To many Nairobians, Kenyatta Market is the hub of hair braiding. Many women are familiar with the salonists’ aggressive approach when a woman alights at the market, especially when they notice that her hair needs attention. So long as you don’t mind sitting on rickety plastic chairs and inhaling heavy, stale air from nearby pubs. But Kenyatta market hairdressers have changed tack.
They no longer wait for you to alight at the stage near the market or even on Mbagathi Road. They seek you out at the city centre. Picture this: You are at the Kencom stage, waiting on the queue to board a Kenyatta Market-bound bus then a woman taps you on the shoulder.
“Dada unataka salon mzuri? (sister, do you need a good salon)”, she asks softly. “Tutakushuka smart sana pale Kenyatta Market stall no xyz. Ata discount iko (we shall plait your hair nicely at Kenyatta Market stall number xyz. We even offer discounts),” she goes on. If you are not interested she offers her number for future reference. Mary Muthoni, a 26-year-old hairdresser at Kenyatta Market, says she and some of her colleagues were forced to rethink their strategy because of competition.
“Lazima tutafute clients, (We have to find clients).” says Muthoni. She says the plaiting and braiding business is not booming as it used to, forcing the hairdressers to devise ways of retaining the clients they have and attract new ones.
Muthoni confesses that the ‘broker trick’ is one of the new marketing tools. She says many stalls have the Kencom stage “sales person” wooing potential clients.
Once you accept the offer, the hairdresser will board the bus with you. Alternatively, they can just direct you to their stall or give you a phone number to call once you arrive at the market.
Felistus Ndunge, a 29-year-old salon owner near Kobil Embakasi, says one has to employ all sorts of tricks to retain old clients and attract new ones. She says sometimes she goes the extra mile and calls her clients to remind them that they need a re-touch.
At Umoja Market, the script is the same. Linet Mwita, a 19-year-old university student, says walking around Umoja Market flaunting your long African mane is a perfect recipe for “continuous disturbance and bothering”.
The hairdressers, with their tongues dripping honey, approach you from as far away as Mutindwa stage on Outering Road. The hairdresser will look at you and from whatever gauge they use, conclude that you are Kamba, Kikuyu, or Luo and use ‘your’ mother tongue to woo you.
“They are so convincing! It is very easy to fall for their tale. The hairdresser will plead with you to try their services, to the extent that you want to give in,” says Linet, who has a regular hairdresser at the market.
Sometimes, says Linet, they will talk down what your salonist has offered. “Mrembo next time njoo tukushuke. Style zetu zinashinda hiyo (Next time come to us, we can do better than that)”.
The Standard heard similar tales from women walking around Ngara and Kariobangi markets. Sometimes these marketers will show you photographs of the different hairstyles they make. Others have created social media pages to stay in touch with potential clients.