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Meet Trailblazer Mafei James

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mafei James.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
For a little over 16 years, I have taught myself to braid hair. I started out braiding my own hair, then, I moved onto braiding my friends’ hair, which eventually led me to pay my rent while in college by braiding a bunch of my classmate’s hair. Hair braiding to me is fun and creative. It’s artistic and makes people feel good about themselves. I love the connection I make with my clients and being able to assist in their personal beautifying process. Throughout the years, I have molded this passion into promoting the importance of protecting healthy hair growth. I also have an equal passion for the promotion of various African cultures within our communities. In order to promote this combined passion, I started an initiative called FemAfric. The mission of FemAfric is to empower women by collaborating with equally talented hair stylists in Sierra Leone to create hand crafted wigs and crochet braid styles. Our goal is to use the principles of fair trade as a vehicle for creating healthy, empowered, and environmentally sustainable rural communities. Combining my love for braiding hair and always wanting to work on African women related issues, I created a platform where these ladies braiding skills are now expanded to a global marketplace.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I have been braiding hair for over 16 years and the biggest challenge I have had with my pursuit has been setting boundaries. Boundaries are not just an act of faith, but it also serves as a good business management skill. Hard work and a lot of belief in yourself and your company takes a lot of courage and conviction. Life has several ups and downs and sometimes the ‘downs'(i.e. setbacks) can be really distracting. I have faced a number of setbacks. Be it a disgruntled customer or critical deliveries not showing up on time. It used to be so easy for me to label that disappointment as an excuse to compromise on my vision. That type of response can be terribly counterproductive. So, I began focusing on workable solutions instead of dwelling on problems or reacting in anger and frustration. I had to do things like, setting stricter expectations with service providers and even saying no to a potential client. It was through that, I have been able to continually strengthen the brand and become more efficient. This has been especially useful because when I first embarked on my trips to Sierra Leone, I faced so many different challenges. It was a tough adjustment being in an entirely different country, dealing with a different currency, upholding the company’s values while learning how to function in a culture I wasn’t used to. So while it may be frightening, embrace the fear and follow through on tough decisions, it always steers you towards your core values and inevitable success.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about FemAfric – what should we know?
Femafric is dedicated to empowering women through hair by collaborating creatively with a talented hair stylist in Sierra Leone, West Africa to create hand-crafted hair extensions. Currently, we have 12 women creating the products that are being sold in the United States. Mostly mothers, our team of braiders work in a small salon in the capital of Sierra Leone, and at times from their homes while they care for their young children. The commitment to their craft is conveyed through the quality of their work. Our goal is to provide job opportunities to talented artisans, exposing them to a global customer and collaborating creatively.

Which women have inspired you in your life?
My mother and her sister are my inspiration. They have all played a pivotal role throughout my life in thier own unique ways. My mother raised me, I lived with my Aunt Martha through my high school years, spent several summers with my Aunt Jorfui working with her business, and spend a lot of time now with my Aunt Amie as she helps coordinate a lot of Femafric’s business operations in Sierra Leone. They have all provided a source of strength and to instilled the value of hard work in me.

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