Meet the Congolese Woman Changing Africa’s Hair Industry

by Xara Aziz
Instagram @giselavanhoucke

A Congolese woman is changing the beauty industry in Africa after her company, Zuri, has spread throughout the continent to become one of the most lucrative businesses in the region.

Since 2016, Gisèla Van Houcke has been involved in creating and distributing beauty products, including hair extensions, wigs, hair care items and cosmetics.

She originally began in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has since spread to Rwanda, Uganda and across the African diaspora through its e-commerce platform.

Before Van Houcke founded Zuri, she relocated to Rwanda in 2015 to serve as the head of legal for a renewable energy company. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), she was raised in Great Britain and studied law at Cardiff University and Nantes Université. When she lived in Rwanda, she found that it was difficult to get her hands on hair extensions.

“Back in the UK, I was able to just walk into a hair shop and buy good quality beauty products at affordable prices,” she told How We Made It In Africa. “Here I was, thinking that now that I have moved to Africa it would be easier because there was a bigger concentration of black women who needed these products, but it was the opposite.”

She then decided to procure hair extensions while visiting Europe and recognized a potential business opportunity when her friends would ask her to bring them extensions when she returned to Africa.

“We immediately had way more demand than supply; it spiraled quite quickly,” she recalled. “We then started marketing exclusively on digital platforms such as Facebook. Within the first year, we had more than 150,000 Facebook followers.”

Within months, she would begin selling hair for thousands of dollars. Then in 2016, she founded Zuri, which means “beautiful” in Swahili.

One year later, she would expand into Uganda through a joint venture.

“We started distributing in Uganda from a Zuri shop in Kampala and by providing our products to other hair extension retail outlets, mostly advertising on Facebook,” she said. “This was in August 2017. Later we added other digital platforms like Instagram.”

In 2018, Van Houcke was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30.

“This was the biggest thing that had happened up to that point for my young company,” she said. “Leaving my job to run my own business had been a big shock for most people, including my family. The recognition of being included on that list gave my confidence a boost that I could really do this and build this company into something.”

She has since gone on to appear on BBC, CNBC and other international media outlets, thus exposing her brand to the world. She now operates a successful e-commerce platform through

“I still believe the biggest growth opportunity is in the Zuri-branded hair bars and franchises. People want to be able to see and touch the hair before they make the investment,” Van Houcke explained.

Learn more about Zuri by visiting here and let them know Shine My Crown sent you!

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