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.”
“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.”
“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.