Farouk Shami: Straightening Out the Economy, One Flat Iron at a Time

If you work hard, with honesty, and don't give up, you will live the American Dream.

--Farouk Shami

Here's what I love about this project: until three days ago I had never heard of a 68-year-old guy named Farouk Shami. Now I consider him a patriot; the first Palestinian-born hairdresser-turned-inventor on my list of True American Heroes. He's not without controversy, but no one can deny that this man has created thousands of jobs and added to the lifeblood of our country. In my CAMJ opinion, we need more American businesspeople like him.

My discovery began with a simple text, sent by daughter Stephanie:

Good news. I just bought a new flat iron and it was made in the U.S.A.

No way. An electrical appliance that's actually manufactured here? With an actual factory and actual employees who receive actual paychecks? How'd that happen?

Turns out Steph had bought a CHI brand flat iron. CHI stands for Cationic Hydration Interlink. It's one of several hair care brands, along with BioSilk and SunGlitz, manufactured by a company named Farouk Systems. Farouk Shami founded and continues to run the highly successful company.

Farouk Shami is--I now realize--everywhere. You may have seen him this past May on Celebrity Apprentice (contestants were given a project in which they were to promote his products). If you live in Texas, you may know him as a Democrat who ran against incumbent (now Republican presidential candidate aspirant) Rick Perry. If you're into watching the Miss Universe and Miss U.S.A. beauty pageants--which, compared to Toddlers and Tiaras, sound downright healthy--his company is a major sponsor. Or, if you're a home-shopping fan, QVC nominated his CHI Smart Titanium Ceramic Digital Hairstyling Iron for its "Most Innovative / Breakthrough Product." And Teen Vogue named the CHI Flat Iron the "Best Hair Tool, Like, Ever." Ok, I added "Like, Ever." But talk about a critical endorsement. Is anyone pickier about hair than an adolescent girl? As if.

But who is Farouk Shami? Why is he manufacturing his products here in the good ol' U.S.A.? Hasn't he heard? It's better, cheaper, more financially savvy to manufacture products in China. Is he nuts?

To help us all get to know him, here are 10 interesting facts about Farouk Shami, adapted from 50 Things You Need to Know About Farouk Shami.

  1. Farouk Shami was born December 15, 1942, in a small farming village, Beit Ur al-Tahta, which is between Jerusalem and Ramallah. His family owned an olive grove.

  2. His father, Mohammed Shami, lived for a time in New York in the 1920s and instilled the American dream into his son.

  3. Three of his eight siblings were killed by a bomb that exploded near Shami's home. Two cousins also died in the blast. He still gets emotional talking about it.

  4. Farouk Shami arrived in the U.S. from Palestine in 1965 with $71 in his pocket.

  5. He eventually attended the University of Arkansas, but dropped out to pursue his passion for hair styling. His family did not approve of the decision.

  6. Shami's hair-styling career almost came to a halt after he learned that he was allergic to the ammonia in hair dyes. But that spurred him to invent the world's first ammonia-free hair dye, which launched his business career.

  7. Shami says he gives free health insurance to every employee.

  8. He and his wife, Izziah, have four grown children - Vasma, Reem, Rami, and Basim - and nine grandchildren.

  9. Shami created controversy by saying that white people generally don't want to work in factories and when they do, only as supervisors and for more pay than other workers.

  10. The same day, he suggested that a conspiracy of government involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks was possible

Yes, numbers 9 and 10 muddy the waters a bit. But think about this: In 2009, Farouk Shami--whose manufacturing company is valued at $1 billion--moved production of his flat irons and hair dryers from China to a sprawling new factory in--drum roll--Houston. From The Wall Street Journal ("Coming Home: Appliance Maker Drops China to Produce in Texas," August 24, 2009):

[Farouk Shami's] move flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says gadgets like this are best made in a low-cost country. But, [Shami] says, outsourcing has led to a loss of control over manufacturing and distribution.

"We'll make more money this way -- because we'll have better quality and a better image," says the 66-year-old, who says his company, Farouk Systems Inc., spends about $500,000 a month fighting counterfeits, most of which he says originate in China. The company collects the fake products and tracks the source, and then brings action in China to shut down illegal producers

Mr. Shami says the Houston-made hair irons will cost about $2.50 more to produce than the China-made irons; he plans to absorb the cost without raising the retail price.

The move is creating jobs in Houston at a time when factory jobs are evaporating in most places. On a recent afternoon, job applicants sat in the lobby of a cavernous new factory, hoping to be one of 30 people hired daily. The company expects to have 1,200 workers when the factory is at full speed in December.

He already had a factory in Houston, where he lives, producing hair coloring and shampoos. The first lines, where the starting pay for assemblers is $8 an hour, are now making seven of the company's 72 hair tools.

Did you catch the part about absorbing the added cost of producing his products here in the U.S.A.? Amazing.

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Until researching Farouk Shami and his flat iron, I figured "chi" meant something peaceful and mystical and Zen-like gained through hours of meditation. In Japanese Buddhism, says Wikipedia, "chi" refers to a "mood" whereby "we are aware of our own physicality and sureness of action."

Now, for me, chi means Farouk Shami. He suffered horrific personal losses, left home, became an inventor, and made a conscious decision to create jobs in his new homeland here in America. His choices embody "sureness of action." Just thinking about him elevates my mood. Meditate on this: Go on out and buy a Made in the U.S.A. CHI Flat Iron. Doing so will help straighten out your hair and the tangled mess known as the American economy.

Thanks, Farouk Shami. Keep those jobs coming!