Aysha Abdulrazak meets with entrepreneur and founder of Sugared & Sprayed, Shay Walcott, to discuss the ancient art of sugaring, speaking your hopes into existence, the beauty of black women and building an organisation that supports women of colour from the get-go.
Shaynae Walcott (mostly known as Shay), founder of a South London-based sugaring and spray-tanning studio Sugared & Sprayed, is a force to be reckoned with. To put it in the simplest of terms: a business owner who wants to change the world and promote racial equality through her community spirit and inclusive entrepreneurship.
In the hopes that this does not sound like an infomercial testimonial, I first met Shay when I made the trek to my first sugaring appointment on the other side of London, after discovering her in a YouTube video earlier that week. The effort was worth it. Professional hair removal is often awkward and painful, but especially for women of colour. Disrobing and leaving yourself vulnerable to the skills (or lack thereof) of a stranger/therapist can be an embarrassing reality. So the idea of having my hair professionally removed by another black woman immediately made the process a little more bearable. An instant familiarity that needs no explanation is felt. Shay herself was patient, skilled (the smoothest results) and thankfully a great conversationalist, allowing me to lose myself in common interests and anecdotes as opposed to insurmountable pain, in an awkwardly silent room, punctuated with ripping sounds and barely suppressed screams. A special mention also needs to go to the soundtrack in the background, courtesy of Shay’s amazing playlist. The woman has great taste. Think soul-warming R&B and early noughties nostalgia. The whole experience felt comfortable and sisterly. This is how sugaring should be and has always been: a communal act of self-care.
So, a bit of history: sugaring is an ancient hair removal method which originated from Africa and the Middle East. Shay informs me that sugaring goes back whole centuries. One of the first known sugaring fans was Cleopatra herself. Despite its long history in the East, this hair removal method has only very recently gained more traction in the West, where waxing is ultimately the standard. However, Shay explains that sugaring is a much gentler and kinder alternative to wax. It’s only warmed at body temperature (any hotter and it becomes too runny) and only adheres to dead skin cells. It’s also more eco-friendly, with none of the harsh chemicals and waste. Shay knows what she’s talking about and always makes sure clients know exactly what is being put on their body and how it all works. The TLC does not stop there; she is always kind enough to provide tips on aftercare in texts, emails and follow up appointments.
The brand genesis
The concept of Sugared & Sprayed came to Shay after a few ventures and several instances of trial and error. Shay had a background in PR and wanted a side hustle to tide her over financially whilst she considered what she really wanted to do. Shay explains that after starting a masters she realised that, although it was an enjoyable experience, she was not in the right frame of mind for more academia. Unlike previous projects, she wanted a fuss-free, uncomplicated business idea that didn’t require further academic investment. This is when she gravitated towards the beauty industry. Shay notes that beauty is ever-growing and always in demand. Everyone connects with beauty and maintenance in some shape or form. The universality of bingeing on makeup tutorials by way of procrastination immediately makes me feel better about all those hours lost.
Hair Removal and Tanning whilst Black
At this point in our phone call we discuss the many stops Shay made in the world of beauty before landing on S&S: the complexities of getting into the black hair industry as a black woman deserves another article in itself.
Shay noticed another complexity darker skinned women face in salons across the West. That is, the business of tanning. Shay spent hours trawling through YouTube videos watching women discuss the very awkward experience of explaining to a white tan specialist that they’d like to get a fake tan. They were often met with confusion and barely disguised amusement. Shay instantly related to that discomfort and realised that she – like a few salons in the US – could be the person to hit two birds with one stone (sans micro-aggressions)! At this point, I once again entertain the tangent of being black and naturally hairy. Why is this a phenomenon that is barely discussed? Is this yet another statement to add to the list of ‘Black women can’t xyz’ – feel pain, grow body hair…?
So, the perfect combination was concocted for smooth, golden skin for *all* tones and types. Shay doubles down that she doesn’t think black and darker skinned women should tan per se, but that the option is there should you want it. Just like all the options are there for white women: hence the hashtag #WeCanSprayTanToo.
How to Start
I questioned how easy it was for Shay to ‘just do it’. She confirms that the feat is only as difficult as you make it. Shay opted for a pressure free approach. ‘I just went with the flow’, she simplifies. Understandably sick of the corporate world and answering to a boss when she had all these entrepreneurial ideas brimming inside, Shay took it one step at a time. Sounds easy enough, so I ask Shay for the specific manageable steps she took. She researched the industry using the PR skills she had, focusing primarily on market research and offering her services to models via DMs. This was all from her cousin’s front room. As described by Shay, it seems the turning point was the attention brought on by popular social influencer, Ropo Demure. Then Shay blasts through working on more collaborations, getting more clients and eventually leaving her cousin’s backroom. The mindset is important, she continues, describing herself as a perfectionist. ‘You’ve just got to remind yourself to chill and enjoy the process’. I file another one of Shay’s one liner gems of wisdom away: great advice that could be given to anyone with any goal in mind.
I enquire about Shay’s social life next. Can making all the boss moves get kind of lonely? To put it simply, yes. When you are surrounded by 9-5 office-employed friends, who have the luxury of switching off from their work once they’ve left the building (or shutting down their laptop), your career becomes less and less relatable. Shay discusses how she remedies this and decided to create a network of sugarista peers and a mentor. Stephanie King, from the London Sugaring Company, has since become a very good friend. ‘Having a therapist helped,’ Shay shares, saying that hers helped her work through the muddling up of her personal life and her business through the implementation of boundaries. This could even be with yourself. You have to set realistic tangible goals so you’re not unnecessarily burning yourself out. ‘You need to find that right balance for you’ Shay continues: Supportive friends and family around, a healthy relationship with yourself and professional networks that can support you and you’re good to go.
The Practical Steps
Finances then? Shay bootstrapped herself through the whole process. All the earnings made in the first few months were reinvested straight back into the company. The only support she received from the government was through the recent and ever-changing Covid-19 global lockdown. At the start though, Shay recounts working 6-day weeks at the salon and also teaching for her mentor’s business, The London Sugaring Company – ‘there were definitely a few tight moments, things got bleak financially’. But rather bravely Shay decided, do or die. ‘This approach actually helped to sustain the business,’ Shay adds soberly. I ask whether she thought the difficulties she faced would also be encountered by an imagined white counterpart, with the possible support of generational wealth behind them. Shay partly agrees that there is definitely an element of structural inequality at play, but she is firm in her belief that knowledge is power: ‘There are so many schemes out there, so many initiatives should you want them.’ You’ve just got to look and work with what you can. One of my favourite ‘Shayisms’ is ‘Ask yourself what your Why is and go from there’. It seems that it’s a daily question that propels her towards more and more progress whenever she starts to lose momentum or faith. Once you discover your Why, you can then understand what you need to fulfil it. You may not need to immediately look into loans after all.
The key really, Shay emphasises, is to start small. This minimises financial risk but also helps to prove that your business is viable. Shay adds that regardless of whether the system is built around you or not, you must remain optimistic. I remember a lot of our ‘speak it into existence’ chats deep into my sugaring sessions with her. Once again, the notion of our own personal power being harnessed to beat external obstacles genuinely invigorates our conversation. I feel even more inspired when Shay recounts that she was the second person in her family to go to university and the first to graduate with first-class honours. This reveals her true motivation: ‘I’ve always wanted to see my family settled. I’ve always wanted more for us.’ Coasting was simply never an option. ‘We need to change the narrative of our communities’. Her ultimate dream is to invest back into the community but realises for that, self-investment is imperative.
Once you do the self-work and are sufficiently confident in your abilities, how can your brand start to reflect your initial vision? Shay explains that the answer is knowing what your Unique Selling Point is. For Shay, her USP was an unproblematic sugaring salon that catered to WOC’s needs. She thought the idea of black salons being a place for togetherness and community could also be translated into the hair removal world, especially if you can identify with your therapist. Shay ultimately wanted S&S to be a place to service WOC, but also to celebrate them. S&S Instagram page certainly attests to this, with campaigns showcasing the beauty of inclusion and diversity, featuring bodies of all colours, shapes and sizes.
Business after the 2020 BLM Protests
As the owner of a black business in a post pandemic post BLM world, I was curious to find out what Shay envisaged for her future. In one word, Shay states: Franchise. ‘I want to expand into different cities and different countries. I want to give women the opportunity to buy into an organisation that supports them from the beginning.’ Shay very much wants to move into working in Africa and North America to support more black women on a global level. ‘I want us to work on our own products too.’ At first, Shay explains, S&S was all about brand collaboration. However, now she’s working on creating products that are even more catered to her clientele and their holistic health. If that’s not the mentality of a business owner/ community leader hybrid, I’d be hard pressed to find what is. The beauty of the S&S brand is the fact that the clientele feeds back into the brand with continuous feedback and commentary. Shay clearly listens and responds. This is exactly what she has been focused on during this summer’s worldwide BLM protests ‘it lit a fire in me. We were going in that direction anyway, but it encouraged me to be more of a face for my community’.
Shay explains that through the platform S&S has created, she would also like to use her voice for the community it serves. She constantly evaluates what initiatives she could create or simply what conversations she can start by using her growing social media presence. Shay simply states, ‘I am a proud black woman’. This statement alone encompasses a journey towards love, but also one that is often faced with hardship and confusion. Shay explains, like many of us do, that growing up there were moments when she was ashamed of her colour, when colourism was rife on twitter and in society at large. In a way, S&S became an expression of that journey towards the ‘self’ and its beauty. Shay successfully created a brand that celebrates the skin she herself is in and the beauty of its complexities. She invites you to do the same.
Also, why not shop for all your skin care needs or presents at Shop Sugarista this Xmas?!
Lucy Writers would like to express their heartfelt thanks to Shaynae Walcott and Aysha Abdulrazak for allowing us to publish this interview.