“every weekend I see Dominicans in the chair, chicas bring out the features in my hair”: Interview with Fatima Lembert from Kafavi Beauty Salon in Brooklyn, NY

Hearing one side of an argument is the equivalent to only hearing part of the story.  In a post I did not too long ago, I stated most of black women in New York City go back and forth between “Dominican” salons and “black” salons.  And to debunk some of the rumors we’ve all heard I interviewed Keisha from Knaps about black woman and their hair salon selection.  But who better than the owner of a Dominican salon to also talk about black women and our hair; in order to get an objective view?! I can’t think of anyone else either, lol.  So I sat down with Fatima Lembert, owner of Kafavi Beauty Salon in Brooklyn, NY and her daughter Victoria for the Dynamo challenge:

Shari: The first question is how did you get into the hair salon industry or starting Kafavi?

Fatima: It was an investment opportunity, I never knew I would be involved in this.  When I bought our previous shop, I thought it was a great investment.  As an entrepreneur, things happen and I chose to stay in the business.

Shari: So it was kind of by default, lol…

Fatima: (laughs) and nods head.

Shari: (laughs) OK, so let’s talk about Kafavi and your philosophy on hair, your specialty or thoughts on hair in general.

Fatima: Right now there’s a lot of beauty salons in our market and a lot of competition. Our philosophy is to take care of the hair and personalize our interactions with our customers.  Because what works for one person, may be totally different for somebody else. We become familiar with our customers and get to know what they like.  In black hair care, many beauty parlors think that the best solution is hair grease.  We don’t follow that philosophy. We go by what the customer likes and what your hair needs; we offer a variety of products and of course our special conditioner. It’s a homemade conditioner made by me, that nobody else knows about, lol! And that’s why we’ve been in the industry for almost 8 years, we really take pride in our customers and take the time to find out what they are looking for, figure our their needs and refer the right products.

Shari:  That was really good. So let’s get into the services and techniques you use here at Kafavi and how they may differ from other salons that black women go to.

Fatima: Well Dominican stylists are different than any other type of stylists. Why? Because in the Dominican Republic we are a diverse population. Amongst ourselves, we all have different hair textures.  From back home, we learned how to treat our hair and we like the best, lol.  All Dominican parlors follow similar rules and we treat your hair like ours. Other salons usually specialize in hair weaves or braids and the use of grease.  Even some Dominican salons, but here at Kafavi, we don’t like the abuse of grease…

Shari: It’s funny you say that because that’s my number one complaint for most places, is the amount of grease products they use in my hair. I like my hair to be flowy and with too much product my hair feels heavy and weighed down…

Fatima: Not only that, but the grease also damages your hair.  Similar to when you put grease on your skin, grease on your hair can get damaged in the sun.  It can toast the hair; leaving it dry.  As soon as hair becomes dry and toasted, it starts breaking.

Shari: That’s a great point.  And to go a little further with my previous question, one thing that I like to do is clarify the rumors about different hair salons. When I was speaking with Keisha from Knaps about complaints black women had with “black” hair salons I mentioned things like the attitudes of black beauticians, the use of too much product, the high prices, etc. Some complaints about Dominican salons are the language barrier and not being able to express what you want done to your hair,  the use of inexpensive products at Dominican salons also causing hair breakage and/or the overall customer service factor.  It’s hard to discuss this with you because those aren’t really issues at Kafavi :-) , but I would love to talk about it and hear your thoughts on that.

Fatima: We at Kafavi, are a different salon in general.  The first thing is when you come to a beauty salon, you want it to be a nice place. We want people to be relaxed.  So for example, people always ask why do you play the “classic rock/top 40″ station? Just because we’re Dominican we don’t have to always play bachata or merengue. We want people to feel comfortable.  Second, it’s important to keep the shop clean. We spend our whole day here and we want a nice environment for ourselves and also our customers.  Because what is good for us should also be good for them.  We really get to know our customers and become involved and friends with them.  We know when something happens in their personal lives. If someone dies in the family, we go to the funeral.  At Kafavi, in general, we’re different than any other hair salon.  In hair care, our products and our personal relationships.  We don’t do things just for money and that sets us apart.

Shari: That’s very true, lol. I can personally attest to you denying me certain things I wanted done to my hair (let’s just say I liked my hair color to be different very often when I was younger, lol) regardless of how much more the style cost because you knew it was bad for my hair.  So I appreciate your honesty about that.  Speaking of money and prices, lol, Dynamo caters to women aged 17-30 and one of the things that is important to us younger women is price. We want to have great hair styles, but we also want to make sure it’s affordable and in our budget.  Can you talk about any specials or discounts you offer?

Fatima: Many teenagers and people aged “17-30″, lol, love to abuse their hair and sometimes they can’t afford to condition their hair.  We are closed on Tuesdays, but on Wednesdays we implemented “free deep conditioning” for our customers.  Free doesn’t mean that it’s a cheap conditioner either. It’s a great conditioner for processed hair and moisturizes the hair.  Like I said before, the hair becomes damaged [due to various types of abuse] and you may not afford to treat it every week.  Speaking with my customers, I found that it’s better to offer a good conditioner for free on one day than to discount the price and use cheaper products on certain days of the week…

Shari: Oh that’s nice! So you don’t do the discounted Monday through Wednesday deals that most salons in the area offer?

Fatima: No because over here we have a lot of competition, but we’re not going to lower our quality or image because of that. You have to always maintain your reputation.  There’s places that offer $12 or even $9.99 wash and sets, but I explain that the products we use here and the services and personal attention we offer at Kafavi is why our prices may be a little higher.

Shari: That’s a great point.  Keisha and I also discussed  this too. In our community, people sometimes don’t understand that the price is reflective of the back end costs. So if you’re paying $9.99 for something, you’re probably not getting a great quality product or service…

Victoria: Yeah, it’s funny when people come in and ask us our price and then go to a cheaper salon nearby and when they come out they aren’t satisfied despite the cheaper price.  We’re more expensive, but you’re going to get a great stylist who knows what she’s doing and products that will help maintain your hair style. Sometimes it’s better to spend the extra money for the better result.

Shari: That’s true. Many women don’t understand that they may be better off paying $20 and getting their hair done at a better quality salon every two weeks as opposed to paying $10 at a salon using cheaper products and getting it done every week.  And another great thing you mentioned is that personalized attention. That costs money too…

Victoria: Exactly, some people go to a salon for 5, 10 years straight and the beauticians don’t know their name or notice the recurring things they do to their hair. We really pay attention…

Fatima: Like I said, it’s about that personalized relationship. I remember birthdays, phones numbers, what perm worked for you and which one didn’t, lol.  I keep track of it.  To bring it back to the pricing, I have teenage daughters or daughters that fall in the “17-30″ age range, so I understand their needs. Outside of the free deep condition on Wednesday, we try to work with our customers in general. If you’re hair is damaged and your ends need to be clipped and you can’t afford it or you need a conditioner and can’t make it on Wednesday,  we take that into account and may do it on the house.

Victoria: We make exceptions for our valued customers that support us…

Fatima: And we have a Twitter account @Kafavi, where we also offer deals for special events like recently, Mother’s Day or our two year anniversary at this location.

Victoria: But you have to follow us, in order to get the deals, lol.

Fatima: And lastly to address the pricing, I also recommend things that you may have in your kitchen cabinet or fridge that can be used as a conditioner at home and you don’t know.  You save money because these are things you have around and are using already.

Shari: This is all great! And the last question I ask is ‘Why do you think you’re a Dynamo?’ I have many reasons as to why I think so :-) , especially the whole “people person” and personalized attention piece, but I’ll let you tell me what you think and we can end with that.

Victoria: I think my mom is a Dynamo because this is like our home. I don’t really see her outside of here, lol.  There’s people that call her on her personal cell phone outside of business hours, lol. Like she really worries and genuinely cares.  She invests her time and energy; like those conditioners she makes it takes her three days to make them.  She invests her time and it shows. If she didn’t people would say negative things about her, but thankfully that doesn’t happen because we really try to accommodate everybody.  There are people that can justify what we’re saying and that’s what matters in the end.  Just to know that we are helping women feel good about themselves. That’s what makes her special!

And that it does!! Thanks to Fatima and Victoria (Katheryne we missed you :-) ) and the staff at Kafavi for your time and dedicated service. Fun fact: The name Kafavi is a combination of the first two letters of Fatima and her daughters, Katheryne and Victoria names.

Kafavi Beauty Salon is located in East Flatbush, Brooklyn:

For more information or to book an appointment, call Kafavi at 718.221.5256 or follow them on Twitter @Kafavi! xx

Special thanks to my little sister for providing the pictures! :-) xx

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