“I remember leaving the doctor’s office and just crying,” said Shemika Jackson, alumna of the Rutgers School of Business–Camden. Jackson had been receiving treatment for thinning hair, which included injections directly into her scalp. She learned on that day, however, that her hair loss would continue, and all that treatment could do was slow the progress.
“My hair was my crown; I thought it was my beauty. I felt like I was losing a part of me,” Jackson said. She also knew she was not the kind of person who could just wait for the inevitable to happen. She was determined to figure out a better way forward—for herself and all Black women suffering from hair loss. “I had a lot of emotions, especially sadness,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to sit in that sadness.”
Jackson has been on a journey to work in the hair industry since she was young, although it took her some time to realize her dream. When Jackson was a girl, her mother attended cosmetology school. She would watch her mom cut and style different mannequins—and after her mom had finished, she would try, too.
“I would take them and style them my way, experimenting with the different looks I had imagined,” Jackson said.
While hair was her passion, Jackson’s family, peers, and teachers encouraged her to pursue education, so she enrolled at Rutgers–Camden, graduating in 2002 with a degree in accounting. She was working as a successful tax accountant when she noticed a thin spot on her scalp. Before long, the spot grew bigger. In 2004, she was diagnosed with cicatricial alopecia.
Jackson is not alone. Nearly 50 percent of women experience some form of hair loss in their lifetime. Of those who do, 29 percent report at least two symptoms of depression. Cicatricial alopecia—Jackson’s diagnosis—is more commonly called scarring alopecia and can result from autoimmune disorders, inflammation, or a serious injury. In all cases, the hair loss is permanent.
As Jackson began to explore the available hair-replacement options, she came to understand that her experience was more common than she realized, and she wanted to take what she was learning and share it with other women in her community.
“I became aware of the challenges that some Black women experience in the beauty industry,” said Jackson. “There were a lot of different options, but not a lot of education. I wanted to show women they have healthy options when it comes to managing hair loss.”
In 2007, Jackson began what would become Kafune Amore Hair Care, working with clients to manage their hair loss and find high-quality wigs that met their needs. Her focus was how to integrate a customized piece with a client’s natural hair.
“I was serving people who looked like me, and I understood them,” Jackson said. “I knew how to give them a product that would make them feel good, because I knew how to make myself feel good.” More than that, Jackson knew she had found her path in life.
Jackson’s Rutgers–Camden education helped her develop a sound foundation for her business. Classes in business policy and the life cycle of a business provided her with insight when it came to operations and pricing, marketing classes helped her appreciate the need to create a defined brand image, and her training as an accountant has helped her maintain clear and accurate financial records.
“It’s important to start with a good foundation and understanding of business,” Jackson said. “That foundation allows for sound growth and consistent development.”
Since starting her business, Jackson has created hundreds of customized hair solutions for her clients and has continued to expand her business as the need for different products has grown. Her unique four-step system has been recognized within the industry for its innovative approach that allows a woman to wear a wig while protecting her natural hair in a healthy and safe way. Jackson’s pioneering spirit and passion for innovation was recognized in 2021, when she was named to Forbes “Next 1000” list of entrepreneurs to watch.
As she looks to the future, Jackson is focused on cultivating new hair-loss solutions. Currently in development: a specially formulated product for women with sensitive skin who cannot use glue to hold a wig in place. As always, Jackson’s focus in not just on her business but on the women she serves.
“I want to help women feel more confident and excited about life," Jackson said. "I want them to know that, as the India.Arie song says, ‘you are more than just your hair.’”
CROWNing Glory: Fighting for Acceptance from Head to Toe
Hair has been a culturally meaningful social signifier throughout history. While it is commonly accepted that federal law prohibits discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex, traits like hair (or lack thereof) and personal appearance are not protected under federal law.
The CROWN Coalition is a movement fighting to end hair discrimination nationwide. CROWN stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”; the group, together with a consortium of Black leaders, advocates for a more equitable and inclusive experience for Black women and girls, primarily through legislation to end natural hair discrimination. A 2019 CROWN Research Study showed that workplace bias against hairstyles unfairly targets Black women, finding that they are 50% more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair, 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet norms or expectations at work, and 83% more likely to report being judged more harshly on their looks than other women.
The coalition seeks to extend statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as cornrows and twists in the workplace and public schools. To date, laws related to the CROWN Act have been enacted in 19 states.
February marks Black History Month across the United States. This year Rutgers–Camden, in coordination with the School of Business, will celebrate Black History Month with a month-long storytelling project titled “The Rise of the Black Entrepreneur.” Delving into the excellence of Black business owners past and present, these stories will draw upon the expertise, experiences, and achievements of Rutgers–Camden faculty and alumni from the School of Business, bringing in the voices of professors from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for an interdisciplinary approach.
Creative Design by: Beatris Santos
Photography by Ron Downes Jr.