Natacha Adanlessossi was nine years old when her grandma and mother, who are both afro hairdressers, taught her the skills of styling her own hair.
In her home country of Togo, West Africa, afro hairdressers were the norm.
After arriving in Ballarat in 2014 as a humanitarian refugee, Ms Adanlessossi discovered there was no salon in the community that specialised in African women’s hair.
“I was aware that there were not any afro hair facilities in Ballarat, and also was aware that women are travelling far, to Melbourne, to have their hair done,” she said.
“Travelling that far is very expensive. I had a skill and I had experience in afro hairdressing, I established a comfortable, culturally accessible home salon in Ballarat.”
Ms Adanlessossi cut and styled hair casually for almost eight years before she began her own business in December last year.
Within seven months, she has established a client base of more than 50 people.
Most hail from the district, but some have travelled as far as Darwin and Canberra to sit in Ms Adanlessossi’s salon chair.
She said one client was from the United States.
According to the Ballarat African Association and ABS Census data, the African population in Ballarat and surrounds has more than doubled since 2016, to about 2,000 residents.
“I feel like it’s time for me to make them feel comfortable the way we used to go to salons back home in Africa. Make them feel comfortable and make them feel proud of themselves,” Ms Adanlessossi said.
She said she took pride in giving women the confidence to go about their lives in regional Victoria.
“I remember when I arrived in Australia, all the women are depending on Centrelink as refugees, but now they have learned and gained the skills and are entering the workforce and earning good income,” she said.
“They always want to look different and beautiful. It’s so joyful for me to be that kind of person to them.”
Award ‘a real honour’
On Thursday, the Ballarat hairstylist won a distinction award as part of the Australian Multicultural Foundation’s Carla Zampatti Scholarship for Young Women.
The inaugural scholarship honours late Australian fashion designer Carla Zampatti, who was a board member of the foundation for 12 years.
Ms Adanlessossi will receive $5,000, which will help to purchase more products for her business.
She will also be mentored in digital and financial skills.
“I’m so, so excited and I am very appreciative. It is a real honour and privilege,” she said.