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New Canadian-made app makes it easier to find stylists who know Black hair

Finding a barber who could cut his hair was sometimes an ordeal for Jeff Fasegha when he was travelling across Canada as a teenager — something he hopes to make a thing of the past with a new app seeking to help customers connect with barbers and hairstylists offering services for Black hair.

Fasegha is the founder of Fyyne, a new app that promises to be “the one-stop app for beauty services”, allowing beauty businesses to promote to those in their area, and customers to find services near them.

“Fyyne is a social marketplace for beauty services,” Fasegha told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “So think about people who braid hair, people who cut hair, barbers, people who install wigs — we build the tools for them to run their business more effectively and we connect them with a group of customers.

“Being able to find people who can do your hair is important.”

With the app, Fasegha is hoping to address an issue that he’s been aware of since he was a teenager.

In Canada, it’s not always easy to find stylists who are trained in Black hair styles, particularly in more rural areas.

“I grew up in Calgary and I played junior hockey and I lived across a bunch of small towns in North America,” he said, adding that he even lived in semi-rural Alaska at one point. “And everywhere I went, I wasn’t able to find a barber who can cut my hair.

“If there was something like Fyyne back then, […] every city I’d be able to check people’s work and see if there’s somebody who does my hair there.”

He said even when he went to Toronto for school, he still found himself uncertain of where to start in order to find a good stylist, despite there being more businesses and options available.

“I wasn’t sure where to start,” he said. “And so I was literally stopping people on the street asking them where they got the haircut. Then I started asking around and other people had similar issues, especially for girls or people who want their hair braided, people would spend hours on Instagram or Facebook marketplace, whatever it is, searching hashtags, trying to find somebody who can do the style that they want and then trying to vet their ability before eventually finding somebody, going back and forth on timing, price, location, and then finally booking.

“And so that’s where the initial spark was, just thinking about ‘how can we make this a better process from discovery to payment?’”

There’s two sides to the app, he said: a business and a customer side.

“If you’re a customer looking to get hair services, we go on and you can see people post photos of the services that they do. You can look and you can pay from there. You can also search artists near you,” he said.

Customers are able to search by a specific style they are looking for as well, which can help streamline the process for customers looking for a more complicated style that may not be offered by every business.

“On the artist side, we build scheduling tools,” Fasegha said. “This is, I guess, our Uber driver version, where we build the tools for them to be able to set their availability, post the type of services that they offer, and then get paid, of course.”

Businesses and people providing beauty services can sign up to be listed on the app, and Fasegha added that they also are “directly inviting people to the platform currently,” and take recommendations from the community for beauty providers they’d like to see listed.

Any beauty provider can sign up and list their services, he said, but they wanted to focus on boosting Black hairstylists and those who are trained in Black hair to address the barriers that still exist in Canada when looking for those services.

“Hair’s fundamental to identity, and it’s very deep, especially in the Black community,” he said. “And so this is something where I think we’ve just become used to, I think, some of the challenges of scheduling, booking or finding people.”

A crucial part of this journey has been the help Fasegha received along the way, he said, starting with entrepreneurship supports available through the University of Toronto, where the app was born.

The university helped to provide Fasegha with support and funding through pitch competitions, and he helped alongside the creation of the Black Founders Network (BFN), which is seeking to boost more Black-led startups.

“In the creation of BFN, he was one of the first we consulted and has continued to inform the program design through his lived experiences,” Efosa Obano, program manager of the Black Founders Network, told CTVNews.ca in an email.

Obano said that as of 2020, only two per cent of venture funding went to Black-led companies in North America, something they are seeking to change.

“There is a massive need for support for Black Canadian entrepreneurs. For instance, a recent survey found that 76 per cent of Black Canadian entrepreneurs say their race makes it harder to succeed,” he said.

Obano pointed out that representation is important for letting others know that the chance to succeed is out there.

“It will go a long way in encouraging Black youth to dream bigger than they usually do, when they see our success stories. There is also something to be said about the trickle down impact that our work can have. We are seeing it with the likes of Jeff, and how he is uplifting the Black community through Fyyne’s services after being supported by us. The notion of pulling others up as you climb is how you truly thrive as a community.”

The app is active in not only Canada, but also the U.S. and the U.K.

Although they only launched officially in mid-February, they’ve been seeing “a really positive response,” Fasegha said, both in terms of more businesses signing on and also businesses and customers expressing appreciation of having a new way to connect.

“It’s great to see people start to use this. And it’s really just the beginning,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more to come that we’re excited to share.”