It’s a gorgeous day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as we tour the spacious office and warehouse of Amekor, the company behind the Vivica Fox Hair Collection. We pass a grand showroom displaying the company’s impressive and carried collection, traditional bobs sit next to glorious afros and dazzling cascades of purple waves. It’s enough to make any hair fiend drool, and that’s only the first bit of the tour. After a quick greeting from the marketing team, we’re whisked through the massive warehouse—where rows and rows of boxes display just a portion of the company’s incredible sales work. We head through the workshop of Kia Mckenzie, the brains behind the company’s successful styles, to a then quiet room at the back where photoshoots are often staged.
Make no mistake, the quiet is only temporary. Mckenzie, like most in the Amekor family, has an ecstatic joy for what she does, and it shows in the exuberant explanations about what they’ve been up to this year, and what they have planned for the next.
Innovation Leads to Education
One of the last times we’d made the drive up to Philadelphia it was to talk about Smart Weft; since then they’ve launched new additions to the line so we wanted to know how it had evolved and what she had learned. As it turns out, one of the biggest things was about the importance of education. “What I learned from using smart weft is—the weft stretches, it’s not like a spandex dress, but you can stretch it. So when you’re doing curves. Because it’s flat and a little wider than the usual weft people don’t always know how to curve it. What I’ve been doing lately is showing people that you can cut it.” By essentially creating a dart the Smart Weft achieves its full potential. “It makes it even easier to do a closure, some people had been saying they had trouble with it sitting up a little high, but once you use the cutting method it lays very flat,” she explained.
“I’ve been doing hair for 20 years, I like using Smart Weft with the Cornrow Cap(under patent reviewed by U. S. patent office),” the Cornrow Cap being one of Amekor’s latest, and most misunderstood, creations. “I use it all the time because it’s a good blend. The cornrow cap is a good braid foundation, meaning when you put the cornrow cap and Smart Weft together you get a flat base. You don’t feel any of it. I’ve been learning to work better with the products I’m coming up with. It’s a lot easier and less time consuming.”
“We get a bit of feedback of people not knowing the product, instead of them asking they try to use the product themselves and of course it never comes out right. Me, I know it’s easier, but if you don’t have it in you to try it and experiment, it’s not going to work right.”
Consumers not knowing how to use a product correctly is the scourge of most new products. When you’re trying old methods on a completely new technology, it rarely works whether you’re looking at an i-pad or a weave, and that’s why education is one of the company’s goals. Mckenzie film videos, does local courses, and works with people like us writers her at CosmoBiz to get the word out and it seems to be working. When the Cornrow Cap was first released it was met with a storm of consumer responses, and if you look, most of the negative ones were from those who simply didn’t get it. After plenty of hard work though, most of those kinds of comments have ceased.
Smart Weft isn’t the only thing to focus on, though. Mckenzie has been hard at work creating new products, including the recently launched Love Lock. We asked her to give us a little background. “Love locks is a crochet hair but made with a human blend so you can curl it or wear it straight. It gives you more of a weave effect. The crochet hair you see out on the market now has real big hair and a natural curl pattern. The only straight hair we’d seen in that area was more of a kinky afro hair with more of a braid hair texture type—where you don’t want to put heat on it because you know it’s not going to react well. Nothing was on the market with a human weave effect so we came up with Love Locks so it can give you more of that weave effect.” The hair comes with a special lock and twist pattern so that you only have to pull it through and open the lock making it take much less time than the usual crochet. “You can curl it, crimp it, put it in hot rods, anything you would do with a human weave.” The biggest thing with the release, as Mckenzie noted was common with their more innovative products, the consumers needed to be taught how to use the new items.
Living Up To the Red Carpet Standard
With all these innovative products and the rate at which they come out we had to ask a little about what makes the Vivica Fox brand so different, “We are a celebrity brand so we need to work on higher quality products, we’re not interested on doing what everyone else is doing. I try to come up with different stuff that I know that Vivica would love. She’s out there, she doesn’t want to look like everybody. That’s the purpose of us separating from other hair companies—how they have models and we have a celebrity. We have to be more on a celebrity status, we have to go different. Our products—she wears them. If that’s the case we can’t just keep it simple. We have to make things that are elegant, stylish, and dressy. We need to have products in our collection that she can go out in that will give more of a look. Going back to the Love Locks, a lot of people like the look of crochet, and who are doing it have their own natural hair. They’re not doing relaxers, so they may want straight hair, but they don’t want to a straight weave or a relaxer. Which is why I made this, then they don’t have to worry about changing the texture of their hair.” It’s all about creating options, and luxurious options, that women whether they’re celebrities or not, can feel great about wearing. “Vivica and I are friends,” she added, “”we have to make the money together, if I make something she doesn’t want to wear it’s not going to work out. We have to be on the same page.” Everything Vivica wears, whether it’s on Empire or an instagram snapshot, is from her collection, which makes it important that it looks good.
While being a celebrity line does create a higher standard, it also comes with huge benefits. Not only is there a high profile person constantly representing your products and brands but also it means your images become part of an ideal. “You see an image with a model in a basic shirt and think ‘oh who is that, just a model, okay.’ It doesn’t make you want it, when you see something that looks good you want the whole look.” Mckenzie explained that this is one of the huge benefits of working with Vivica Fox, she has fans who love and look up to her so when their new products come out consumers pounce.
The Artistic Process of Crafting Wigstensions
When it comes to new products it’s often hard for consumers to imagine the timeline involved. The Vivica Fox collection always seems like they’re coming out with new products and items, but according to Mckenzie there’s more going on behind the scenes than you might expect. She’s developed eight products so far this year but the timeline is often quite long between when her creation is done to when we can purchase items in stores. The company’s latest product, the Bang and Pony, had her quite impatient, in fact she resorted to wearing a prototype by the time of our meeting because she was so excited.
We wanted to know where she draws her inspiration for all these styles; she explained that it was a combination of music and looking at what’s missing from the market. Love Locs, for example, were created after she noticed there wasn’t a good straight hair option in the crochet world. “Maybe I’m crazy, but I get in the zone. This is what I love to do. I want the company to look good, you know they ask me for my ideas and when products come out I have make sure they’re good.” With so much trust put into her creations if a product doesn’t do well it’s back on her. “I go through my girlfriends, they all do hair too, and ask them,” she added, explaining her testing period. “I also have to think about the people who don’t do hair who need to be able do their hair at home. There’s also those who don’t have a lot of money but still want to look cute.” While the company as a whole puts quality over prices there is still a lot of thought that goes into making sure all of their potential consumers have options. Mckenzie noted that her thirteen year old daughter (who we think must be one of the luckiest teens in America) is another source of inspiration. Although it seems that there’s a trade off—of new hairstyles for information on what the younger generations want.
What’s Next For Vivica Fox Hair Collection
After our sit down with Kia Mckenzie we had a chance to catch up with Harry Moon, Amekor’s General Manager, to get an idea of what the company has planned for the next year. Currently, the hair market is very uncertain. While purchasing is still strong trends have been changing rapidly so while many companies have been running headfirst into every passing trend Amekor has plans to take the slow and steady course. Choosing to focus on classic, timeless designs that will withstand. Which isn’t to say they’re not keeping modern, one look at Ms. Vivica A Fox’s instagram will prove that, but they’re more careful. “These days the lifecycle of a product is so short that it can be very risky. We’ve been going back to basics,” he explained, adding with a laugh “no one has a good forecast for what will next year will bring, if I did I’d become a fortune teller.” The weave business on the other hand, is always stable so they expect to focus more on this area.
When you look at the latest products from the company, Smart Weft, the Cornrow Cap, Love Locs, and the Bang and Pony it becomes clear that while “back to basics” is key, innovation is as well. “We don’t want to be a follower in the market, we want to be leaders, creators and innovators,” Moon added.
“Our company has two differentiated images, one of innovation and one of a celebrity endorsement. The thing with the celebrity image is that any celebrity product, when surveyed, is seen as quality, trustworthy, and expensive. That’s the typical image. Whenever we develop a product we consider quality first, then function and style, price is always last. Other companies often put price first then make the product, but we don’t think that way. Our products might be a little higher in price but if it’s good quality and a good style we’ll do it because it’s got the Vivica Fox name.” Moon and Mckenzie mentioned that one of the side effects of having the Fox endorsement was knowing the products had to live up to her standard. “That’s why we’re always shooting for the high end market rather than low or mid range. A lot of people talk about developing $10 or $5 wigs, we’ll never try that. We have to put a spotlight on our products. That way, even if the label is on the inside, anyone wearing our wigs can have pride in knowing they’re wearing a Vivica Fox product. We have to work to keep up our good quality, good marketing, and a good brand image.”