Merchant Spotlight: Anu Essentials

Anu Prestonia, owner of Anu Essentials, poses for a photograph while enjoying incense.

This is the fourth entry in a series of interviews looking at longtime businesses that have consciously adapted their business model to the changing consumer environment. We spoke with Anu Prestonia, who, for over 40 years, owned and operated Khamit Kinks — a beloved natural hair salon that counted as clients megacelebrities like media mogul Oprah Winfrey, musician Stevie Wonder, models Iman and B. Smith, author Terry McMillan, and actresses Angela Bassett and Joie Lee. Khamit Kinks was located at 400 Atlantic Avenue from 2011 until the beginning of 2019.

We were happy to speak with Anu to learn more about her journey as an entrepreneur and why she ultimately decided to shift her focus to ‘Anu Essentials’, her line of products for body, mind, and spirit.

[AABID]: Anu, thanks for sitting down to talk to us. The website for Khamit Kinks says, “all coils…all textures.” At your business’ start forty years ago, what led you to natural hair braiding? 

[Anu]: The idea of braiding hair resonated with me while I was a student at Howard University; I had become tired of using a hot-comb to keep my hair straightened. The heat and humidity in D.C. made it impossible for my hair not to revert back to being kinky, particularly around my hairline. I found myself pressing/hot combing my hairline daily. I thought, “If I keep this up, I’m going to lose my hairline,” so I began braiding my hair. 

I always found my hands in the hair of friends and family members; I had an innate ability for doing hair and there wasn’t much competition at the time. Most of my clients were what might be considered “counter-cultural;” they were students, artists, those involved in African culture, and those pursuing a natural lifestyle with vegetarianism and self-employment. This was the late 70s; there was no natural hair industry then. Unbeknownst to me, I was at the beginning of a burgeoning industry. 

I had intended for hair braiding to just be a summer job, but I felt so inspired–not only my creativity but also the financial independence–that I took a semester off from college and never looked back. Following the movie 10 [a 1979 American romantic comedy film set in Mexico], professional hair braiding went mainstream. I began to have clients who were models, lawyers, flight attendants, nurses, etc.

[AABID]: We follow @khamitkinks on Instagram, and it was there we learned that “Khamit” was the original name for Egypt. How did you decide to name your company after it?

 [Anu]: A couple of years into braiding hair for a living, I joined an African religious organization that focused on the spiritual and cultural teachings of ancient Africa whose origins were in ancient Khamit. During that time, I had a dream, and in the dream, I received the name Khamit Kinks.  

The identity of the company was based on my desire to serve my clients in a way that acknowledged our history and our ancestors. Our history did not begin with slavery in America. Our ancestors built the pyramids, invented math, science, astronomy, astrology, and cosmogony.

I wanted to heal the pain that comes from not knowing who you are and therefore not being able to see your real beauty. Black women were not considered beautiful enough; they didn’t have the right hair, body type, etc.; through my work, I could dispel these myths. I wanted to offer my clients a beautiful, inspiring and professional environment that offered exceptional customer care as a way of confirming their worth. I felt it was my duty to show them just how special they are.  

In Western culture, people of African descent have been told for centuries that they are unappealing, undesirable and the only way to be considered beautiful is to emulate European standards of beauty. In black women’s pursuit of this beauty standard — particularly as it relates to their hair — many of them damaged both their hair and scalp.  

I had that experience myself as a young girl, wanting to have long, straight hair. At ten years old, after just two chemical services to change the texture of my hair, it all fell out. I vowed to God if he allowed my hair to grow back, I would never use another chemical service to straighten my hair, and I kept that promise. That experience informed my compassion for my sisters and their journeys to love their natural hair, which leads to learning how to love themselves as they are, not as popular culture tells them they should be.

[AABID]: Your location on Atlantic Avenue was one of many in the progression of Khamit Kinks over the years. What attracted you to Boerum Hill? 

[Anu]: Back in the 80s, I used to enjoy shopping at the antique shops on Atlantic Avenue — Olde Good Things was a favorite of mine and had been located at 400 Atlantic Ave; I was very familiar with Boerum Hill long before I moved my business to Atlantic Avenue.

In 1997, my business was located in my brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant, and I moved it to TriBeCa. I had outgrown the space in the brownstone and wanted to offer my clients a neighborhood where they could find good coffee, have healthy options for lunch, and feel they were in an environment that reflected their standard of living.  

When my lease was ending in TriBeCa in 2006, I thought I would renew, but a real estate company offered my landlord double what I was paying. I realized that moving back to Brooklyn was the best option. I liked the 400 Atlantic Avenue location because it had the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges nearby, not too far for our clients traveling from Manhattan, but the landlord did not accept my offer, and so I moved Khamit Kinks to Gold Street across from Chase Metro Tech. 

Five years later, in 2011, I was able to secure a lease at 400 Atlantic Avenue, the same location that I hoped for five years prior.  In each location, we had 2500 square feet of space–pretty large for a salon.  The amount of clientele that we served required that amount of space. It allowed us to have events for our clients and events for the public. We put on hair shows, we had natural hair meetups, product launches, workshops and a host of other activities.

[AABID]: You announced at the end of January that you were closing the salon to focus more on your line of skin- and hair-care products called ‘Anu Essentials.’ How did you arrive at that decision? 

[Anu]: This month–March 2019–I am turning 62 years old; I began Khamit Kinks when I was 21. It’s been an amazing journey with quite a long run. 

Additionally, the industry of natural hair care has changed considerably over the decades.  During the late 70s through the 80 and into the 90s, Khamit Kinks was the biggest game in town. In the 90s, however, there was a huge influx of women opening natural hair salons in New York. During this time period, competition for customers increased dramatically and the natural hair market became saturated.

Finally, YouTube’s arrival as a go-to for anything you might need to learn was a game-changer. Many women began doing their own hair, didn’t want braids, and knew nothing of going to a salon. They wanted to wear their own hair loose and free. We were able to accommodate this change in hairstyle choices. Still, as time went on, the salon no longer required the amount of space that we were leasing. And after 40 years in the business, I was ready to move on to my next phase of life and a new adventure — growing my other company, Anu Essentials, which is an outgrowth of Khamit Kinks and my solution to address the hair and scalp problems of my clients.

I am happy that Khamit Kinks’ former manager, Taeisha Black, has taken the team under her tutelage. Her new business is called Kinky Kollective, and many of Khamit Kinks’ former stylists followed her to the new location. Clients can book an appointment with them at 718-395-1200 or contact Taeisha directly at taeishablack@gmail.com

[AABID]: Interesting. Tell us more about Anu Essentials!

[Anu]: At Anu Essentials, I create a number of products that are botanically based. The hair oils that I began making in the 70s are the number one sellers at Anu Essentials, but I have also re-launched the rest of my hair care line — clients can purchase shampoo, conditioners, and styling products.

In addition to hair products, I also create products for the body such as natural perfumes and body adornments using natural stones. I first began crafting stone bracelets for myself, but a friend encouraged me to offer them on the Anu Essentials website. I now make intentional bracelets and prayer beads (malas) from beads that I procure at bead shows, as another form of creativity.

It is my goal to continue to grow Anu Essentials so that my line can be distributed nationally. I would like to have my products carried in bespoke boutiques and upscale yoga studios across the country.

[AABID]: You’ve come a long way and explored many different angles of entrepreneurship. Do you have any words of advice for someone just starting out on their journey? 

[Anu]: My advice to entrepreneurs planning on opening a brick-and-mortar business is that it is best to purchase a building or a space as opposed to renting. Had I done that, Khamit Kinks would most likely still be operating. Each move set my business back tremendously. My other recommendation for anyone starting out as an entrepreneur is to know your industry, know your market, stay abreast of the ever-evolving trends, and learn as much about the business of doing business.

[AABID]: Those words of advice are greatly appreciated. Thanks again for taking us through your incredible journey, and we wish you the best of luck on your new endeavor!

Follow this business on its website its social media pages for images of merchandise and updates on programming.

Website: https://anuessentials.com/

Telephone: (888) 422-0910

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnuEssentialsHairBody

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/AnuEssentials/

Comments are closed.