually are.’

‘The beauty I found in dreadlocks was the freedom. It was as though I had a destination, I was trying to get to from the moment that first perm was put into my hair and it fell out, something that my hair needed and loved but I had no idea. So, when I finally started researching and saw the possibilities locs presented, it was what I had been waiting for my whole life. I can now have a style when I wake up in the morning, and decide I don’t want to style my hair, I just want to shake it and go. I can do that!  If I decide I’m going out this weekend and want to glam it up and do a nice updo, curls and the whole shebang, I can do that!’

James introduced Locsanity with no fanfare. ‘Once we put it on the market, I didn’t expect anything. Here’s something I made because I needed it. There was no market research.’

I put it on Amazon, that’s where I started, and someone bought it. I was like, ‘What! Oh my goodness!’ Then, someone else bought it, and then someone else.

‘The reviews started to come in and this person would say: ‘I bought it and loved it! This is what I needed’. Little by little, the sales started to add up,’ James recalled of her entry into the haircare space that was embraced by appreciative consumers.  

‘It was all word of mouth and very much organic. We did no marketing. I knew nothing about marketing or social media. I made something and said: ‘Here world, what do you think?’ and for whatever reason, the world said, ‘Girl, come here!’

To her amazement, Locsanity’s exponential growth was first steady, but became manifold in profits once she was encouraged by her business consultant ‘to get out there in front and share my story’.

He correctly foresaw how her authentic personality would connect with people looking for specific products for curly Afro hair.

‘We went from revenue of US$500k a year to becoming a multimillion-dollar company, once I told people my story and how I got here and the struggle I went through,’ James disclosed

Today, Locsanity retails more than 30 plant-based haircare and skincare products for women, men, and children.

Shampoos, conditioners, mousses, moisturisers, balms, pomades, and body washes are among the extensive purchasable items.

Recently added is the Wini by Locsanity collection, a diverse offering of products for both loose, natural hair and locs, honouring Winifred James, her late mother-in-law.

James is confident that she could not have gotten to where she is now without the support system of her hardworking team of employees and business partners.

Locsanity is on an upward trajectory

Assessing the current situation, James is gratified by how far the seven-year-old business has come.

She credited her trusted business partner and husband, Alister, as a source of strength from the company’s beginnings. He currently serves as the chief operating officer.

‘The temperature of the company is that we are growing, growing, growing. Last year, we moved into a warehouse that doubled the size of the one we were in previously, and as for the current warehouse, we are already touching the seams, so we are having an unbelievable amount of growth,’ she explained.

As for the next goal in sight, James revealed: ‘we want to be in the big box retailers of the Walmarts and the Targets. We want to be in those doors because that’s where our customers are now looking for us. They know they can get us on Amazon and and local beauty supply stores.’

They want to walk in the local Walmart or Target and get us there too.

And, as James stands fully prepared for this potential big move, she harkens back with a sense of inner peace of the road she’s travelled.

‘When I first started with my locs, I was going crazy trying to figure out how do I moisturise? How do I do something as simple as interlock them? How do I style them? The Locsanity name came out of that. I was trying to find sanity on how to care for my locs and I hope by putting everything that I have learnt together and providing it to others, I can help them shorten their journey and step over the pitfalls that I had. I want them to stand on my shoulders to find their beauty.’

What’s equally beautiful in the eyes of the corporate exec-turned-budding haircare mogul is the journey her immediate family members have taken together with their hair.

‘All of us started our locs at the same time and we have a ‘locversary’ that we celebrate in October’.

‘My husband too…he came along later. He had to go through COVID,’ she joked, before heading off to a virtual meeting with one of her suppliers.

By Omar Tomlinson