Bombshell Files: Interview with Ericka Dotson, Owner of Indique Virgin Hair Extensions
Over the last several months (especially after my haircut/trim debacle), I’ve been on the hunt for protective styles to give my hair a break from manipulation and aid in growing length. Hair extensions were at the top of my short list, but despite all the hairstyles and services I’ve tried over the years, I’m a newbie when it comes to hair weaves. So, when I had to opportunity to chat up Ericka Dotson, Founder and Owner of Indique Virgin Hair Extensions, I jumped at the chance!
Indique is the hottest name in hair extensions and has been featured in numerous magazines from Essence to Elle. The brand has a huge roster of celeb fans including Angela Simmons, Jill Scott, Chanel Iman, Lady Gaga and Lala Anthony. During our interview, Ericka shared her expert tips for selecting and caring for your extensions, plus how to wear them as a protective style. She also shared some wise words for aspiring hairstylists and how following her passion paid off! It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s all super good stuff! So, pull up a chair and enjoy!
Tell me a little about Indique in case my readers are not familiar with the brand.
Indique offers 100% human hair with the cuticle intact, so you can wear it a year or more as long as you take care of it. We offer a wide variety of textures and lengths, anything from a straight with body, to something that’s kinky curly. We offer colored hair as well.
We started out about six years ago and at first we offered hair online, but now we have boutiques that we’ve opened up within the past couple of years. The majority of them are within the New York City area but we are branching out. We also have beauty supply houses that carry our hair and we have a network of stylist who can consult with you on the hair and we also have the Indique Academy where we have cosmetology students learning and being educated about Indique hair. They learn how to apply hair extensions and there are all sorts of services, so we’re really growing. It’s a really exciting time at Indique.
It really seems like the brand has just exploded the last couple of years or so!
There’s a lot going on but it’s all good. I can’t complain!
What are some of your tips for women who are interested in wearing hair extensions? What are the most common mistakes you see women making with their extensions?
What I find is sometimes people leave out too much of their natural hair. If you’re going with a texture that is not close to your hair texture at all, you really want to leave out as little of your natural hair as possible, if you’re able to do that. Because what happens is you have to then blend the hair extension hair into your own hair as opposed to doing the opposite.
Another thing that I find is that sometimes people, and this is in regards to the health of your hairline, have too much tension on the edges or those braids that are closer to the hairline. It’s just too close and its too tight. You really need to be careful because by the time you braid your hair, and then sew in the weft, there’s a lot of tension going on. So by the time you have that thread in your head and the tension pulling on that already tight braid, it can cause a lot of damage to the follicles near the edges. So you just have to be really careful.
To maintain your hair after you put in the hair extensions, you always want to make sure to moisturize it. You want to be careful, making sure you don’t put a lot of heat on the hair. Shampoo and condition it, don’t forget about it. Make sure that you wear some sort of satin pillowcase or head scarf or something on your head at night, because you really don’t want to have your natural hair and the hair extension hair rubbing against a cotton pillowcase. It’s really not great for the hair at all.
With this premium hair that we offer, you know its all natural, so it has the same properties as human hair. The only difference is that it’s not attached to the head so it’s not going to get all of the nutrients from the scalp that your natural hair would get. So, you definitely want to make sure that you treat it every once in a while, and make sure you focus on the ends. You can even trim the hair. You may find that after you put a lot of heat on it over time you may have to trim it a bit because you can use it over and over again.
If you’re wearing curly hair, you may want to use products like a shampoo and moisturizer that’s specifically for curly, or even, say, damaged hair. Even through the hair may not be damaged, that damaged hair care product gives hair a lot of the nutrients that it needs in order to maintain beautiful bouncy curls. Also use a heat protectant, that’s always good to use on this hair. It’s an investment when you purchase this hair, so you want to protect it when you put heat on it.
Definitely. I think a lot of women don’t realize that you can use product on their human hair extensions. So that’s definitely something you recommend?
Definitely. There are inexpensive products that you can purchase, and then you can also use the professional products. So there are a wide variety of products to use. Just make sure that you pay close attention. Don’t just put anything in the hair. Sulfate-free products are great for the hair, as it doesn’t strip the moisture from hair.
Also, there are products you should stay away from, like heavy mousses or oil sheen sprays, spritz and all of that. It’s really not necessary for the hair we offer at Indique. Really, this hair is its most beautiful with a simple shampoo, condition and maybe a treatment every once in a while. Because the beauty of the hair shines through, it flows, it has body, it bounces and it moves. So any time you put a lot of product on it, you get a lot of build up and that really weighs down the hair. That’s not always a good look.
So how often would you recommend women who are wearing the Indique hair cleanse the hair to prevent that kind of product build up?
It depends on your lifestyle. If you’re working out often, you may have to shampoo your hair more often. I like to shampoo my hair every week. Some people like to do it every two weeks when they go into the salon, which is ok, too. It also depends on the texture.
For instance, we have a texture called Relaxed Straight that’s very, very similar to African American hair when it’s been relaxed, so with that you may not have to shampoo as often as you would one of our other straight textures that get weighed down when they get oily. With the relaxed straight, you don’t really see it being weighed down as much.
So that’s why I say it depends on the texture, but I really do recommend that anywhere from one week to every two weeks is good. Some people, if you have really fine hair, you may have to shampoo it every day. It really depends on the person.
So when a person is selecting the type of texture of extensions she wants, should her lifestyle or her natural hair texture be taken into consideration?
Definitely. Now, there are some textures where you can get a sew-in hair extension service and you can braid away all of your hair. I do recommend doing that with a curly texture, though. Something with a lot of curl and body, as opposed to something with a straight texture. If you don’t have a relaxer and your hair is natural, you should really consider what it is that you want to deal with when it comes to styling your hair.
So if you want our wavy texture and you have natural hair, put into consideration whether you work out often. Is your natural hair is going to get sweat out? Causing you to then put heat on your hair every day or blow dry it out to get it smooth to match the wavy hair that you purchased? A lot of our women who work out a lot with spin classes and Zumba are going towards purchasing our curly textures or the textures with a lot of deep wave patterns.
Yes! I’ve been eyeing your Bounce Organic Curl and saw that you now have a new Limited Edition Bounce Mystere Curl. I thought it would be perfect for women who are natural because so many women who are natural are who are transitioning to natural, are looking to get extensions as a protective style. What tips do you have for those of us who are natural and want to get extensions?
One thing that I would recommend and love is a net weave because you can, again, braid your hair away. You don’t even have to worry about having a spectacular braid pattern at the bottom because it doesn’t matter since it will be covered up by a net. They’re called a weaving cap or sometimes a wig cap, and you can find them at your beauty supply store. Some have adjustable straps on the back and some don’t. They’re really cool, they’re contoured to the shape of the head and sometimes you have to cut away a little bit of the net on the edges if you have a smaller head. You can sew the wefts onto this net and then it’s your option.
You can decide whether or not you want to sew the net onto your natural hair, with some braids on the perimeter. Or you can really just wear it if it has an adjustable strap and just kind of tighten the strap. You can take it off when you want, but if you’re really not a wig girl, I know some people don’t like the idea of taking their hair off. So if you want to take it down, I think it’s so great when it comes time to shampoo and condition your natural hair. You have a whole entire unit you can take off. Take your braids down, maintain your natural hair, and then you put it right back on. So it’s really a great way to get your hair nice and healthy and at the same time have amazing hair to wear during the process.
Wow, I never knew that’s how those weave caps worked!
I know it sounds really intense, but it’s really not that difficult! It’s pretty cool.
You mentioned the Indique Boutiques. What is the shopping experience like for a woman who comes in to shop for her Indique extensions in person?
It’s extremely unique. In the beginning, before we even had one boutique, I always wished that I could go into a facility where it felt discreet. You’re getting one-on-one service and lots of attention because I know that you’re spending a lot of money for this hair, and there are so many lengths and textures so you really need some quality time and attention from the sales person. These are things I thought about when we were getting our first boutique together.
So we have that. When you walk into our boutique you get a one-on-one consultation, and some women spend more than an hour at our locations because there’s so much to choose from. You have to realize that every single piece is from one donor, so all the pieces are going to be unique. When that’s a part of the process, you have to choose your special pieces(s) and that takes time. If you want curly hair, we’ll wet if for you so you can see how the curls are going to pop back. If you want to wear it straight we’ll flat iron it for you so you can see how it will straighten out.
So there is a lot of attention for the client, and everyone leaves with big smiles on their faces, confident about their purchase. That’s always a good thing. What we do is make sure we have happy ladies leaving our boutiques everyday.
That sounds like an amazing shopping experience! You mentioned that you’ll be expanding the boutiques, what areas of the country will you be in next?
We definitely want to open up more boutique in the New York area so we planning on opening up a Brooklyn location and a Harlem location. Then we will venture out to Miami, and we’re either going to do Dallas or Houston, or both. Then Chicago and hopefully L.A. So during all of that we’ll pop up some more boutiques within the next couple of years, but those are the ones that we’re targeting in this next year.
Wow! So, for the beauty supply stores around the country that carry your products, do you go about a screening process to select which will carry your hair?
We have an entire program where they apply to distribute our products and there are several requirements that we have before we have a product in an actual location. But it’s nice because there are a lot of African American beauty supply houses that have not had the ability or the opportunity to offer quality, premium Indian hair, so its nice to be able to partner with them and put the hair on the market in these areas.
A lot of them have been in business for years and a lot of them are family owned businesses. They’ve really been burned in this industry when it comes to selling hair, so it’s very rewarding to be a part of this history of Black owned beauty supply houses carrying on the legacy of offering products to our community.
Yes, African American owned beauty supply stores are very hard to come by these days, unfortunately.
Yes, so it’s good to see them out there. We’ve also partnered with a Parisian distributor, we’re in South African, Costa Rica. So we’re world wide, and hopefully opening up more overseas. We’re looking forward to that as well.
Can you tell me about the Indique Academy? Do the stylists who come through the academy get certified to install Indique hair?
Yes, they get certified to install Indique hair, and it’s a great program because currently within the curriculum that cosmetology schools offer, there is no such thing as going to your board exam and taking a hair extension segment of the exam. They don’t offer that, so were coming in as an outside consultant. We’re educating them on the types of hair that go on the market, as well as what we offer, so they’ll be the future stylists in the market, carrying on that knowledge to their clients. In addition to that we’re teaching them all sorts of techniques.
There are so many techniques on the market and it becomes very confusing, especially for a cosmetology student who is learning so many different things. Not only does she want to learn about hair extensions but there’s also coloring, processing and hair cutting. So this is a good time to receive this knowledge because when you’re doing hair extensions its not just about sewing the hair into someone’s hair or fusing the hair. It’s combined with the color, the tones, and the cut of the hair. So, we are really excited about the opportunity and we’re building up our database of cosmetology schools that we’ve partnered with, and that’s a really exciting sector of the business.
I see it being something that’s very beneficial for a young cosmetology student who really doesn’t have a lot of direction in what they want to do once they get out there. A lot of times once they get their hands on these tools that we offer, and the hair and they see all the possibilities of what they can do with hair extensions, for some reason, it gives them more of a direction. It guides them and inspires them because it can be very lucrative doing hair extensions, and if you’re really good at it, you can take it to so many levels.
You can go into television and film, you can do editorial work. These are a lot of things that I ended up doing myself. No one told me those were opportunities. I just researched and put myself out there, so I’m happy to guide these student and give by knowledge of what’s out there and available to them.
It’s funny you say that. A friend and I were just discussing how easy it is to find a hair stylist, but how difficult it can often be to find a hair stylist who is skilled and properly trained in installing hair extensions.
Yes, that’s exactly what I was saying. When I started out as a hair extension specialist, the people who would come to me had had bad experiences. I kept thinking, how many stylists are actually out there that don’t understand or have the knowledge? I realized that was happens is they’re not learning it in the cosmetology schools and its not on their state board exams, so they school is not going to teach it. So they are learning it in an outside course maybe after they leave cosmetology school, or hopefully, if a company like Indique comes in and teaches them.
In addition to that, hair extensions is really a type of service where you really have to do it over and over again to really get it, understand it and be good at it. So these stylists are spending a lot of their time cutting hair, doing chemical services all of those things. So they have tons of clients they’re servicing in that part of styling, but they’re not getting enough clients where they’re providing hair extension services, so they’re not getting the practice. So I think if they start early while they’re learning everything else, its really helpful. And for me, that’s all that I did, so I became REALLY good at the craft and the art because every single person that comes to you is different.
You can’t just say this is the pattern you’re going to braid, and you’re going to do it on everyone. But you have some people who are getting weave services and the stylist isn’t thinking about the health of their hair, and in addition to that, they haven’t done enough extension services, so when it comes to the styling of it and the placement of the braid and the placement of the weft, by the time you cut the hair, the style just doesn’t look good at all. It’s really intricate and I call it an art, because they are so many pieces to this puzzle. It’s literally like arts and crafts on the head! You really have to do a lot of it, to understand it.
Yeah, I think we’ve all seen some one size fits all weaving! Would you mind sharing your background and how you became a hair extension specialist?
Yes, I was in the corporate arena. I was a contract administrator in the cellular industry, which had nothing to do with hair! I was responsible for government contracts, and put cellular equipment on (President) Bush’s property, for example. It was very time consuming and lots of contract negotiations, but I was always that girl who did everyone else’s hair.
In college, everyone would always say, “Oh, Ericka can do your hair” and because I didn’t have any money I always did my own hair, too. It was always something that was just calling me and I was like, you know what, I just really want to do hair. Every one thought I was crazy, but I signed up for cosmetology school. I went to cosmetology school while I was working my nine to five. Monday through Friday, my instructor would let me clock in during my lunch break then I would race back to my office, then I would clock back in after work and take my classes from 6-10 at night.
I did that for a year and a half. Family thought I was crazy, friends thought I was crazy, but it was calling me! I then started taking clients in the evenings after work and it was a really stressful time for me. But something was telling me that there was something bigger out there for me and eventually as I started getting more clients, I quit my job and hair was all that I did. I had my little salon suite then I started getting into extensions. After about a year working on Indique, I had to close my salon because it got too busy and I couldn’t do both.
So, I guess Indique was what was calling me, I just didn’t know it at the time. But I’m glad I did what I did. I literally took a leap of faith and just went for it.
Well, it definitely paid off! There’s certainly something to be said for following your passion!
Exactly. I really was unhappy there and just couldn’t see myself doing it forever. Those contracts were killing me and dealing with the attorneys and engineers and zoning. I thought, “This is not me”! So now, I love hair and I’m happy to be in an environment where I have great people working with me, and it’s just fun. It’s a lot of work but it’s also fun. If you’re following your passion, there’s nothing better than that!
It was such a pleasure getting to chat with Ericka! She was so nice and generous with her information. I could really see how passionate she is about hair, and her gutsy career change certainly inspired me! For more info, check out IndiqueHair.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!