When Charlotte Mensah traveled to Kenya to do a client’s hair for a wedding, she had no idea that the trip would change her life and her business. Being the self-care promoter that she is, she took a quick break from work for a head massage that included a fragrant oil that left her scalp feeling soft and relaxed. She later found out that the product used was Manketti oil (also known as Mongongo oil), derived from the Manketti nut, which is used in a variety of ways in the country. Once Mensah realized all the different things that could be achieved using this one magical little nut, she knew that her hair business would be forever changed for the best.
In 2016, after trying many formulations, scrapping all the things that didn’t work, and testing on clients (and herself) at her London-based salon, Hair Lounge, she finally came up with a product that she knew would have great influence on the beauty industry.
“I’ve been doing hair for 33 years. I’ve worked on many brands and they’ve had good products, but clients would always complain like it was either too greasy or it wasn’t moisturizing enough, or they just left their hair feeling crunchy or hard,” said Mensah. “So I wanted something that would actually give you all that you need, like the hydration, the moisture, the nourishment, without leaving hair heavy.”
Made specifically for curly and Afro-textured hair, but great for all hair types, Charlotte Mensah’s Manketti Hair Oil infuses Manketti oil with Ximenia oil to make hair soft and weightless while moisturizing and hydrating. As a hairstylist (she’s styled celebs like Janelle Monáe and Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie), she understood the importance of making something that would be good for the hands, too, since they’re constantly in contact with the product. And as a guru of natural hair, she wanted to create something that would bring it to its best shape, that would be high quality and that would also look prestige. At the time, shea butter was touted as the miracle product for all things hair and body, and had been infused in everything from curl puddings to body butters to toilet paper. She wanted something that would be unique to the market and had new benefits that her clients and other Black women needed for their hair.
“It was like a eureka moment. Nobody [seemed to ] know of the Manketti oil in the West. It’s existed for centuries and it has so many benefits. It’s loaded with vitamin E, it has calcium, it has so much protein, it has so many fatty acids as well,” she said.
Mainly from Namibia, Botswana, and other southern parts of Africa, the Manketti nut is derived from the Mongongo tree. The nuts are known for being high in linoleic acid (essential fatty acid typically found in plants), vitamin E, omega-6, copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. It’s also high in protein and fat and is used for cooking, in addition to hair care and skin care. While many brands are beginning to include the versatile ingredient in their products, for Mensah it was important that she not only introduced her Western clients to it, but that its Eastern roots were also directly tied to it, even down to the packaging. The logo and packaging includes a pattern from the Kuba cloth of Sierra Leone. Being from Ghana, where the Kente cloth has an important and spiritual meaning, she wanted something that would look beautiful and also represent the essence of Africa.
The Charlotte Mensah hair care line has expanded to include a Manketti Oil shampoo, conditioner and finishing mist to complement the Manketti Hair Oil, all currently available at Net-a-Porter. She also has a brush specially designed to gently detangle curly and kinky-curly hair with ease—the item sells out on the retail site quickly. All the products are made in the U.K., and the ingredients are sourced from farmers in Africa. The products are also sold in reusable glass jars, as Mensah thinks about sustainability in every step of her business. And as her business grows, she wants to introduce a diffusion line so that the wonders of the Manketti oil are available at different price points.
“We just need to own the space because it’s important. What are we going to leave behind for our kids? What are they going to leave behind for their kids if we don’t set the bar high?” she said. “I keep stressing excellence because I feel like with a lot of the products that were on the market, I was like, ‘That’s not it. We can do a lot better than that,’ because I know Black people that are excellent. It’s such a great time, and I think we need to own it and just embrace it and just live it to the fullest. This is our time.”