Bye-Bye Brazilian Blowouts: The Next Big Brazilian Hair Trend is … – Forbes

Co-founder and CEO Leila Velez prefers “kinky hair” as the translation, and she insists it’s about capillary structure, not skin color. For 70% of Brazil’s almost 200 million citizens – a big melting pot of indigenous, African and European descendants – their hair is anything but straight.
Photo courtesy of Beleza Natural
Velez was a fourteen-year-old working the counter at McDonald’s when she and her co-worker Rogério got the entrepreneur itch. They were inspired by how the burger-making empire was built to scale, from training processes to quality control.
So they teamed up with hairstylist Zica and her husband Jair, who sold his Volkswagen Beetle to finance the first Beleza Natural salon in Rio de Janeiro in 1993.
12 years, 12 salons, 1400 employees and not a dime in outside financing later – say it with me, not a dime in outside financing later – the Super-Sized aspirations are not so far-fetched.
With the stunning and humble Velez at the helm of the company since 2009 – that’s after being named Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006 and one of Brazil’s Most Influential Women in 2007 –  Beleza Natural is poised to dominate a massively under-served market and expand overseas.
It is a salon unlike we’ve ever seen in the US.
Every aspect of the business, from the room temperature to the ergonomics of the salon chairs, is intentional, tested and codified.  An internal team  conducts quality-control audits of each salon, inspired by McDonalds (“I have no shame in copying,” Velez says).
They’re even green: recycled water from shampooing fills the toilets, and skylights add to the ambiance and cut down on the energy bill.
Salon guests flow through a veritable conveyor belt of services, from a private consultation that includes an analysis of capillary density across 14 quadrants of your head, to the salon’s flagship Super-Relaxer treatment in another room, then off to the haircut in a third.
They offer 30 and only 30 ideal cuts for kinky hair that are geometrically modeled down to the angle you hold the hairbrush and scissors, “Almost as if you were restoring a work of art,” Velez says.
Next comes the styling room, where a beauty consultant (“not a hairdresser”) proactively offers tips on how to take care of your hair between visits, then finally the cash register, where clients buy products customized by hair type and designed to last exactly 30 days till your next visit.
Photo by Julie Ruvolo
Beleza Natural products, of course: a factory north of Rio pumps out a proprietary line of 45 different cremes, shampoos and follicle treatments to the tune of 250 tons of product a month.
“All of our maintenance products are designed with the specific needs of kinky hair in mind. Many people think kinky hair is stronger, but the opposite is actually true,” Velez explains.
“It’s more fragile, it splits more easily, it has less shine, more porosity, less elasticity, more interaction with chemical products.”
She adds, “And all our products are co-created with our clients.”
Beleza Natural invites clients from social networks like Orkut, or increasingly, Facebook, into the salon for focus groups to brainstorm new product ideas and provide feedback.
Just don’t come in asking for the new Rihanna ‘do.
“The trend can be what it is,” Velez says dismissively. “If it’s bad for your hair in the long run, we won’t offer it. We’re thinking about our clients today, tomorrow, next month, in five years.”
Velez explains that kinky hair grows at about the same speed as straight hair – “A little slower actually – but it doesn’t make a straight line. It makes a spiral, so it takes a lot longer to recover from damage or a bad hairstyle.”
Beleza Natural convert Bruna Sakanoi says years of Japanese straightening, Brazilian blowouts and relaxing treatments killed her waist-long hair, so she chopped it off at the roots and began a long process of capillary rehab.
Brazilian blowout: pretty but toxic
Capillary rehab
“It takes forever,” Sakanoi admits. “I did a hydration treatment at Beleza Natural and bought some of their products. I think straightening your hair with Brazilian blowout is very pretty, but you end up a slave to the chemicals.”
Sakanoi is a professor at the Antayarim Yoga Center in Copacabana and a former hostess at Rio’s uber-exclusive Fasano Hotel who speaks several languages and travels internationally.
But the average Beleza Natural client comes from Brazil’s lower-middle “C Class” and isn’t used to the luxury treatment that comes standard with a visit to Beleza Natural.
“Sometimes our client spend a long time saving up for her visit, so when she comes here it’s her moment to be the queen,” Velez says.
Since a full 70% of employees were clients before they started working at Beleza Natural, “There’s a great empathy knowing that the person on the other side of the counter is just like them. She’s here with someone who speaks her language, who doesn’t care if she came in flip-flops or simple clothes.”
For clients from Brazil’s poorest class, Beleza Natural organizes a monthly Day of Beauty with that starts with free salon services, lectures on proper hair care and a gift raffle, and ends with a paparazzi shoot down a red carpet – not to mention free daycare in a children’s recreation room, complete with its own anti-Barbie mascot, Ziquinha.
The program has served 2,500 women in two years.
Velez explains that there is no formal institution in Brazil to learn how to care for kinky hair, so Beleza Natural built its own, called the Center for Technical Development, just outside of Rio.
“This way, they learn a specialized skill within a culture that values the client. It’s not enough to know the techniques, you need to apply them with care for the client.”
Genuine client care is a fundamental part of the brand that extends equally to their 1,400 (and hiring) employees.
For many of these girls (and Velez insists they are girls when they join), it’s their first job out of high school, they have no professional training, and they might already have a child to care for.
So Beleza Natural offers employees salary and health benefits from day one of training. They’ve also negotiated 30-50% tuition discounts with a handful of universities for employees who want to further their professional development.
At the flagship Ipanema salon, 19-year-old named Vanessa greets clients at the reception. She felt nervous starting her first job five months ago, but says she was well-received from day one and refers to her co-workers as family. She plans to go to college and study marketing.
It’s a long way from the counter at McDonald’s.
“The girl who finished high school, and often can’t find work, we can take her, professionalize her, and say, listen, your road does not end here. If we could do it, you can too. Join us, grow, and return to study if you can,” Velez says.
“We see this happening all the time here, girls who are the first in their family to go to college, generating jobs, generating social change….  I think we can impact the economy in Brazil, and in other countries too.”
A year-long research project to create the Beleza Natural Institute of the Future, synthesized by mapping a ranking of best practices from architectural design and natural light to team productivity and client satisfaction, concluded with the successful November launch of Beleza Natural’s first model salon, a blueprint that can be scaled internationally.
“Our goal is to become a global reference in this segment, and to bring this concept to communities all over the world where there are a lot of people with kinky hair who face the same challenges.”
Their first international location? “We’ve already chosen the street in New York where we’re going to open our first salon in the US. In Harlem on 125th Street, where the Apollo Theater is. Right there,” Leila says.
Take a photo tour of Beleza Natural at


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