Student launches hair care line for Black men
- International relations and global business major Shamillah Iga launched a line of hair care products aimed at men with textured hair
- A native of Uganda, Iga wanted her products to reflect her connection to the continent
- Iga hopes to one day develop a global brand that incorporates social responsibility into its business model
When Shamillah Iga’s brother decided to forego his traditional fade haircut in favor of a more natural look, she was all for it — until he started swiping her hair care products to treat his textured hair.
“Like my brother, a lot of black men are now opting for longer hairstyles, but a lot of products for their hair type are marketed towards women or aren’t formulated for their curls,” explains Iga, a senior majoring in international relationsand global business, at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
So, in 2019, after returning home from a trip to Uganda to find her own style products depleted, Iga decided to create a product to fill her brother’s needs: Nile Hair, a hair care line especially for Black men.
Iga, who is originally from Uganda, says she chose the name not only to honor her connection to the continent, but also to evoke the purity and cleanness of water.
“More people are leaning towards products that are full of clean, natural ingredients and ingredients that are sourced from various parts of the world,” she says. “And especially for me, because of my origin, I really try to incorporate ingredients that are native to Africa into my products.”
Iga says the components of her products are organic, vegan and gluten-free, and free of harsh chemicals, such as phthalates and parabens.
Across two continents
Iga was born in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, but her family emigrated to Louisiana when she was two, later settling in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. Her childhood trips back to Uganda, however, gave her insight into some contemporary issues in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a sense of how interconnected different parts of the globe can be.
Wanting to explore that interrelationship, Iga says, is why she decided to pursue an international relations major rather than one simply focused on business. She cites one of her courses, “The Political Economy of Africa” (IR 317), as being particularly integral to her decision to create Nile Hair.
“We learned a lot about how development works there, what has stunted Africa’s development, how to move forward, issues of neopatrimonialism, and things like that,” she says. She adds that as someone looking to create a global brand, an understanding of these topics will be crucial.
The business end of Nile Hair was developed through several courses Iga took at the USC Marshall School of Business, where she is pursuing a minor in entrepreneurship. Originally, the company was just part of an in-class project. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic sent her home that she decided to develop it into something more concrete. She found a manufacturing partner and a cosmetic scientist and quickly got to work.
Even in the planning stages, Iga knew she wanted social responsibility to be a large part of her business’ mission. Right now, she is fulfilling that component by creating a product with natural ingredients.
“For a long time, a lot of products directed toward Black consumers had harsh chemicals. Historically, the narrative was that taming or controlling our curly hair warranted these harsher chemicals, but that isn’t even true,” she says. Iga adds that in the long run she hopes to be able to source ingredients from Africa.
Currently Iga has only created one product for Nile Hair, a dual-use hair and beard oil, which she sells through the Nile Hair website. But she is looking to further develop the company this fall through the USC Marshall/Greif Incubator, where she will get to meet with faculty, lawyers, marketing professionals and others to help grow her enterprise.