After eight long years of planning, Tyrone Barge is tapping into the Black hair care industry.
Barge has launched the AWNI Collection, a line of hair weaves geared toward women of color. The line of human hair comes in remi silk, mink, yaki and supreme yaki.
His interest in the hair industry first came 13 years ago when he financed the North Philadelphia-based Life Styles beauty salon, where his sister Sheila is a top stylist. After noticing that women who came to the salon for weaves were being steered to Korean-owned beauty supply shops to purchase hair, Barge sought to remove the middleman and access the product directly.
Barge made contact with a Korean distributor of a popular line of hair, only to be told that they don’t sell to Black people wholesale.
“He told me it would be bad for business if they sold the hair to Black people wholesale because we are their biggest consumers. His insult gave me the motivation to develop my own hair product,” Barge recalled.
According to a documentary titled, “The Korean Takeover of the Black Hair Industry” by Aron Renen, African-American women account for 70 percent of weave hair purchases — which equates to an estimated $15 billion per year.
For Barge, getting into the hair industry was not an easy feat. Eight years ago, he visited China and attempted to purchase hair directly from a manufacturer. Even though he was received favorably, the Chinese would not do business with him. Barge, who is a contractor by trade, had to learn about how the Chinese conducted business.
“I didn’t want to insult my hosts,” he explained.
“So, I came back home and immersed myself in learning about Chinese culture. When I returned to China, I was welcomed with open arms after eating and drinking with my hosts, who agreed to work with me to produce the hair. I struck a deal to import 100 percent human hair from India, and established my own factory in China to produce the hair. It took eight long years of going back and forth, but it was worth it.”
Barge’s sister Sheila, who accompanied him to China, worked with the Chinese manufacturers to ensure that the AWNI Collection would blend with all textures of hair. He leveraged proceeds from the salon and his real estate ventures to set up operations in China.
His efforts paid off, and Barge officially launched the line during a seminar for salon owners and stylists on April 9. More than 200 seminar attendees learned about the potential to make additional revenue by selling the AWNI hair directly to their clients.
Barge says he wants to move hair stylists from just installing weaves to a position of economic empowerment.
“It’s about us making a conscious decision about how we spend our dollars, and taking back control of this industry to reap the benefits. It’s really not a personal thing. I want to show salon owners and stylists how they can make money. I want to empower us economically, and for us to understand the true power of our dollar,” says Barge.
“I believe that there is strength in numbers.”
After doing some research, Barge estimated that based on an average of 10 weave clients per week, African-American salon owners could bring in an extra $2,000 per month if they sold hair for weaves directly to their clients.
He estimates that Life Styles salon has lost about $100,000 in revenue within the past eight years, since they weren’t selling their own hair product.
The AWNI (A Whole New Image) Collection is only sold retail in Black-owned beauty salons. The collection will not be found in beauty supply stores. Barge is also negotiating with the historic Berean Institute to sell the hair retail through their cosmetology program.
His 5-year strategic plan for Philadelphia-based AWNI Enterprises includes establishing a hair factory in a building he owns in North Philadelphia so that he can employ people from the community.