Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Tomara Watkins, founder of Loza Tam
Meet Tomara Watkins: Former Bevel Employee Who Launched A Luxury Line Of Headwear Handcrafted In Ghana
Hair is extremely important to Black women. Whether you prefer sew-ins, wig installs, natural coils and fros, or protective styles — making sure that your tresses are done is a form of radical self-care.
Unfortunately, the hair industry still has work to do when it comes to providing hair accessories suitable for maintaining the health of Black women’s hair while looking stylish on the go.
Meet Tomara Watkins, who was frustrated by the lack of hair accessories and created products, carving out her own lane in the hair, beauty, and fashion industry.
Loza Tam is a headwear brand inspired by hair-wrapping traditions in West Africa. These luxurious, satin-lined hair accessories are all handcrafted in Ghana by artisans and will protect your strands while adding the final touch to any look.
We had the chance to chat with Tomara about her journey as an entrepreneur as well as how she’s navigating running a business during a pandemic and how consumers can continue amplifying Black-owned businesses.
Travel Noire: The idea for Loza Tam came to you out of your own frustrations as a Black woman looking for great hair accessories — can you tell us a little about the steps you took to ensure your first product had your ideal design and fit?
Tomara: When I first launched the brand, I had NO idea about designing products and all the moving parts that go into making accessories. I was making the products for myself to wear in Bikram yoga class and figured that I could gift the rest to friends. However, I knew that I absolutely wanted to have curl and kink-friendly satin-lining and a headband wide enough to stand up to the volume of my hair. Most of the products I found in major retailers had a silicone strip that would mercilessly rip out my hair and were so thin my curls completely consumed the fabric. Once I got my first batch of products, my friends were my fit models. They provided a lot of feedback about the products and company, so I really have to thank them.
Travel Noire: Why did you choose Ghana as the country to source fabrics for Loza Tam?
Tomara: Ghana felt like home to me as soon as I landed. When I laid eyes on all the beautiful prints that I saw women wearing, I immediately fell in love! That’s really when the light bulb for the headbands came on.
Travel Noire: What was the process like traveling to Ghana to source materials and to find skilled women to produce Loza Tam products?
Tomara: Very difficult…LOL! There are many challenges sourcing and producing in Ghana. I had to lean on my network a lot. I’m not in Ghana every day, so it was super important to develop great relationships with my production team and people on the ground.
Travel Noire: How did your past role as a marketing exec at Bevel impact your journey as an entrepreneur?
Tomara: I launched Loza Tam prior to starting at Bevel. When you’re an entrepreneur, you read so many overnight success stories about this journey. The stories you read make it sound easy and almost unobtainable if you didn’t attend an ivy league school or have an advanced degree. Those things can definitely help you, but it’s not the only way.
I learned the importance of having a great product, a great team, and a great story to really build your brand. Additionally, I learned that I knew what I was doing and that the challenges my business experienced were no different than any other brand. I learned how to manage my imposter syndrome. That was probably the biggest impact my Bevel experience had on my journey.
Travel Noire: What challenges have you faced as a Black woman entrepreneur making your mark in the fashion and beauty industry?
Tomara: How much time do we have? The biggest challenges I’ve faced as a Black woman entrepreneur is lack of access to capital to scale, which leads to other challenges like access to great talent (you need $$ to attract and retain great people which are the real MVPs of any brand), and lack of access to the network of people who are decision-makers around product placement due to the lack of diversity in those positions.
Case in point, when I lived out in the Bay, I met with a group of angel investors who consisted of all white women in their 50s. I presented them with my product, and their recommendation was to go to BET and pitch to them a version of Shark Tank. That’s it! They didn’t think that my product could be useful to a white woman going through chemotherapy, a Muslimah who wants to wear a turban, or that a buyer at a major retailer would be interested. They saw a Black woman promoting what they thought was a Black product. I left that meeting feeling deflated and angry that I had spent $90 on an Uber to the city and took off work to leave feeling pigeonholed. By that point, I had traction and sales. Meanwhile, there were brands started that I’d read about that had secured millions of dollars before they had a single customer. Black women entrepreneurs have those experiences quite often. However, I won’t allow it to stop me. Thankfully, my customers don’t either.
Travel Noire: In what ways can Black consumers amplify Black-owned businesses?
Tomara: Black businesses are really feeling all the love right now! We appreciate it! Please keep up that energy. When you wear our products, tag us on your social media, and share it with your friends. Write a product review. Or, provide constructive feedback to the business owner or customer care team. It all helps!
Travel Noire: What advice do you have for Black women who may be wanting to launch their business but are hesitant because of the pandemic?
Tomara: Let fear be your motivator. My fear of being chained to a desk working on projects that I wasn’t passionate about drove me to start and work so hard at continuing the brand even when I was on the brink of financial ruin. It isn’t easy so make sure you have the tolerance for it.
Travel Noire: What is the impact you hope for Loza Tam to have among Black women globally?
Tomara: Hair is so ingrained into the identities of Black women globally. From a product perspective, I want Black women to be able to look and feel beautiful no matter what’s going on with their hair underneath. And, I want them to feel completely confident to express themselves and their culture wherever they are in the world.
Additionally, I hope Black women will hear about Loza Tam and feel empowered to start their own business, go up for that promotion, ask for a raise, go to bat for a coworker, or speak up for themselves. Basically, keep harnessing our magic!
Travel Noire: What is your favorite Loza Tam product and why?
Tomara: A mother can never choose among her children. I love the satin-lined turbans & headwraps because I can throw it on and look and feel put together even when my hair underneath isn’t. Then, I love the headbands because they always add a little something extra to my basic buns. LOL!