by Yvonne Zacharias
Get this: a formula for taking the dread out of dreadlocks.
A formula for making them clean, which is almost an oxymoron, and for getting rid of them without cutting them off. Somebody had to think of it.
Enter a young Saltspring Island woman who loved to throw natural ingredients like beeswax, peppermint and almond oils into a blender to see what body products she could come up with.
Adrianna Hepper, 27, calls herself a self-educated herbologist. Out of this strange gift for alchemy, an inherent business sense, a need to satisfy a boyfriend's craving for dreadlocks and a need to find employment on the island, she cooked up a product that has the reggae/hip-hop/Rastafarian-wannabe world buzzing.
"I realized quickly after moving to Saltspring that if I didn't want to pump gas, I was going to have to come up with something," said the young business woman. Hepper was only 23 when she hit on the potion that would make dreadlocks without going through the long and somewhat repellent process of leaving hair unwashed and uncombed so it would form into deeply matted plaits.
Products make dreadlocks reversible
Not only that; she also came up with a product that would return dreadlocks to regular, Caucasian-style straight hair. It was hair history in the making. No one had come up with a way of making dreadlocks clean and reversible.
That was five years ago. Last year, annual sales of her Knotty Boy products reached over $500,000, with more than half of that coming from sales through her website (www.knottyboy.com). Three hundred retailers across North America carry her products.
Musicians like Rich Beddoe, drummer for the band Finger Eleven, give glowing testimonials: "I started maintaining my new dreads with Knotty Boy Dread Wax about four years ago. It didn't take long before they started to look downright amazing."
Hepper who has since moved to Vancouver, is on the verge of opening her Knotty Boy Lock Shop and Salon on Grant St.
As with many another keen entrepreneur, her thriving business took root because she recognized a gap in the market when she saw one.
Five years ago, she and her then boyfriend, Andrew Power, scoured all of Vancouver and Victoria looking for products that would form dreadlocks and keep them clean. "He had always wanted dreadlocks but the idea of not washing his hair foa a year or more didn't really appeal to him."
The products didn't exist. So Hepper headed for the kitchen, a place where more than one recipe for business success has been hatched.
She came up with a formula using non-water-soluble wax that binds the hair together and allows you to shampoo it. Basically, you can clean scalp and have sweet-smelling locks without the dread.
"It worked like a dream. He had what looked like dreads right away and fully formed dreadlocks within about three months."
Then she came up with a shampoo in the form of a solid bar that has a high concentration of tea tree, rosemary and peppermint oils. It smells a bit like eucalyptus and is very anti-bacterial.
She has come up with other products, including an aloe vera gel, a peppermint cooling moisture spray and the two-step dreadlock removal kit.
Step 1: a shampoo that contains hemp seed oil, grapefruit seed extract, oat proteins and other natural ingredients that break down waxes and other dreadlock buildup. Step 2: the Knotty Boy Dreadlock Damage Control Deep Conditioner, a concoction with a prickly pear smell containing ingredients such as aloe vera extract, jojoba, hemp seed oil and panthenol.
Basically, Hepper says she has managed to turn a passion and a hobby into a business.
A couple of years ago, Hepper and Power parted company, both in a business and amorous sense. He pursued his first love, which was music, while she continued with the business.
But there is a sad note to this story. He died of a rare form of heart and lung cancer about a year ago.
She looks back fondly on their relationship, which was the wellspring of something knotty but nice.
Knotty Boy is now an incorporated company with four employees and extended family of about 30 people who work on it on a contractual basis.
The vast majority of customers are middle-class caucasian kids who want to experiment, to express themselves differently. "They are just looking for a way to be different, to set themselves apart from the mainstream."
Others are trying to emulate hip-hop stars or aspire to Rastafarianism, a religious movement that teaches the eventual redemption of blacks and their return to Africa and forbids the cutting of hair.
It didn't take a genius to come up with Knotty Boy products. Hepper claims it only took common sense.
"A lot of good business is just listening to your customers. Whatever they are telling you they would buy, that is a good indication of what you should be in to."
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