By Rose Miyonga
With the prominence of smart, beautiful women of colour in the pubic eye wearing head wraps, it might seem like head wraps are having a renaissance. But i would argue that they never went away. Phenomenal women like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lupita Nyong’o and Zadie Smith deserve credit for wearing their head wraps with such style and grace, and their power is only enhanced by the fact that the history of the garment makes them part of a long tradition of women of African origin defying the conventions of Western beauty standards and standing tall and powerful at the intersection between tradition and avant-garde.
Head wraps are worn by women and men all over the world for various cultural, social and religious reasons, and the history of the head wrap in Africa is diverse.
The African American head wrap has a distinct story. At one time it was mandatory for slaves to cover their hair and, as photographer Juliana Kasumu discovered while working in her photo-series, Moussour to Tignon: The Evolution of the Head-Tie, head wraps were made compulsory for Black women, freed and enslaved in 1786 by Esteban Rodríguez Miró. The governor of Louisiana and Florida decreed that black women, both freed and enslaved, had to wear a head wrap as a means of racial classification.
But like all policies intended to strip Black women of the natural power of their Afro hair throughout history have, it failed.
Kasumu notes: “They looked even more beautiful, and more appealing, and they used to decorate these head wraps with jewels, and plumes. They became more attractive if anything. It just backfired.”
For me, the head wrap is like a crown that gives height, power and presence. It connects me to a long legacy of Black women who refused to crush their beauty to make other people feel more comfortable. Sometimes it’s functional, like when I rub homemade leave-in conditioner into my hair and wrap it to let it soak in, but more often it’s because of how it makes me feel. It makes me stand tall, think hard and feel proud.
“Like all hairstyles for black women, headwraps mean a myriad of things to me. From protective style, to channelling Royal African Realness, emulating Erykah Badu, or even just feeling too lazy to do something with my hair, I find that it’s a look that gets to adapt and change with my mood and style.
My Aunty Chipili was always in headwraps; different materials, different prints and always tied in new ways. I guess symbolically for me it was and still is her crown. A sense of pride exudes from black women who wear headwraps and they also emit a regal energy – I mean look at Nefertiti.
Style inspo firstly comes from every single Igbo and Yoruba aunty heading off to a wedding or Sunday service in the most deluxe gele’s, their looks and fabrics are consistently immaculate. Also, I remember, as a kid my mum having a cassette of Miriam Makeba lying around and being enamoured by Miriam’s noble headwrap and dangly earrings on the cover art. Solange always has fun with it her looks and headwraps and Erykah Badu’s layering techniques are killer. I really love how Nina Simone’s wraps matched the fabrics of her designer suits and bespoke chic clothes. She’s a lasting symbol of opulence and unapologetic blackness.
Last, but not least, Aunty Chipili, who like Nina, always wore whatever she wanted and paired it with an elegantly-tied headwrap.”
“The creative process for styling any of Lupita’s looks is always a joint effort between myself, Lupita and her stylist. Like me, Lupita is always filled with ideas. Her hair is so versatile and we both get excited talking about our visions and possibilities for it. There must be a balance though, of fabulous hair that works with the overall styling; complementing what she is wearing, not distracting from it.
For the Queen of Katwe promotional tour, premieres and so on, Lupita knew that she wanted to wear a head wrap. We started thinking about this about a year in advance and researched sources from all over the world. Our main influence which helped to inform our vision of what we wanted to achieve, was African tribes.
Her stylist and I spent quite a long time in various markets and fabric stores in Kenya, sourcing materials. We took these to the design houses that Lupita was working with, who then either used the same fabric for fashioning her dress or used it to inspire their own choice of fabric.
Lupita had to explain to her fashion houses that we wouldn’t know exactly how her head wraps would look, until the day. On the day of styling any head wrap, I always think that the most important thing is to approach it with a flexible mindset and be prepared to go with the flow. Because each piece of material will bend, shape and fold in its own way. Create with the material.
Styling a head wrap in a modern way, for me, boils down to these three things: creating height, a striking silhouette and choosing the best fabric to either match or complement your outfit.
Femininity, elegance and confidence. You can’t help but walk with your head held high when wearing a wrap. And it’s been shown that if you walk tall with a positive posture, you feel more confident. Which I think can only be a good thing.
Of course, I am also highly aware that head wraps can have cultural and religious meaning; which I am always very respectful of. I keep this in mind when working with my clients, choosing colours appropriate to events that they are attending, for instance.
Head wraps are worn by people all over the world; in many ways and for lots of different reasons; functional, fashionable, cultural or religious. Those of African origin tend to vary in style depending on where they are created.
The Nigerian head wrap is called a gele and has inspired some of my creations for Lupita. Geles are usually quite big and bold with lots of height. I wanted to make sure that I did this head wrap justice with a blend of keeping its integrity but making it more modern. I was pleased that this was recognised and embraced by a lot of people who are familiar with geles; and received some very positive comments about it.”
“Head wraps are a part of who I am, part of my identity as an African women. I’m African first- you see me that’s what you notice first. Head wraps also represent my fierce lioness side. I feel extremely powerful when wearing my head wrap, as a child most women who I admired, including my mother, wore heard wraps.
I don’t wear it for political reasons or solidarity with others, all my life I fought for being my true authentic self and wearing a heard wrap is me at my core, however the head wraps has being a symbol to exhibit my African roots when speaking at a global stage, a symbol of pride.
I love bold colours, such as red , green and egg yolk, I would wear it with my western clothing, love pairing heard warps with my fitted suits, you will find my head wrap colour will match my statement accessory wether it’s a necklace, rig or hand bag.
My biggest style inspiration has always being my mother, as a child I couldn’t wait to grow up so I can dress like her, she always had her own sense of style till today my mother designs a lot of my dresses, we have similar taste, we like simple and unique looks, I guess the head wrap gives me that opportunity to experiment with colours and print.”
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.
Post by Thandie
This literally home-grown brand has been on the scene for EVAH. After working with sweet Will Smith on ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, he and Jada sent me a basket of Carol’s Daughter products as a birthday gift. I still remember opening the box, and swooning at the release of rich, deep, sweet smells.
Now, years later I’m reminded of Carol’s Daughter as Westworld’s (the HBO drama I’m currently filming) hair chief Joy Zapata sent me home with the Hair Milk plus a pot of the Marula Oil mask.
A combination of still nursing my 2 year old, and a lot of shooting, has left my hair in a sorry state. So, Carol’s Daughter (aka founder Lisa Price) has come to the rescue. And I’m loving it.
Marula, known as ‘Africa’s Beauty Secret’ is found in Southern Africa and Madagascar – and the exotic fruit’s seeds provide the oil used in the line. 4 times more vitamin C than oranges, and with a sweet, nutty aroma, it’s been harvested and used in beauty concoctions for 12 thousand years.
C.D.’s cleansing and moisturising hair milk is a new kind of shampoo experience.
(that’s the chemical that makes the bubbles) instead this hair milk literally cleanses the hair in the same way a milky face cleanser removes dirt and impurities. The result is hair that is CLEAN without being stripped of all its moisture and suppleness.
But, bubbles are not the reason for cleanliness, in fact they have nothing to do with it at all.
In some cultures water isn’t even used to get clean! Oil, dust, even sweat can remove dirt. You just need a substance that can lift the dirt from your body, and carry it away. In fact, our bodies naturally clean themselves – with the substances that it produces. I remember being at school and some girls deciding to stop washing their hair – and for those who did it long enough their hair settled into being extremely healthy looking (after months of greasy, smelly protest from heads that were addicted to daily washing and application of product!). What I’m getting at is that we can be more gentle with our cleaning habits – it’s about working in harmony with natural substances.
So, without sulfates, parabens, petroleum or mineral oil Carol’s Daughter is a mainstream brand that works with nature to provide care for our hair. Our kinky, textured, beautiful hair!
I read recently that the brand had been acquired by L’Oreal. That was a number of years ago, and it looks like Lisa Price is still at the helm, and the brand is stronger than ever.