Interview with Leandra Ansah
March 24, 2021
CEO of Black Star Extensions and WFF Donor
Photo credit: Samandhy Bilal, Hey_Mandersss Photography
Q. Why do you choose to donate to the World Fistula Fund?
A. When I was creating Black Star Extensions, I knew I wanted it to be a company with a foundation and core value of, what I like to call, “active giving”. However, I also knew I couldn’t start researching charities blindly. So, I considered what the simplistic roots of Black Star Extensions were to me.
I am a Ghanaian American. My West African culture is very important to me and I’m also a woman. My vision for Black Star Extensions was for it to be a company that promoted self-care while positively impacting women who looked exactly like my customers. That’s when I started my search for a charity by researching one that substantially benefited African women. When I stumbled across WFF everything clicked. It felt a lot like when I met my husband! It felt right.
As a black woman who had just started thinking about beginning a family of my own, I was aware of the health issues that disproportionately affected pregnant women of color. When I read the mission of WFF, it was like a kick in the gut…or maybe more like the heart. I felt an immediate connection and wave of empathy. I said to myself, “this is it.”
Q. The tagline of the company is “where it is not enough to just look good, but to do good”. Where did you get the inspiration for this tagline?
A. This tagline came to me organically and very soon after deciding that my company would routinely give back. I was talking to my husband. I was trying to explain why I wanted giving to be such a critical part of my brand, especially when the beauty industry as a whole is pretty superficial. And between one moment and the next, I just exclaimed! “Because I want it to be a place where it isn’t enough to just look good! I want it to do good and be good!” And voila I had my tagline!
Q. How did you come up with the name for your company?
A. This was probably the easiest part of developing Black Star Extensions although I put a lot of thought into it. “Black Star” is a nod to my African roots. As I mentioned previously, my family is from Ghana and Ghanaians are often referred to colloquially as “black stars” because of the black star in our flag, among other historical reasons.
I did have a moment of pause, where I wondered whether the name could be potentially polarizing. However, in the end I decided to be as authentic as possible and to work on creating a brand that spoke for itself.
Q. Why are there not more socially conscious companies that donate to non-profit organizations?
A. I really have no idea. I can only assume that it’s easier to tout a message than to part with cash. However, I try not to focus too much on the industry landscape I currently see. Instead I try to focus on what I desire the industry to look like.
A well-known Ghandi quote comes to mind. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I created Black Star Extensions as a niche luxury hair and lash boutique. I created it because I saw a deficit in the beauty industry and its messaging.
I hope that I am at the forefront of an industry-wide pivot toward active charitable giving. I just can’t help but imagine how much of an impact even 1% of Sephora, Maybelline’s, or Lancôme’s profits could have if they were all donated to nonprofits that benefited women.
Q. What do you think needs to happen for more companies to donate to charities?
A. I think it comes down to accountability and social pressure. We have seen a wave of change effected in commercial business over the past five (5) years because of social backlash in one way or another. These companies have shown us that they are incredibly sensitive about their public image and reputations. If we have a consumer demand for these companies to be more socially responsible in the way they donate, I think they would do it.
Q. Do you know of any other companies that donate to important non-profit organizations?
A. I know of a few. For example, there is Toms, Gymboree, Uncommon Foods, Etsy. I’m sure there are more that I am not aware of. I actually used Tom’s as a goal when I was trying to develop my company and its brand. Toms is synonymous with giving back in my mind. Its brand awareness is based on products as well as its good deeds. That’s my goal for my company eventually.
Q. How long have you been in business?
A. Black Star Extensions was created in October 2019, but it didn’t start operations until January 2020. We are 1 ½ years old!
Q. How did it become a successful business?
A. I would say we are still working toward being “successful”, but to me this is a labor of love. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of long hours and a mentality of perseverance because things don’t happen overnight. That being said. I think Black Star Extensions being a business that is rooted in doing good and not just making profit is what keeps me and the business going. I am content to wait for widespread success; so long as I can maintain my goal of ‘doing good” ad having a positive impact.
Q. How has BSE evolved overtime?
A. We are still in infancy, but one thing that has changed is my willingness to get outside help. This company is my baby in a sense. I’m very protective of it and its messaging. However, to grown and be successful its necessary to incorporate different style, outlooks, and plans. I think every business can benefit from a marketing professional as well as a business consultant. I’m in the process of accepting applications for both. So, if any of your readers, fit these roles or feel moved to help my business in other ways, they should let me know! They can email me at email@example.com.
Q. Where do you see BSE in the future/what do you want to change about BSE?
A. I want Black Star Extensions to become a well-known beauty industry B-corporation. I want it to be like Toms! I love the mission and message of BSE. I don’t think I ever want to change that. However, as we grow, I can see us incorporating more and more charities. I’d like that.
Q. Did you always want to own a company?
A. NO! When I was in law school, I was content to just graduate and become a worker bee. My husband has always been the entrepreneurial one. But as I got older, my goals changed. I kept seeing things, I thought I could do better.
I think don’t believe people should create a business just to create one. It must fit a niche. And it must be something you’re willing to pour your all into, even when it struggles to be profitable.
Q. Who is your audience for your company?
A. My company is for all those who use and like luxury hair and lash extensions. I offer a variety of extensions from sew- in to clip ins, so I see a variety of customers. However, a majority of my customers are African American women.
Q. What are other brands that you like to support?
A. I love Toms. Have I mentioned that before?! I also love Etsy. Not just because they give back, but because I truly admire the platform they have created for creative mined lay people. A person with a passion can easily create a store and sell on Etsy! And it has such variety!
Q. Was there anyone in your life who inspired you to work in this field?
A. Not specifically in this field. This beauty industry goal really came to me on its own. After years and year of buying hair extensions from companies with superficial messages, one day I had enough. I was upset that I was spending so much money on an industry that seemed so transparent.
But in terms of encouragement, my husband has been incredibly supportive. He has always encouraged me to be a better version of myself in all ways and this was no different. It can be scary to start something like this. It seems like a large dream and can be overwhelming. Its beneficial to have someone in your corner telling you, “Of course, you can.”
Q. Was there anyone in your life who inspired you to give back to other women?
A. My mother. My mother was a Registered Nurse for most of her life. She recently retired and opened two assisted living facilities in MD. Growing up she would come home sometimes and tell me about patients she had. It seemed she had a lot of women patients to me.
I guess I just grew up wondering what happened to those women and if they got better, and if some of their conditions were preventable. Seeing my mom work so hard, just built in me this image of women being the backbone of families. Women are the ultimate caretakers. We need to be taken care of too!
Q. How do you want women’s healthcare to change?
A. In the past few years, I think women’s healthcare has begun to change. Women are more vocal, it seems. It’s easier to hear our voices and maybe social media has played a part in that. I like the change I see from women suffering in silence. I want that change to continue. I want all women to have more access to reliable healthcare, especially in rural developing countries.
Q. Why is it important for you to educate people on women’s healthcare?
A. I think education on all healthcare is important. However, I think women’s healthcare and women’s issues at large have historically been overshadowed by male-centered healthcare. I mean the prevalence in advertising and the breath of insurance coverage for Viagra and other erectile-dysfunction medication speaks for itself.
Q. What are other non-profit organizations that you like to support?
A. I like supporting UltraViolet. It is an organization to drive “feminist cultural and political change.” They work to improve the lives of all women and people impacted by sexism. I like Planned Parenthood, in general. I don’t always like its policies, but I admire its mission to provide affordable healthcare to young women and girls who need it. I also have been a long-time fan of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence! I often volunteered for domestic violence initiatives in college and law school.