Rha-Kera Barney-Sutton manages her family-owned business, New Life Health Foods, and maintains a hotline dedicated to Black hair care called The Hair Hotline. Barney-Sutton divides her time and keeps the balance between the two entities. New Life Health Foods has been a fixture in the North Lawndale community for 30 years. She also runs a blog centered around Black hair. Navigating the pandemic has been a challenge for small businesses in the Chicagoland area and beyond, but some are eking out a living despite the restrictions in place.
As manager of Barney’s New Life Health Foods, how has the pandemic affected your business and customer engagement?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen our customers be more consistent with the care for their bodies. We’ve been seeing an increase in the community being more serious about their health for the past couple of years, but the pandemic really, in my opinion, forced people to stay serious about their health and immunity.
What advice would you give to those looking to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Before seeking out supplements or “get slim quick” items, I always tell people, start with drinking the proper amount of water per day (half your body weight in ounces), eating as healthy as possible, and working out. Those three things will get your body on the right track.
Read more on the next page for insights on haircare.
Tell us about The Hair Hotline. Why did you see the need to start a hotline dedicated to Black hair?
I started The Hair Hotline back in 2009. By trade, I’m a licensed cosmetology instructor and I was beginning to see a disconnect from the client to the stylist. I noticed people weren’t getting the hair education they needed, so in addition to teaching my students how to educate their clients, I decided to be the middleman. I’ve helped people after they’ve made hair mistakes, before they’ve made hair mistakes, given them the proper language they’ll need in order to communicate their needs to their stylists, and more.
You have developed your own hair care line. What is special about it? And was it a response to the blog?
I developed my first product Ki-Ki Oil, after having issues with my hair thinning. I have something called, PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome], which comes with its own set of issues, one of them being extreme hair loss [or] thinning and even balding in some cases. I had done everything, including seeing a dermatologist for help, but once I realized the next steps were not natural, I said, “Girl, you’ve got to use this education you’ve got and make something natural.” So I spent about a year or so perfecting the formula and I launched it in 2017. … Ki-Ki Oil’s main purposes are to stimulate hair follicles to produce growth and increase thickness from the root.