AFR Dialogues: Mushiya Tshikuka

Mushiya Tshikuka is a force to be reckoned with, a dynamic personality who captures your attention and holds on to it. From her big and fabulous natural hairstyles to her strong and infectious personality. It was refreshing to see her hit our small screens on WE TV‘s Cutting It In the ATL. She was on our wishlist for interviews this year and we were elated when her team positively responded to do an interview. We already knew some background information about her such as being a native of Congo, has a hair line called Runway Curls and owner of The Damn Salon, but this interview made us fall in love with her even more. A refreshing spirit, self-assured and a powerful business woman, we promise you will see Mushiya like never before. Our goal was to ask questions that she was probably never asked before in order to capture her true essence, which leaps out at you. I hope this interview reaffirms that  Africans in diaspora, are at the top of their game. Hopefully, inspiring some of our readers to step out and excel in their own lives. There was so much ground covered, as she discussed her business ventures, empowering our women and girls and of course good African food. So grab something to sip and enjoy the DAMN interview!

AFR: Your name is so beautiful and unique, what does it mean?

Mushiya: My name Mushiya means very talented and well rounded. And I love that and I think having a meaning and knowing the meaning to your name is so important for all of us. We become what we are told that we are. So I tell all women please give your children a name that has a meaning and if it doesn’t, because you named her Shaquanda, make the meaning up.

AFR: What or who inspired you to become a stylist? Moreover, a natural hair stylist?

M: I learned to do hair from my mother as a little girl but I never really liked doing hair. Never will really be an understatement, I don’t like doing hair. But what I became attached to was how I had the ability to change women’s lives as I sat there and did their hair and instill confidence and self-esteem in them. The people inspired me, the women inspired me. I was inspired by the platform and ability to change women’s lives.

Why natural hair? One, I never really liked straight hair. I never really cared for it, and I thought it was a false sense of beauty that black women were choosing when their own hair was so much more beautiful. I felt like it was because of society that there was this beauty because of what society said was beautiful and I knew at a young age that I can define my own beauty and I want my hair wild. Wild and natural, way before it was cool. A lot of people will come up to me and say “oh only you can do that Mushiya, that looks so good, but only you”. You know, I didn’t understand what “only you” meant. Only you? I would say absolutely not. You can too, you were born with that hair. You say only me because I dare to do it. I can show you how you can dare to do it too.

AFR: Tell us about the latest hairstyle you can’t get enough of?

M: The latest hairstyle I cannot get enough of? Oh my gosh! I change every like hour and a half. Goodness, gracious! I mean clearly its gonna be one of the textures on my Runway Curls hair line because I’m obsessed with it and everybody should be too. I would say I’m obsessed with Dirty Girl right now, which is like the kinkiest of my hair texture and what I do is I leave my own kinky hair out and blend it with some more dirty girl and I just have a big head of curls that blows in the wind and sometimes even stop the wind. They just stop the wind, yeah! In an hour and a half, it will change.

AFR: What are three beauty products you use on a daily basis?

Actually, we make our own products and right now we are in transition and rebranding. I still make some for myself and some of my close people. The ingredients I like to use, I really like coconut oil, I like vitamin E and I like Jojoba and there are a lot of new ingredients that I’m actually gonna be using as well but I make a lot of my products.

AFR: You offer such a variety in hair, how should someone decide what type of Runway Curls hair fits them best?

M: They should decide that by how they feel when they wake up that morning. Because what’s unique about our hair is that all curly kinky hair, no matter what hair texture you have, you can even manipulate your curl pattern to suit whichever curl pattern that you wish to wear that day. Now we are starting to offer lace fronts. Which means you don’t even have to show your hair out at all and you can have that loose curl that you feel like having that morning. The options are so endless. I tell women every single texture in our line will suit you. Even if you want the kinky straight, for example, all you have to do is wet your hair and then thread it with a cotton or thread and when you let it out, it actually straightens the hair to a kinky straight texture and you can take that and blend it with our kinky straight hair.

We are going to be touring this spring from March through June. We are hitting about 15 cities, maybe more. Each city we will have a wig party and women can come and try a full head of hair, whatever texture they want. Just to see how you look and take pictures. It’s gonna be so exciting. You gotta be there. It’s like a dress up party, okay and we are gonna dress up hair. All the women that have been wondering what is good for my hair, you will have Mushiya live and direct and other Damn Stylists to basically help you. You should be there! I will be there!

AFR: Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?

M: I think you know right now there are three things that came to mind immediately. Life, because everyday people lose theirs. So every day that we wake up, we have to do something great in this world because we are lucky to wake up. We are lucky to be given another 24 hrs. To affect people’s lives and to change the world and to leave our mark on the world, on our friends, people, co-workers, children and everybody that comes into contact with us. So that I’m given life, I know how much of a blessing it is. So, I’m inspired to be the greatest person that I am, for every breath that I’m given.

The second thing that came to mind is my children. The children, they see you, they watch you and I watch my children watch me and repeat everything I do. So you want your children to be great and if you want your children to be the greatest person they can be, you need to show them the greatest. The third thing is the people. We are brought on this earth to affect people. So everything that we do, affects people. I want to be on this earth and live to affect people every day, as much and as positively as I can.

AFR: What was the toughest part about breaking into the hair manufacturing industry?

M: The toughest part was finding out which hair was the best quality. I tried so many hair after hair and manufacturer after manufacturer. It’s important that if you are going to stand behind a product that you know that the product is worth what you say. We tested it, took it through the wringer and brought it back. We tested until we created what we were the most proud of. I realize just how difficult it was and how much money we spent and time it took. A lot of people who try to get in this industry fail in those moments. What I have done and launching soon is helping other women create their own hair brand without having to go through what I went through. They can do it without any of the hassles. We are launching Runway Curls Dropship, very soon. I will help women all around the world have a hair brand in a week.

AFR: How did you get the idea for the Damn Salon?

M: I never thought I would open up a salon or be in the beauty industry. I thought I would be a singer, an attorney or play in the NBA, not the WNBA. Hair was my side hustle, so as I kept doing hair on the side while in school. I fell in love with how I changed women’s lives and introduce them to a new part of themselves. No one else would encourage them to find in themselves and create styles with their natural hair. Every time women will get up from the chair when I was done they would say “damn”. I realized I had to open up a salon and create a haven for women all around the world to come and feel the new sense of life. What better name to give it than the reaction I always received.

AFR: Would you ever open up a salon in Africa? Where?

M: I was looking at the stats and I was looking at our insights on Instagram to see where most of our followers are coming from. Number one was Nigeria, number two was South Africa and the others were also African countries. I was so happy to see that a lot of our followers came from Africa. So yes, I will open up a salon in Africa when the right opportunity opens itself. Where would I open it? The first three countries that come to my mind are Congo, which is my home, South Africa and Nigeria.

AFR: What is one advice you will give to someone hoping to open up their own salon in diaspora and in Africa?

M: There are two things that come to mind. There are salons all over the place and sometimes that means competition. My advice is never fear competition, welcome it. One, competition is very healthy and there is enough room for everyone to be successful because there are so many people. Be true to yourself and set yourself apart by being true to who you are. Whatever you believe in, you do it and you will stand apart. This is what will make people leave 19 or 50 other salons and come to you. The second piece of advice is never fear failure. Failure does not exists, only lessons do. Always see the good in failure, not the negative in it. There is a reason for everything that happens. You never ever stop. If you get 3000 no, that 3001 try might be the yes. You keep going till you get that yes and just don’t stop.


AFR: If there is one person you will like to style their natural hair, who would it be?

M: Michelle Obama

AFR: How do you envision your brand expanding in the next five years?

M: The brand is in the process of expanding. Between this year and next year we are creating opportunities to help other stylists on a greater scale. We are excited to build other people and other stylist. It will change the game and expand exponentially.

AFR: As a mother of three what advice would you give to mothers styling their daughters natural hair?

M:  First of all, I am obsssed with this bloggers questions. People ask me the same questions over and over again.

Well, the advice I would give is for mothers to stop pressing their children’s hair. Just this morning on a website, I saw this girl with big kinky hair and I saw her mother straightening her hair. It was captioned, “her first blow out”. I think this girl was 6 maybe even 4. She was so young and she had this big afro at the top because they had not finished  it yet. What they don’t know is that they are about to ruin her hair. Pressing hair on anyone is terrible, especially on children. Once you press it, it won’t go back to being curly and there will be permanent damage as it becomes processed.

The second thing is the message sent to the girl, that whenever she has a recital, a show, a special occasion, she needs to straighten her hair to look like Emily. So you are telling your child in the most beautiful times, she cannot have her natural hair. The message is dysfunctional, the message is creating low self esteem for your child in the future. So I tell mothers in those special occasions, make their hair as wild and beautiful as possible.

AFR: What was the inspiration behind the My Natural Girl doll? 

M: The inspiration came from my two girls and I went looking for a black doll and I could never find a good black doll. The ones I would find had yarn hair, straight hair, big loopy curls but none with kinky hair.  Where was the dark skin doll with a lot of hair that was beautiful? I refused to buy a doll that did not look like them. So I realized other women are having this problem too, my girls said let’s make one, so we made one.

AFR: What is the one thing you want to teach or have already taught your girls about their African heritage?

M: That as black people we are very powerful, strong and intelligent. We built this world. When I talk to my children about history, I don’t talk about slavery. That was 400 years ago. Our history began thousands of years ago when we built pyramids and invented all kinds of things that run our world. This is the history I share with my children. When you share this history and how great their ancestors are, that is all they will aspire to be.

AFR: What is the most shocking thing you have learned in the process of making the doll? 

M: I’m going to change that to the most humbling and shocking thing. The most humbling thing was while I thought I was making it for only little black girls, I realized everyone in the world were excited. From Caucasian people, people in Brazil, Ecuador, Africa, Europe, etc. It was so good to see that it was a problem that existed everywhere and a solution was needed. To see thank you letters from white women with mixed kids and white women without mixed kids who wanted their children to play with dolls that looked like their friends. Women in South Africa and all over the world. That was Humbling to me as I didn’t know how big My Natural Girl Doll was.

The most shocking thing was that a few people in our own community complained about the price and would not buy it because of the price. The doll is $155. My Natural Girl Doll builds self esteem, it has 100% virgin kinky hair, it is a doll that will teach your child how to take care of her own hair and help her see the beauty in herself. You are not buying a doll for $155, you are buying your child confidence and self love. Some of us go to the club and spend more than $155 at the club. We go to the restaurant and spend more than that, we go shopping and spend more than that and we have phones that are more than that. We do a lot of spending on items that mean nothing and have no value. I was shocked that some very few people could not understand that their children’s self esteem and love was worth more than $155.

AFR: What qualities do you possess came from your African heritage?

M: Everything. My perseverance, because we are taught to never stop. My confidence, because I grew up knowing and being told I can do anything. My ability to take criticism and move on, because African parents don’t lie to their children, they tell them what’s up. “You need to eat a little less ehh” (in an African accent), you always know they mean well and it comes out of love. Who better to tell you things about yourself that you need to change than your own people, because it is coming out of love. I never ever want to change that about myself. I am thankful for where I’m from.

AFR: Do you eat African food. What was the last dish and when?

M: I eat African food almost every day. Actually yesterday my mom cooked, I had seared fish with a lot of pepper, over rice, plantain and with what we call Linga Linga. Linga Linga is a green vegetable sautéed with palm oil and spiced with a lot of pepper. I love African food!

AFR: What is your favorite African song?

M: My favorite is Nkosi Sikelel’ , the South African national anthem. It is the most beautiful anthem I have ever heard or sung in my life. I grew up singing that anthem and when I came to America, I used to sing it on stage all the time. It is my favorite.

AFR: What is your hope for the continent and those in diaspora?

M: My hope is that we come together as a people and that we can come together with African Americans as one. There is a huge separation and I attribute it to a lot of African Americans not wanting to be accept that they are African. We as Africans need to also accept them and do what we need to do. We have to bridge that gap that came from separation during slavery. The masters separated them from what and who and where their strength came from. We have to come back together as one because we are so much more powerful as one. The strength, accomplishments and our abilities together, will be exponential. Clearly, that’s my word of the day. Exponential.

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