business

The mother and daughter behind Darwin's only African hair salon

55 0

a group of people standing next to a person: Jean Kute is called "Mum" by many of her salon's clientele. (ABC News: Ian Redfearn)

Jean Kute is called "Mum" by many of her salon's clientele.

When Christine Kute arrived in Darwin from Nairobi as a teenager, she noticed two things: the stifling heat, and the struggle to find a hairdresser willing to style her hair.

"Even just going to a hairdresser to get a haircut, they would be afraid to actually accept your booking because they were not experienced with our Afro hair texture," she said.

The Kutes came to Darwin as refugees in 2004.

Their mother, Jean, was left widowed with six children after her husband was killed in an accident back home.

His death left the family with no income to continue the children's education in Africa, and Jean made the move to Australia so her kids could finish school.

Christine Kute says her father's death left her as "the father of the family" when she was 18 years old.

She felt the pressure to navigate the family's new life in Australia — and to make it work.

"It was one of the most difficult times of my life because I felt like, 'OK, he's the one that's supporting the family entirely on his own, there are six of us, Mum doesn't speak English — how the hell are we going to survive this?'" she said.

It was in 2008, during the final year of her business degree at university in Darwin, that she came up with an idea to tap into a unique gap in the market: opening the Northern Territory's only African hair salon.

"This was my experiment basically … we started the shop with no expert advice, we made it work and it's still surviving to date," Ms. Kute said.

Mum runs salon

Christine Kute's mother, Jean, was given the job of running the salon.

A back injury meant she could no longer work in childcare, and the family relied on her hair braiding skills from Africa to bring money in.

As the customers began flowing through the doors, Jean Kute found her English language skills gradually improving too.

"By the time I opened the shop, it made it easy [because] people come, they speak, and I can get a little bit of English from them," she said.

The salon offers services not offered at mainstream hair salons.

Hair extensions, wigs, braiding, and cornrowing are all on offer, and there is often a waitlist to get in.

"It's the same as putting on a different coloured hat every day," Christine Kute said.

"If I want to, you know, wear long hair today I can, if I want to wear short hair tomorrow I can, and that's the beauty of it."

A business and a blessing

To the family, the salon is more than just a business.

It represents their journey to Australia and Jean's courage to carry on as a single mother with six dependants in a foreign land.

Jean recalled telling herself: "I have to come [to Australia]."

"God will help me — no man, no husband, no nothing, God is there; that's why I am here."

Christine Kute calls the shop "a blessing" and says her mother is called "Mum" by many of the salon's African clientele.

"There are people who haven't been lucky to have their mums come here with them, and we are happy to share her with such people," Ms. Kute said.

"I think she's a warrior … if she found it within herself to push on, what more challenges can I face that I can't push on?

"If she could do it, why can't I?"

0 Comments

Leave a Comment

Related News