She's so Cult

She’s So Cult: Charlotte Mensah

A force to be reckoned with, {Charlotte Mensah} is at the helm of many a brilliant beauty project. Thrice crowned ‘Afro Hairdresser of the Year’ at the British Hairdressing Awards, we caught up with the legend herself to discuss life as an author, brand founder, artistic director and overall {hair care} extraordinaire.

The queen of natural {afro and textured hair}, Charlotte Mensah practically wrote the book on them; no, really, it’s called Good Hair: The Essential Guide to Afro, Textured and Curly Hair and it’s infinitely informative, no matter your hair type. She even has an eponymous luxe hair care range that’s inclusive and made using organically, ethically and sustainably sourced oils. Encouraging you to bring the best out of your natural hair type, her decadent formulas deliver results with a divine scent, all while caring for the planet.

{Cult Beauty} Hi Charlotte! We’re so excited to finally catch up with you and talk about all things hair care. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your career and how you came to be the founder of your own brand?

{Charlotte Mensah} I was very much at a crossroads in my professional career. I had completed an apprenticeship at Splinters – the then Mecca of Black hair – 10 years prior and I had built up quite a solid client base, so creating my own brand felt like the natural next step. I knew I had the talent, skill and the business acumen to make it work but, like all things in life, I needed a helping hand. The Princes’ Trust was just that, providing a grant and mentorship that helped me devise a business plan that still informs what I do today. My vision was to create a world-class {hair care} experience that made clients not only love their hair but cherish the time they spent in my salon; I’m more than proud to say it’s something I continue to achieve.

{CB} What would you say sets your brand apart from the rest of the industry?

{CM} Having worked primarily with curly hair types for the last 30 years, I have naturally found myself styling women of colour. Whether it’s a lady of Jewish heritage or one of West African heritage, there was a perpetual discontent towards brands that were said to cater for curly hair types. They were all either fragrance heavy, designed poorly and ultimately failed to hydrate and replenish hair. Working as a stylist for so long, I’ve witnessed many horror stories about products that do hair more harm than good. As a result, I was extremely selective about what we included. That in itself was a long process of discovery, one that took me as far as Tanzania to find the perfect ingredient: the manketti nut which is the cornerstone of all of my products.

{CB} As an authority on hair care in general, do you have any universal guidance on how to realise the full potential of your hair? 

{CM} The condition of our hair reflects how we feel about ourselves inside and out; excessive shedding, flaking or breaking can be an indication that you need a health check-up. Your diet and lifestyle as well as genetics, all play an important role in hair growth.

{CB} While there’s no one way to care for hair, do you have overarching principles that guide you when styling different hair types?

{CM} Healthy and great looking hair is the goal and it’s an achievable one. Remember your strands are inherently delicate, so don’t stress them with harsh chemicals, excessive heat, sun, chlorine and sweat as they can all cause dryness and damage. An effective shampooing, conditioning and styling routine is the building blocks of manageable, beautiful hair.

{CB} Similarly, what are your top hair care tips for curly and afro hair types? Are there steps or products that you’d always recommend?

Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise because most curly and Afro hair soaks moisture like a sponge. I’d also recommend having regular trims, say every 6-8 weeks, to maintain your style and keep ends healthy. Finally, massage and seal; take five minutes to pamper your hair before bedtime, moisturising before securing the ends and covering overnight with a silk scarf.

{CB} Can you describe your hair? 

{CM} At present, I’m on a natural hair growth journey, wearing braids as a protective style to stimulate hair growth.

{CB} It’s no secret that the way the beauty industry has traditionally talked about hair has been depreciating. We desperately want to move away from this and instead, actively celebrate hair in its infinite, gorgeous variety. In a similar vein, have you noticed a shift towards embracing hair in its natural glory – be it texture, colour or type?

{CM} Simple answer: yes! Many many women are embracing the wondrous textures and celebrating its versatility.

{CB} One of the (many!) things we love about your range is the commitment to organic, ethical and sustainably sourced oils. We’d love to know why these criteria are so important to you?

{CM} Sustainability runs through every step of my range – the oils are even sold in reusable glass bottles. Another thing that runs through the brand, right down to the packaging, is my Ghanian heritage. The logo and packaging include a pattern from the Kuba cloth which has an important and spiritual meaning.

{CB} Manketti oil is at the heart of every formula in your range. For those unfamiliar with it, why is it so. darn. good?

{CM} The manketti nut is derived from the Mongongo tree and it’s known for being high in linoleic acid (essential fatty acids typically found in plants) vitamin E, omega 6, copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. All of this makes it incredible for curly hair, as it adds beautiful but weightless hydration. Plus, the smell is addictive; hair care is such a ritualistic thing and the scent really adds to that experience. It’s been used in Africa for thousands of years but was unknown in the West — I wanted to change that.

{CB} You have an incredible career (understatement of the year!). Can you tell us about a moment that stands out to you?

{CM} Perhaps the most poignant was being inducted into the British Hairdressing Hall of Fame in 2018. It was such an important milestone in my career and a huge personal goal. I was the first Black woman to do it, and it very much surmised all my hard work to date with the recognition to match! What struck me about it was the location. I don’t know if it was God’s work or happenstance but it was held at the first hotel my dad worked in when he came to this country in the 60s. He worked in the back, cleaning dishes. I can’t describe what it was like to share that moment with him: a man who was never allowed to be out front, getting to witness his daughter taking centre stage for all her hard work.

{CB} Your salon – the Hair Lounge – is especially famed for its welcoming atmosphere and sense of community. How do you cultivate that?

{CM} I want my clients to feel happy from the minute they arrive in the salon, so we play highlife, neo-soul and jazz to create a chilled environment. The consultation plays a big part in deciding what we will do with their hair- what are they wearing? What’s their lifestyle like? What’s happening personally and professionally? It’s important we truly listen to them so we can make the best decision together.

{CB} To us, having your hair done can be an extremely intimate, vulnerable moment. How do you help your clientele feel comfortable?

{CM} The Hair Lounge is not just a place where you get your hair done. It’s a space for friends to chat and laugh and leave their worries at the door. And let me tell you about our cake, that’s my secret weapon – sometimes it’s like some of my clients will only come in if I’ve baked. The long and short of it is we strive to make every clients experience at the salon a memorable one. Happy clients will always find their way back to you, especially when they feel like they have received a unique and elite service.

{CB} If you had to choose just one of your products, which would be your all-time favourite? 

{CM} Cult favourite {Manketti Hair Oil}.

{CB} We know education is something that’s very close to your heart. Could you tell us about your charity, LOVE, and its mission?

 {CM} I set up LOVE (short for Ladies of Visionary Empowerment but also my late mother’s name) to enable women in Ghana to have economic freedom by teaching them hairstyling skills and helping them to gain employment or start their own business. As I mentioned before, I opened my first salon with help from the Prince’s Trust and I wanted to continue that support cycle for the next generations.

 {CB} For anyone thinking of starting their natural hair journey, what guidance would you offer?

{CM} Transitioning from straight to natural requires patience and effort. Years ago, the only choice was to cut off all the relaxed hair and start with a short natural growth. Thankfully, this is no longer the case as there are several ways to grow out the relaxer whilst keeping hair healthy and looking great.

{CB} How have you seen the hair industry change in the last five years? In which ways would you like the industry to change and evolve?

{CM} I think it will definitely be around formal education. It’s quite clear there’s a need to integrate afro hair care into the national curriculum for young hairstylists. We live in increasingly diverse societies across the UK, and for me, what diversity and inclusion can be seen by is stylists that are ready to deal with all kinds of hair wherever they are based.

{CB} Has lockdown influenced how you take care of your hair? Do you have any rituals you can share?

{CM} Deep conditioning hair treatments have been my go-to over lockdown. I add a few drops of Manketti Hair Oil to my {conditioner} to get a bit more slip; it’s like a homemade hair mask with the added benefits of moisture and slip!

{CB} Is there a certain beauty product you stock-up on so you’re never without it?

{CM} Chantecaille’s {Rose de Mai Face Oil}.

{CB} Do you have any bedside beauty and wellness essentials?

{CM} I love the Intensely Restorative Protective Hand Cream from {79 Lux}! I’ve found that as I get older, my hands get a lot drier than they used to, so I always like to have a hand cream nearby. And last but not least, I end my ritual with a five-minute head massage with {Manketti Hair Oil} before covering my hair with a silk scarf before bedtime.

{CB} Do you subscribe to the principles of the Curly Girl Method? 

{CM} I like some of the principles of using less heat and hot tools. I believe you shouldn’t fear shampoo as curls and coils need to be kept build-up free. Do not underestimate a regular shampoo and clarifying wash. Everything in moderation!

{CB} We know it can divide opinion so, we’d love to know your stance on co-washing.

{CM} Conditioners are not designed to clean your hair, that’s the job of your shampoo. When you have a lot of product build-up and your hair has lost its lustre, stop using conditioner only and add shampoo to your regimen.

{CB} Which pearl of beauty wisdom would you love to tell your past self?

{CM} Have confidence! As a youngster, I thought my high cheekbone made my face look enormous when I smiled, so I spent my childhood frowning. But now I think they’re one of my best features, people often ask if I’ve had filler!

{CB} If you could go on a guilt- and budget-free Cult Beauty haul, what would end up in your basket?

{CM} {Cire Trudon} candles – they’re divine.

{CB} Can you share an afro-hair myth that really needs to be debunked?

{CM} That afro hair doesn’t grow! Afro hair in its natural state has a tendency to shrink up, preventing you from seeing its real length, You can grow your hair as long as it’s destined to be. Hair grows on average 1/2 inch per month, so your hair is growing, but you may not be retaining the length due to chemical abuse, excess heat styling and a general lack of proper care.

{CB} What’s the best piece of advice (beauty or otherwise) you’ve been given?

{CM} 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. 

{CB} What does ‘cult’ mean to you?

{CM} I swear by it! I can’t live without the site.

*Klaxon sounds* {CB} Time for a quick-fire question round! Skin care or make up?

{CM} Skin care.

{CB} Which song have you had on repeat recently?

{CM} It’s not a specific song but I’m always drawn to the Highlife genre because of its beat and rhythm. It originated in Ghana in the late 19th century and my father was even in a brass band called Ramblers.

{CB} Pick a side… Smoky eyes or a statement lip?

{CM} Smoky eyes.

{CB} Which book/movie/TV show has had you hooked recently?

{CM} Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom.

{CB} Finally, what’s next for Charlotte Mensah?

{CM} We have a few exciting launches planned for the summer (keep your eyes peeled!) and I’m even currently exploring avenues for a permanent physical presence in Accra.

DISCOVER CHARLOTTE MENSAH >>



Bethan Robinson

Bethan Robinson

Copywriter

Bethan is a Copywriter at Cult Beauty. When she’s not trying to perfect the ultimate ‘no make up’ make up look — she swears by Saie — or find new skin care to fall for, she’s likely playing video games, making the most of her housemate’s MUBI account or strolling around Victoria Park with a pastry in hand.