If there’s anyone in this industry that can be considered an authority in all things natural hair — it’s Charlotte Mensah.
By Johanna Ferreira
Her beauty inspiration comes from legends like Donna Summer and Diana Ross, both of whom she had the honor of meeting at the first salon she ever worked at. Her approach goes far beyond her craft — it’s a calling. The British-Ghanaian hairstylist with a career spanning almost three decades, has an A-list clientele that includes everyone from Erykah Badu, Michaela Coel, Janelle Monae, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s not only won countless awards including becoming the first Black woman to be inducted into the British Hairdressing Hall of Fame in 2018 — talk about major — but Mensah also has an impressive haircare line by the same name, formulated with organic, ethically and sustainably sourced oils, especially designed with textured hair in mind. Just last year, she debuted her very first book, Good Hair: The Essential Guide to Afro, Textured and Curly Hair. It’s what many in the industry are already referring to as the natural hair bible.
Mensah, who was born in London, raised in Accra, Ghana, and then moved back to London at the age of 11, recalls when she first discovered her love for natural hair. She was 13 when her mother passed and started helping out with her younger sister’s hair. By the 1980s Mensah had successfully broken into the industry and by 1999 she had opened the Hair Lounge salon on Notting Hill’s Portobello Road, that’s just as known for its generous servings of her delicious home-made nutmeg cakes as it is for phenomenally servicing natural hair. Mensah admits that her grandmother is the one that inspired both her love for beauty and baking.
“True beauty comes from the inside. Both my mother and grandmother had incredible, glowing skin and gorgeous features, but it was their warmth and kindness that made them even more beautiful to me,” Mensah tells thirteen lune. “My grandmother taught me the importance of self-care. She would have long baths where she would spend hours pampering herself with scented Avon products, which were a big deal in Ghana back in the 1970s. She never wore makeup but would look after her skin by ensuring it was always hydrated and moisturized.”
In fact, it was the way her grandmother took care of her skin that influenced Mensah’s own beauty philosophy. “I’m a firm believer in keeping my skin hydrated and moisturized,” she says. “With my daily routine, I stick to mixing Shea butter I source from Ghana, with rose hip oil that I whip until it’s soft and soufflé-like. Then blend with oils. It works brilliantly as a nourishing overnight treatment and by day, it gives my skin a lovely sheen.”
Her impetus to start her brand came from her clients. Mensah realized it was time to create what far too many women weren’t finding in the beauty market. “For too long, women with afro and curly hair textures have struggled to find products that work, smell nice, and are aesthetically pleasing,” she adds. “The way I decided on the manketti nut, well, that was serendipity! I had a job out in Kenya and got the most amazing full body massage. I had to investigate and soon became acquainted with the wonderful world of manketti nut.”
Mensah’s careful attention to detail and her appreciation for textured hair, ethically sourced ingredients, and self-care is evident in her luxurious Manketti Hair Oil. The rich oil blend created to hydrate curly and afro-textured hair, also soothes and nurtures the scalp, while leaving hair with a delicious boost of shine.
Get to Know – Charlotte Mensah
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
I was born in London, left at the age of 3 months to live with my grandparents in Accra, Ghana, return back to London at age 11, initially in the North West area of the city, before moving to my current home of 30 years — Nottinghill.
What does self-care look like in your life?
Self-care is caring for my body, mind, and spirit and taking actions to tend to my overall well-being. It is about establishing a sense of wellness and balance from top to bottom — inside and out. The way this manifests itself ranges from being around my kids, seeing friends, to going for walks in the morning and even going back to Ghana to relax and spend time with my family back home.
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
The get up and go of so many amazing Black women. We’re not all the way there yet, but it’s been amazing to see the ascent ( a long time coming!) of a number of women across the globe. I’m affirming even greater growth for those who have put in the work to not only be the face of the industries we’ve made our own. I’m also inspired by a lot of the young women making inroads in the industry. We’re now seeing more and more women take an active role in the science behind creating beauty products. I believe when we reach critical mass, the industry will have been completely flipped on its head.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
It took a while to get the products into certain retailers, but we’re here now. Being 100% self-funded I’ve very much had to bet on myself, and take the highs and lows on the chin. I think social media makes things a lot more glamorous and easier than they are, but as the saying goes “if it was easy, everybody would do it!”
What has been the biggest win thus far?
I’ve won over 15 awards for my product range. I’m carried by retailers worldwide and I’ve done it completely on my own.
What would you live to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?
Less pigeon holing of Black creatives. It’s never seen as an issue for white makeup artists and hairdressers to deal with curly and afro hair textures, but there very much feels like a glass ceiling when it’s the other way around. The more autonomy Black creatives are given in the industry, the more you will see the industry change as a whole!