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It didn’t take long into the premiere episode of WETV’s Cutting It in the ATL for viewers to get a glimpse of the raw fierceness that is Mushiya Tshikuka, the new reality show’s natural hair maven. After seeing the leather booty shorts she donned for an afternoon brunch during the premiere episode, some might call her controversial. Tshikuka, however, says she’s just being real. She’s so real, in fact, that she named her uber-popular Atlanta spot “The Damn Salon”—as in, “Everything we do, everything we touch—once we’re done with it, all that’s left to say is damn.”

Ultimately, Tshikuka couldn’t care less about haters and naysayers. Her focus is on fabulous hair and continuing to innovate within the natural hair space. She may ruffle some feathers along the way, but while she positions herself as Cutting It’s breakout star, Tshikuka is a businesswoman first. Here, she discusses how women can follow her lead in turning a marketable skill into a profitable business, and how to develop the right brand for your business, even if it stirs up a little trouble in the process.

MadameNoire: Why did you decide to be on the show? Were you concerned about how you would be portrayed?
Mushiya Tshikuka: Indeed, when they approached me about it, I definitely had some reservations because I personally cannot stand the way women are portrayed on reality TV. I decided to do it for two reasons: I decided that, yes, editing has a lot to do with how these women are portrayed, but what they do has a lot to do with how they are portrayed. They can only edit what you do. I understand that sometimes people do certain things in certain situations that they may not have done in other situations. But at the end of the day, you have to be in control of what you do and how you look. So I decided that I would put a lot of focus in staying true to who I was and not giving up too much power in terms of changing who I am.

And, two, it’s such an amazing and great platform, national TV, to do whatever you’re doing. I love natural hair, and I love to empower and build women and just expose to the world how great [natural hair] is. And, so, I wanted to utilize this opportunity to do it on a greater scale.

MN: Regarding natural hair, it’s obviously very popular now, but were you ever concerned when you started that that area was too niche?
MT: Absolutely not. I was not concerned about that at all. I believe that, in business, you can either fulfill a need or create the need. And I’m a creator of needs. So although many people were not natural, and a lot of people were not going natural or doing natural hair, I believed that I could create the desire and the need for it by creating things that they didn’t know existed before.

MN: What advice do you have for other women who want to take a skill that they have and turn it into a successful business?
MT: The way to do that is by believing that you have a business from the moment that you have that skill. So you’re not transitioning yourself into a business. You have to regard yourself as a business from the beginning. Everything is important, in terms of how you brand yourself, how you work, your customer service. So with me, I was a business from the moment that I decided I was going to get clients. My marketing material, my customer service—I did whatever it is that I wanted to receive when I go into a business, even when I was just one person in the beginning.

MN: Speaking of branding, you’ve taken an edgy approach to your brand with The Damn Salon. Were you ever concerned that you would turn people away?
MT: I never felt that, though I was told that by many people. People told me, “Mushiya, you can’t name your salon ‘The Damn Salon.’ That’s crazy.” And I said, “Yes, I can.” I never, for one second, said, “Oh this is too edgy,” or “This is too harsh.” All I’ve been the whole time is myself. That’s why it’s very easy. I didn’t actually choose the brand; I am just being Mushiya. If you have to decide what the branding [for your company] is, it’s a lot of work. You constantly have to work to stay in line with that. [My brand] is only edgy because I say and do what most people are thinking in their heads but don’t have the balls to do or say.

MN: So in understanding your brand and who you are, how difficult has it been to hire staffers who are, ultimately, other representatives of your brand?
MT: Staffing is probably one of the most challenging things because your staff has to understand your vision, and Damn is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. So they have to live that vision as well. And so my approach to hiring staff or stylists is that they can be good at hair, but I can train that. I cannot train personality; I cannot train character; I cannot train passion. So those are the qualities that I look for when I am staffing The Damn Salon, and I will train whatever else. But it’s definitely one of the greater challenges, and it’s so important that you get the right people because, as you said, they represent your brand.

MN: And with your product line, we’ve come so far in the world of natural hair and natural hair care, in that there are tons of easily accessible products on the market.
MT: First of all, the reason Runway Curls came about is because a lot of people are going natural, but when they want to do protective styles, they don’t have very many options in terms of what hair to use. So they’re using straight hair, Malaysian hair, or whatever because that’s the only option that they have. And I wanted to create an option for us that continues to celebrate our curly hair texture. So if you’re going to do a protective style, use a hair that seamlessly matches your curl pattern and looks like the hair that grew from your mother’s and your child’s head.

So that’s why Runway Curls came about, and it’s different because Runway Curls is not just a hair line. It’s also a movement. It’s a lifestyle. Through Runway Curls, our mission is to encourage women to work together by offering an opportunity for women all around the world, and stylists all around the world, to become a part of the Runway Curls network and to financially profit in doing so.

MN: Give me a snapshot of the Atlanta hair scene, and tell me where The Damn Salon fits in.
MT: Mushiya and The Damn Salon are definitely innovators. I set the tone and I set the path of this industry I’m in and our niche. So I don’t even really look too much to see what other salons are doing because I know that they’re also looking at what we’re doing and trying to emulate what we’re doing. So as an innovator, you just continue to create.

Also, a lot of people think that the hair industry in Atlanta is so saturated and there’s so much competition. But really, there’s a market for everyone. There are billions and billions of people who do their hair, and we cannot Damn the world by ourselves. So anybody who’s in this industry needs to understand that there’s room for them. You don’t have to worry about the competition; just go ahead and do your hair and handle your business.

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