LEN, DUDLEY & ANTHONY

CHAMPIONS

Len Dyke, Dudley Dryden and Anthony Wade became self-made millionaires after launching their black hair business in north London

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Len Dyke (Jamaica), Dudley Dryden (Jamaica) and Anthony ‘Tony’ Wade (Montserrat) arrived in the UK during the 1950s and went into business together.

Although moderately successful, they decided there was more money to be made from black hair and beauty than selling records and started Dyke & Dryden Limited in 1968.
It was targeted at black women and their first shop was in West Green Road, Tottenham, north London. The company expanded rapidly to six branches and warehouses, which enabled them to compete more effectively in the international market.

Their success was showcased at the annual Afro Hair and Beauty Show, which the company presented during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, with new styles, fashions and products vying for attention.

In the early days the three men had to use their own money to develop the venture as at that time high street banks refused to support black businesses.

They also had to think big. Since the leading suppliers of black hair and beauty products were in the US, they had to fly regularly to New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Tennessee and Atlanta to ensure the company had enough stock to meet UK demand.

By 1986, annual turnover had reached a figure of £5 million, which at the time was quite an achievement for a black business in the UK.

Dyke & Dryden launched a range of natural beauty products and introduced a sodium hydroxide professional relaxing system for processing the ‘straight look’. This came into its own after Soft Sheen of Chicago bought a controlling interest in the company
In a bid to generate yet more revenue, Dyke & Dryden decided to manufacture afro combs, which had hitherto been imported in great volumes from US. This proved to be a successful venture, creating a mass market for the comb.

The ownership of Dyke & Dryden was partially changed in 1987 when the company sold most of its shares to Soft Sheen. There were reservations from many quarters about the majority ownership by the US company but by now competition in the multi-billion-pound black hair and beauty industry was fierce.

Dudley Dryden died in 2002 and Len Dyke in 2006. Tony Wade returned to live in Jamaica and in 2015 described how the trio had changed black business for ever in his book, How They Made A Million: The Dyke & Dryden Story.

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