The Curl Guru – Shenara De Silva

Hello, I’m Shenara.

I am a curl specialist based in Auckland, New Zealand. I am a Sri Lankan-born New Zealander on a mission to empower people to embrace their natural hair – be it wavy, curly or coily/kinky. My mission is to help people of all genders, ages and ethnicities to wear their hair with confidence, in a world where we have all been told our hair needs to be tamed, fixed or changed to be considered beautiful and/or professional.

What did you do before you started your business? 

I was working in Wollongong, NSW in a hair salon that specialised in curly hair. It was amazing!

Is this your side-hustle or your full-time gig?

Full-time gig.

How did you get started? What is your story?

My story is not unique, it is an experience many of us face, even in 2020. People with curly and especially coily/kinky hair face hair discrimination in both our personal and professional lives. There is a lot of pressure for us to ‘fix our hair’ and fit in to look like everyone else. We are born with beautiful heads of hair, it is a unique fingerprint of our heritage, but because we look different and do not fit into a very selective standard of beauty, we are told that we are simply not good enough. We are forced to tame, hide or fix our hair in order to make a good impression, to land our dream job, to look ‘professional’.

The lack of education in the beauty industry for different types of hair aside from a one-size-fits-all approach to make it look like straight hair is proof that we need to do better. In a world where self-love is needed more than ever, I want to create positive changes to build confidence by embracing what makes you beautiful in your own, unique way. My work is catered to enhance what is naturally there, rather than erasing it.

I hope that my work can shine a light on the importance of inclusion, visibility and diversity in the beauty industry. If we want change, it begins here. Celebrating diversity, celebrating you is what will raise awareness that not only one shade of skin colour is beautiful, or only one type of hair is beautiful. We aren’t all built the same, and we are certainly not meant to look the same. 

before and after curl transformation photo by Shenara De Silva

Was starting a business easy? If not, what challenges have you encountered on your journey?
I believe the best way to answer this question is to list all the reasons I was told my many business owners that I should not open my business:

  1. Covid-19: I just arrived home to New Zealand after spending a few years in Australia, two weeks before lockdown and decided I want to open my business in the middle of a global pandemic.

  2. Prospects: I had absolutely no clientele and no contacts in the NZ hair industry; no one here knew I existed.

  3. Costs: I had a lot of startup costs. My husband and I put whatever little savings we had into it and hoped for the best. We did not have much money saved because we recently got married in November 2019 and were in the process of packing up our lives in Australia to settle down in New Zealand. Anyone moving overseas will know how much of a difference savings make, especially for rainy days!

  4. Support: My husband is my biggest supporter and he is the reason I was able to open my business. But I have not seen him since 29th February due to Covid-19. He was due to fly in a few weeks after me, but unfortunately his flight was the night before NZ went into lockdown and he, along with many others were turned away at the airport. It has definitely been challenging as newlyweds, in the middle of a big move and me opening my small business during lockdown to not have my biggest supporter by my side as I navigate my very new, small business on my own.

  5. Changing Alert Levels: I opened for business on 10th June in Alert Level 1. Things were going amazingly. That was until we went into Alert Level 3 recently, hair salons cannot operate, and I suddenly found myself at a loss wondering how to reschedule 100+ clients without knowing when we were going to open for business again. On top of that, having to turn away potential new clients because I could not give them any dates in advance!

    It has not been easy at all, but nothing in life worth doing is ever easy!

How often do you compare your business model to your competitors?

Not often, but feedback from my clients gives me a great insight! My business model turns the beauty industry’s business model upside down, but it works for me.

What do you wish you knew before you started your own business? 

Learning to say no! I always put the needs of others before mine and am slowly learning that I need to look after myself if I want this to be a sustainable business. 😊

What gets you up in the morning? Yoga? Coffee? Pets? 

Meditation and music, it is my lifeline.

What is something you still need to learn to improve your business model? 

How to learn to trust people enough to delegate work and ask for help when I need it. This is my baby, and I am realizing now that I can no longer run this business on my own. I need to let go a little and allow others to help me to deliver the best customer service possible.

What other activities do you juggle whilst being a business owner, and how do you stay on top of everything? Any organisational tips you can share? 

Time management is everything. I am a writer, singer and artist. Working on creative projects while building my small business has been challenging. Learning to discipline myself and hunker down was not an easy thing! I have a reminder app with a detailed schedule for day-to-day events and put time aside for my other projects. I have two separate diaries – one to jot down ideas for my projects and the other just for my business.

Do you have a life/business coach or mentor that helped you get to where you are? If so, would you recommend other people find themselves a role model or mentor too? 

I have a few mentors and I do sincerely believe that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I have mentors who are in the same industry as myself as well as completely unrelated businesses who have helped me map out a business model that works for me.

What is your most recent favourite quote? 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

curly hair up-do by Curl Guru Shenara De Silva

What’s one piece of advice you would ask the Robinson Duo in regards to starting/managing/growing a business?

How do you know it is the right time to form a partnership or grow your business? And how do you attract the right type of investors, so that you can grow your business with integrity?

Robinson Duo’s Answer

The first thing we would suggest for you to do is look at your SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats). Identify the key areas that you need to focus on and then consider what the best pathways are to strengthen them. Partnerships can make or break a business so it’s important that you assess what partnerships to consider, at the right time.

In terms of investors, we think it’s important to understand what type of money you need and why. “Growing with integrity” sounds as if you might be taking short-cuts if you don’t get funding. We’d suggest focusing on a core product set and ensuring that you can demonstrate the business model and performance before you consider external capital. Consider the amount of money that you need to make the business successful and pathways to accessing that money. Can you improve margins? Are you able to cut costs? There may be some simple wins before you consider external capital. Also, keep in mind that there is never such a thing as “free” money and investors will be wanting a clear pathway for return on the money they put in. So make sure that when you raise money, you are very clear on what your objectives are and what return you’ll be able to achieve.

Good luck from RD

You can find Shenara here:
Instagram: helloshenara
Facebook: helloshenara