Emma Dabiri is a Teaching Fellow at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. She’s written for ThandieKay in the past on race representation in beauty and we’re delighted to have her contribute her thoughts again, this time on the necessity of afro hair. Over to Emma….
Society commends itself on being progressive, multicultural and diverse. We are told that we are equal, that we are lucky to live in this century, in such a tolerant environment, with access to these privileges.
When we try to interject this narrative with the realities of our lived experience, to articulate the challenges and complexities of navigating society in the body of a black woman; the varying degrees of injustice, violence, pain and disrespect that we are subjected to, often for no reason beyond the fact that we are black women, we are frequently met with resistance that spills over into venom.
Discussions about Afro hair provide a reminder of the constraints placed on our bodies, in this age of alleged equality. The fact that having the audacity to wear your hair as it grows from your head remains a politicized act.
Despite the presence of a number of highly visible black women, from Michelle Obama to Beyoncé, some (people) remain shocked when faced with the reality of what most black women’s hair actually looks like (when it is not chemically straightened or hidden under a weave).
We (still) face stricture and censure in the education system and many professional settings, if we are so bold as to imagine that society might accept us looking like ourselves, rather than insisting we make ourselves into imitations of others. Many of the icons we can readily recall who have sported Afros were revolutionaries.
Increasingly this is changing, but progress is slow. Even within the natural hair movement, the beauty ideal is not set by the fully picked out ‘fro. A more palatable, ‘mixed-race’ curl – rather than the resplendent Afro in all its Africaness, remains what many aspire to. That’s right I said it, AFRICAN.
So go on, seize your Africaness. Get intimate with it, make yourself comfortable in it, never ever underestimate the beauty of our hair. For it is ours and ours alone, and surely like most things that are rare, is it too not exceptionally precious?
Posted by Kay:
Lacy Redway – bringing all that swagger and attitude from Jamaica. At 14, in New Jersey salons, she was already making her fingers fly – by 22 she was assisting uber cool Didier Malige in NY. Her talent beat the path all the way to a galaxy of stars, where she now reigns supreme.
Jourdan Dunn, Amandla Stenberg, Lupita Nyong’o, Jill Scott, Lucy Hale, Zoe Kravitz, Yara Shahidid, Nicole Bahari, Lady Ga Ga, Aja Naomi King, Carmen Ejogo, Willow Smith (Thandie Newton…NOT!!!! WHY????????? Ha Ha ha ha … maybe now we’re BFFs on ThandieKay eh Lacy? Smooch, Thandie x)
We’re completely in awe, in crush and in envy of every look she busts. It’s a TRUE STATEMENT that a hairdresser who can learn how to work the challenging awesomeness of THE AFRO can do ANYTHING. She defines that, and much more. Welcome Lacy, we bow to your bodacity!
Kay: You were born in Jamaica and moved to the US at 8 years old – tell us about your immediate impressions of America in comparison with Jamaica and about your expectations of the US before you arrived?
Lacy: As a child my perception of America was completely bogus. I thought everyone that lived here was wealthy. My mom was a hard working Jamaican women like most are. She came to the U.S. I believe in the late 80s . Once she saved up enough money she sent for the rest of us to join her in “foreign” as we Jamaican’s would call the United States. Still as a child that entire concept didn’t click for me right away. My only knowledge of what Americans and their lifestyles were like was what I saw on television.
Lacy: When I first arrived as a naive 8 year old child we lived in an apartment building or flat as you would say in the UK. I pulled up to the building and in my mind I thought the entire apartment building was our house. Later to realize we only lived in a small apartment inside the large building. I think my 8 year old self is how a lot of foreigners view people in America as all being wealthy.
Kay: Did you play with hair as a little girl-either on friends or dolls (if so which ones I’m a trivia nerd!)?
Lacy: Yes, I played with dolls. I generally had the generic dolls, not the fancy American dolls or any of the other fancy ones but I remember as early as the second grade being very interested on plaiting my dolls’ hair.
Kay: At what point did you think ‘I’d quite like to be a hairdresser…’? Or did you kind of fall into it?
Lacy: I later began braiding friends hair in grade school maybe around 4th or 5th grade. My sister is the only other family member that I can think of that is naturally good at hair, maybe that’s where I got it from.
Kay: Who instilled within you the confidence/encouragement to not only express yourself creatively, but also be in a social environment where you have a lot of responsibility for the way people look and feel about themselves?
Lacy: My experiences taught me. I have been so lucky to train under some of the best hair dressers in the world like Guido Palau, Eugene Souleiman, Odile Gilbert, Didier Malige, and Luigi Murenu just to name a few. Working under them and learning from all of them I was able to get a sneak peak of how to manoeuvre and adapt in stressful environments, working fast but extremely efficiently and taken what I have learned and putting my own twist on it. It’s important as a hair dresser to have a point of view and be confident in your craft. You will encounter clients that are difficult to please or impossible to please. Sometimes you have to win those clients over by just going for it and reminding them why they hired you.
Kay: I read that you were quite the businesswoman as a teenager, making money from hairstyling and cutting friends’ hair to buy CDs-brilliant! Tell us more – was this healthy work ethic strong in your family?
Lacy: I think I was about 11 at the point. I was mostly braiding or styling hair not quite cutting yet in this phase.
For sure my parents instilled this work ethic indirectly. All I’ve ever seen them do was work and work really hard. My mom especially for making so much sacrifice to come this country to provide her family with a better life. We were not rich. I didn’t have everything I wanted but always had everything I needed. I think the “wants” was what began my hustle. LOL!
Kay: Looking back, who influenced you visually/aesthetically as a child? Could be TV/music/someone in your community or family-anyone…
Lacy: I think the music I grew up in was a great influence to me. My culture which I grew up in, the way I would see women wear their hair styled. Also, earlier on in my career I did a lot of tedious braid work (micro braids, intricate cornrow designs etc) which is still very evident in my work today.
Kay: I had no idea that MySpace was used for anything other than recording artists, but you put your work on there.. How old were you? Was this an unusual thing to do at the time?
Lacy: Before Myspace was used for just musicians it was also a social media network platform. I also had Facebook but it was not as popular as you had to have your college email address to be a member. I think I was about 19 when I joined. I was also on other social media platforms like ModelMayhem at that time where I met some amazing people I still work with today when we were doing test photoshoots together.
Kay: Tell me more about finding Black Hair Media during your junior year in High School, and how it led to you having women fly from all over the world to get their hair done by you!
Lacy: It happened organically. Some of the women on that platform also had myspace as well where my work was visible. I began offering my services then word got around that I was good and women began to travel to come and have hair extensions done by me.
Kay: I’m sure that because you’re an artist, you live for new, creative experiences, but could you tell me what hairstyles you’ll always come back to? For instance, as a makeup artist, I often go back to a few looks that will always resonate: a ‘French New Wave’ eye, a cherry-stained lip/ with flushed cheek+bare eye makeup, or cloggy black mascara and red lips….
Lacy: This is a difficult one because I work with so many different hair types and textures. Out of working with so many different textures I really enjoy hair that looks “effortless”. I don’t typically like to use a ton of product to build hair, I love hair that has movement.
Kay: Jamaican style has one of the most consistently omnipresent (AND underrated as an influence) reflection upon street/urban/club wear of all time, and let’s not even get into the incredible influence of music… For a tiny Island, it sure makes some noise! Growing up in a neighbourhood full of Jamaicans, I’ve always had a lot of love for the way Jamaicans wear things ‘jus so’… like no-one else.
Kay: More than ever it’s influence is here, crossing over and back and forward across ethnicities, which has created friction in some parts of the online world (cultural appropriation). Whereas in Britain’s cities, black and white people are much more merged than the US, so white girls have worn cornrows like their black friends, who have in turn been straightening theirs..I never heard the term growing up as this merging was genuinely not an issue in my mixed up community- West Indian Style/fashion/music has always been the coolest. London+Bristol have given birth to many a multicultural hybrid (off top of head Bristol’s Massive Attack and The Clash who Bob Marley wrote ‘Punky Reggae party about the Notting Hill Punk meets Reggae scene of the 70’s). One thing about being a Jamaica that is instilled in my blood stream is to be bold and unique. We have done things as a small island ,came up with the baddest dances, etc that has so much cross over appeal.
Kay: So I feel I can ask you neutrally as you’re Jamaican, what are your thoughts on cornrowing: more specifically, when you cornrow a woman’s hair who is white?
Lacy: As a hairstylist and especially as Jamaican one with an editorial background , I love playing with shapes and texture and pushing the envelope when it comes to hair artistry. I am not that bothered by anyone else being inspired by my culture and its uniqueness. I am however particularly not a fan of when ideas are borrowed into other cultures then are accredited as the originator of the idea.
Posted by Kay
Being ‘the change you wish to see in the world‘ is not necessarily the motivation for many entrepreneurs. They have vision, courage and are not frightened of doing something that hasn’t been done before, in fact, that’s a large part of any brand’s success: filling a void, establishing a niche.
Performance, the consumer ‘experience’, the aesthetic, the ethics, an accessible price point- it’s very hard to tick ‘yes’ to all that criteria and have a profitable business. So much simpler to use generic, petrochemical-laden compounds already available, tweak in your own fragrance and packaging and voila-you have your own range!
We agree with the idea that given the option, why use synthetics when natural products work better and are safer for our children, the environment, and us?
We love to celebrate those that tick these boxes. There are so many brands out there whose products ‘work’ because they clean or create shine or look great in your bathroom plus they’re endorsed by ‘beautiful people’ so they must be good-right? But the question really is, do many of those products contain cheap ingredients (=less financial outlay) that are more profitable for the brand’s shareholders but less beneficial for you in the long term?
This is why we love John Masters Organic. On a purely girly level they are one of the best quality ranges of haircare in the world, and for women of colour they are absolutely ideal!
You don’t need me to tell you that having DNA from the African diaspora means that your hair is drier, therefore more brittle, and has a shorter lifespan in general than straight hair and takes way more TLC. John Masters shampoos have none of the (cheap) rough detergents used in all regular shampoos that strip our hair of the oils that are essential to protecting it. Only high-grade oils that really help nourish hair are allowed in. Thandie loves his Lavender & Avocado Intensive Conditioner so much so that I gave it angel wings in Photoshop! We also posted on his Deep scalp follicle treatment & volumizer for thinning hair in our ‘Perfect DIY Blowdry’ post.
I’d love to buy his entire range for dry hair but for now, his Dry Hair Nourishment & Defrizzer is never too far from my sad old ends!
Nothing, I repeat nothing, soothes tired ends out like this rich oil full of moisturising jojoba oil, lavender to slow hair loss (also treats eczema and dermatitis on the scalp), rosemary to stimulate hair growth, add volume and shine and finally anti-inflammatory cedarwood, great for an oily scalp and even dandruff.
JM: Yes my organic line was completely inspired by personal experiences & was simply an extension of my lifestyle. It started in the 80’s. At that time many of my friends were all getting sick with HIV and were turning to alternative treatments but it was too late and not enough information available. This was a big wakeup call for me.
Why wait until you are sick before cleaning up your life. If you are blessed with health I believe it is only common sense to choose healthier options if given a choice. I became fascinated with and started living a more holistic, organic and at that time alternative lifestyle becoming interested in expanding one’s consciousness, natural healing modulates & organic food and herbs.
It made no sense for me to continue working in a conventional salon handling and breathing toxic chemicals day after day, hence the birth of JMO products, the first professional organic based haircare line, and my salon in NYC, the first clean air salon in the world. I must add how amazed and humbled I am to see so many salons worldwide follow our lead.
JM: Petro-based silicon to control dry, frizzy hair and add shine was a tough ingredient to replace but we did it.
JM: Yes although it is getting better due to consumer awareness. I highly suggest one reads the ingredient list on your product you are considering.
JM: As a brand owner we offer packaging that is recyclable. Our boxes used for skincare are 100% PCW recycled paper, printed with vegetable ink and 100% compostable. In addition we only use packing “peanuts” made from cornstarch, which is 100% biodegradable. Most of our clients I believe are aware of the importance of recycling. The fact they are buying an organic based product over a conventional, chemically laden one strongly suggests to me they are aware individuals.
JM: It is very important for JMO to offer an organic based product for all types of hair, skin, & body care needs. It is an on-going process and we are constantly testing new organic raw materials and if approved, to use in new products to target specific hair and skin care needs.
JM: Nourishment is key & not over shampooing.
JM: Yes. We have always done our best to be health & eco-conscious, diverse and fair in our relationships with our client base and the entire JMO team.
JM: Nature, music, and dancing. I love going for walks in nature with my dogs in the woods or jungle, by a stream or down the beach in Costa Rica. At 59 in a few months I still love to dance the night away and listening while watching singers perform often bring me to tears.
JM: New unique organic products & a big surprise soon, which will delight a lot of customers. Stay tuned!
Great to hear my Dry Hair Nourishment & Defrizzer is working so well for you! This was one of my first products. I created it myself in my kitchen in NYC before I opened a salon and was at the time freelancing out of my studio. I read a lot of books-no computer back then- & started testing different 100% organic formulations I thought might work on my clients based on my research. It really was fun and that was around 1989.
We know Afro and curly hair can be scarily brittle and needs a lot more TLC so we were curious to know how she manages to bleach and dye it without breakage. ..
‘ElvineOhlala’ shares a few of her haircare secrets and more…
I am originally from Gabon, my both parents are Gabonese. In my country people used to wear colorful clothes. I love the colour of African patterns. I think my love of color comes from my origins.
When I was younger, I didn’t like my hair and I used a relaxer to straighten it. Cut to the age of 18 with my next hair-changing phase, when a true hair-disaster happened and I lost my hair. My best friend was a apprentice hairdresser, and one day she made a mistake (you can see where this is going..) when she dyed my hair. A few weeks later she used a relaxer on top of the dying because of those curls that ‘I hated’.
The upside is that I now understand how to ensure I do not break my hair, while having the freedom to express myself by colouring it. These are my steps and the products I use to ensure my hair stays in well-conditioned shape.
Elvine and her favourites!
Mizani Supreme Oil Mask – nourishing treatment to boost shine and manageability.
Mizani True Textures Moisture Stretch or Mizani 25 Miracle Milk – reduces dryness and adds softness.
Adds shine and helps to give a perfect curl.
This definitely helps to improve the quality of relaxed hair.
Elasta QP Feels Like Silk Styling Gel – creates waves and generally styles and controls my frizz.
I first started my YouTube channel because a lot of people were asking me for advice and hair care tips, after seeing my hair. I love helping people out. So many people don’t trust themselves so I want to push them and try to help them do what they want to do. Whether it’s wear their hair a new colour or wear a colourful outfit.
My favourite vintage and secondhand shop in London in TRAID; I can always find a beautiful bargain in there. I also like Dotty Theresa Vintage where you can find fabulous clothes with good quality.
Follow Elvine on Instagram: @elvineohlala
Watch her on YouTube
Check out her blog: www.elvineohlala.com
Facialist and thandiekay contributor Dija Ayodele looks at how to keep your hair in top condition this winter.
My hair and winter have never been the best of buddies, and how successful my mane comes out of the season is always in direct correlation to the amount of time and product investment I make.
In the past, finding the right products and tools has been tricky, longwinded and expensive. But the situation is improving and this year has seen more products easily available for naturally curly and Afro hair. Just take a look at these winning products.
No big frills apart from quietly and excellently restoring your hair to its former glory, especially if your hair is subjected to the drying strains of daily styling and product build up. With patented ‘Ocean Silk’ technology it traps moisture into hair strands to strengthen and protect from further damage.
A long-term lover that I occasionally cheat on, but I always come back. Based on a nourishing banana, honey, glycerin and Rhassoul clay formula it feels lush and is easy to distribute through hair for a deep penetrative treatment. The longer it’s on, the better the condition and feel of your hair on rinsing, which makes it ideal for a daylong pamper session.
More a tool than a product, but for thick curly tresses, this is a prized essential. It detangles hair effortlessly, getting rid of knots and delivering smooth curls along the way. I love that it has an ergonomic handle meaning control is not compromised. You can brush thoroughly without the fear of it flying across the room.
I’m a big fan of layering lightweight products and this oil is a staple in my hair regime. Because winter can be so drying to hair (think wooly hats, wigs, braids, scarves, radiators) a layer of oil will seal moisture into your tresses. Consisting of Amazonian Buriti Oil, a little bit goes a long way to protect, increase manageability, improve softness and deliver shine. Plus Aveda’s trademark botanical scent is very soothing.
This natural aloe vera based moisturising cream is more effective on looser curls, but it gives just the perfect amount of moisture and slip to the hair for further styling. The whipped texture and tropical scent make it a pleasure to use and keeps hair moisturised for several days.
An argan and coconut oil thirst quencher for dry and brittle hair. You can use this on wet or dry hair to hydrate without weighing down. I find it particularly useful as a daily styling lotion on dry hair. The texture is also light enough to use on mini me, which is a mega bonus, as I like to buy products we can both use.
I don’t always have as much time as I’d like to pamper and condition my hair, so if you are also time poor this two-minute in-shower hair mask is a complete lifesaver. It detangles and conditions hair quickly leaving it super soft. The curl definition is mind blowing too!
I don’t tend to get on well with gel type styling products as I don’t always have the time to use as instructed. This one says for best results do a finger twist out. I have neither time nor patience, so I applied to very wet clean hair and voila! Masses of curl definition, softly held together without the dreaded crunch. No flakes or build up to boot, lasts for up to seven days and can be reactivated with a spray of water. Imagine if I did do the twist outs?
The best I’ve found for smoothing down the hairline and controlling fly away strands. Even though it’s a gel, the castor oil and peppermint condition and invigorate the scalp to promote hair growth in the most delicate area of your head. Hairlines need help, especially in hat weather.
Whether you want to gloss your hairstyle, revive a post wash shine or want some heat protection – you get it all from this lightweight spray without any stiffness. It’s not a plastic shine either; it’s a natural looking dry shine, which in my book makes it ace.