A Wisconsin woman has made a move in the lucrative hair extensions market by moving to Cambodian and using the internet and social media to make her business a popular ecommerce site for extensions.
According to the New York Times, it has only been two years since Janice Wilson founded her company Arjuni and her staff has already grown to about 80 employees. The new company already has a loyal consumer base through Twitter and Facebook, allowing them to gain almost $1 million in revenue.
“We not only buy and collect the hair ourselves, but we sell it directly to our customers. This makes us stand out,” Wilson said about her business. In fact, it has made them stand out so much that Arjuni has already become one of the top brands for hair extensions, slowly earning market share from India, China, Europe, and even the U.S.
Before Arujuni, nobody would have guessed that Cambodia would become a prime location for the industry, providing benefits for both the business and women in the surrounding communities. In addition to providing Wilson access to thousands of untouched locks of hair that no other major company had considered, being located in Cambodia allowed Wilson to create jobs for people who desperately needed work. A vast majority of Wilson’s employees used to be victims of spousal abuse and the sex trade, which is notorious in Cambodia.
“We like how Arjuni is employing women, and helping the needy,” said a woman named Mrs. Kono, who had spent more than a decade with development organizations in Cambodia. Many of the women in Cambodia only have one major skill, sewing. Since the textile industry crashed many women found themselves out of work until Wilson welcomed them into her company and taught them how to sew together the bundles of human hair.
Getting the business started was no easy task for Wilson. It took several donations from the Cambodian Export Market Access Fund, dipping into her savings, and a lot of help from friends and family to get the funding for Arjuni. Even today, the company works out of a multi-story warehouse where the bundles of hair are often stored in neat rows across the floor.
The hair extension industry is known to produce up to $250 million in annual revenue. For Wilson, however, she doesn’t mind sacrificing profit in order to reach out to customers who can’t afford thousand-dollar hair extensions. Bundles of her top quality 100 percent human hair extensions usually land in the $500 range, quite a bargain for what is typically expected of the same quality hair extensions being sold by other businesses.
Establishing the new company has sent an array of challenges in Wilson’s direction, but she never let it discourage her. “Do I feel I have aged a lot? Definitely. But I love being an entrepreneur. I love the challenges,” she said.
Wilson also admitted it was very difficult for her to “scale up” but she was willing to do whatever it took to get better quality—and it was much more exciting than being in a law office. Wilson joyfully added, “When you have this entrepreneurial spirit, you just have to do it.”