Nia Pettitt is a force to be reckoned with. At the tender age of nineteen, the half-English, half-Zimbabwean model has built an online community of young women who share her passion for honouring and embracing the beauty of natural Afro hair. Her fans are spread across the world, united by a shared celebration of natural beauty and a mutual adoration of Nia’s own golden mane. As FroGirlGinny, she shares tales of her adventures and hair care tips to over 330,000 Instagram followers, part of a growing movement inspiring a generation of young brown girls to defy Western beauty standards and nurture their natural Afros. I met her at the Lisbon leg of her ‘Go With the Fro Tour,’ a joint venture with fellow model and social media influencer Lauren Lewis that gives women with natural hair a chance to come together and share stories of their own natural hair trials and triumphs.
I’m a Gemini, so I’m everything, but I like to be known as Nia.
From 3 to 11 I relaxed my hair, but I didn’t do that out of seeing pictures in magazines, I just did it because my mum couldn’t handle my hair. I grew up in a white area of London, so my idea of beauty was blonde hair, blue eyes, like my best friend in Primary School at the time. Then, when I went to Secondary School, there was a girl with curly hair there and I idolised her, and I just wanted to have hair like her. I didn’t really have the traditional girl in the magazines as who I wanted to be, I was more wanting to be myself, but I couldn’t because of where I lived, and being mixed race was hard because a part of me wanted to be English and have roast dinners and the other part of me wanted to be Zimbabwean and have sadza, so I had a kind of identity crisis because I didn’t know who I wanted to be.
It was seeing that girl, her name’s Yasmin, seeing her curly hair, and then seeing a picture of myself when I was three. I had this Afro, and I was like, “Mum, why doesn’t my hair do this anymore?” and she said if I wanted it I had to big chop my hair, so I just did it the next day, cut off all my relaxed hair.
No,I didn’t at all.
At first, everyone in school highlighted that they liked my straight hair more, but I’ve always been a person who doesn’t depend on anyone to love me besides myself so that just sparked the journey for me of being my own woman and growing up a lot quicker than most 11-year-olds. But I was also concerned about what the hell I was going to use. I was buying mousses from Superdrug and conditioners from Tesco and I didn’t know what to use.
I think we still have a long way to go, and I feel like I’ve been able to impact change in my small way, but I want to concentrate on deeper issues for women. When I big chopped my hair, it started the journey of self-love, and I want to go into more of that than just giving hair tips. I feel like there’s more to me than just hair.
I don’t think it did. I mean, we had Scary Spice, but her name alone, Scary, doesn’t connote anything pretty. We had Alicia Keys, but she was braided most of the time, we had Chaka Khan and Diana Ross, but mostly they weren’t in my era. It was mostly Scary Spice for me, that was all I had at the time.
I think Hilary Banks, but she obviously had perm rods and flat irons, but I loved her style.
I always try to be humble because if the Internet broke down, I would still be who I am today. I try not to let it all get to me because it could be taken away at any moment, so I just want to inspire people to live their lives to the fullest and travel more, and also to let young people know that the situation they’re in now is not forever. We have so much ahead of us. I mean, it feels nice, but I try not to let it get to me.
It was honestly really natural. I just started posting pictures and it grew. I do enjoy it, the only thing I don’t enjoy is when my Gemini mind wants me to capture everything and the other half is saying enjoy the moment, so it’s about finding a balance between the two.
Me and Lauren met through Instagram and we wanted to do something together, and just came up with Go With The Fro, and it just grew from there. It’s been a year now and we’ve got 40,000 followers, and we’ve travelled around Europe, we’re going to Africa on Saturday, so it’s taken off so quickly.
Every time I meet these women, it’s so fun for me because some of them have never been to a natural hair event, so they leave with this new energy to connect with other women and love themselves more. I love those aspects.
You’ll have to wait and see…
I just want to travel more, tan more, and my hair to get bigger!
Skimdo Curl Cream. It’s amazing.
Follow FroGirlGinny on instagram
We discovered LIHA Beauty on Instagram (where else!) and had to reach out after trying the beautifully aromatic coconut oil infused with tuberose flower. We’re not the only ones that love it as it was recently featured on Vogue.com.
The founders are Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan who champion natural ingredients in skincare but also want to shine a light on traditional Yoruban beauty, where women make their own beauty products and learn how to prepare natural ingredients from a young age.
Luckily we got both Abi and Liha for the interview.
Abi: I grew up mostly in NW London but I’ve lived in Hackney now for quite a few years.
Liha: I grew up in Gloucestershire, living above shops and moving around quite a bit. When I left for London to go to Uni at 18, I swore I’d never come back but I missed it after a few years of fast living!
Abi: Both my parents are Nigerian and my heritage definitely inspires and influences our brand. Not only from the ingredients and techniques we use, but also from tales, richness and abundance we want to convey about our culture and heritage.
Liha: My Dad is Nigerian and my mum is English. They both have a crazy work ethic that has motivated me non stop! They would be up at the crack of dawn to go to work, and all us kids would have to help in the shop on Saturdays, and do house chores Sundays.
Abi: My mother definitely inspired me as a child. For a long while she was a single mother as my dad lived in Nigeria. Seeing her work so hard bringing up four kids in a very tough neighbourhood was something that has always stayed with me. She never complained, she always made it look so effortless but it made me work just that bit harder because I know she sacrificed a lot to give us a better life.
Liha: I was very inspired by my parent’s shops which sold African crafts, clothes and furniture as well as local craft and aromatherapy oils. I was a massive bookworm!
We didn’t have a TV for a big chunk of my childhood which forced me to read a lot and get into music. My dad’s old pictures of him hitchhiking around the world in the 50s were a big inspiration. I used to look at their photographic slides and write little stories about the people in the pictures. It made the world seem small to me.
Abi: I think now what inspires me are the many women we’ve met since launching LIHA Beauty. I’ve been inspired and humbled by the support we’ve received from so many women who are also trying to build something and pave the way. Women like Sharmadean Reid who has been beyond supportive and her advice has been invaluable. Women like Michele Scott-Lynch founder of the brand Boucleme and Akosua Afriyie-Kumi founder of AAKs.
Liha: Definitely all the women we meet, and all women in general! I find the fact that feminism isn’t a dirty word anymore inspiring, and the idea that some of that could be down to a book written by a Nigerian woman (We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).
I’m currently reading a book called A Time Before Crack by Jamal Shabazz about early hip hop culture, which is another constant inspiration for me, and a book called New Atlantis about how musicians survived in post -Katrina New Orleans.
Liha: In Yoruba culture there it is normal for women to make their own beauty products from a young age, and learn how to use natural ingredients like coconut oil, or plantain ash which is used in Black soap. Now more people are into natural ingredients we wanted to shine a light on the amazing ingredients and techniques from Nigeria, which is why we have used Yoruba language for the names. We will take traditional recipes and tweak them, by adding a British twist. For example, we couldn’t leave the plantain skins to dry in the sun in rainy England! So instead we roasted them in the oven and added English Rose essentials oil, and carefully selected ingredients from Africa like Molasses and skin brightening Moringa. We are trying to think really far ahead, so that as our production grows in size, the crops we use will have a we can have a positive socio-political impact on the world around us.
Abi: My earliest beauty memory is probably watching my mum shaving off her eyebrows and drawing them back on with ultra-black eyeliner pencil. I think back in those days the thin, black rounded eyebrow shape was all the rage!
Liha: My mum would make fresh blends of aromatherapy oils each week and keep them in a big abalone shell in the bathroom, a little out of my reach. It was always so mysterious and magical to me, and I couldn’t wait to learn.
What do you find beautiful and why?
Abi: I find the chaos of my family beautiful, I find the craziness of nieces and nephew beautiful – it reminds me that those traits are passed down one generation to the next and that’s comforting to me.
Liha: I find my daughter beautiful -she’s a constant inspiration to me.
I also find England really beautiful and inspiring. It’s hard to beat England on a sunny spring day, and the street style we have here is my favourite.
Growing up I would look out of the shop window and see Skinheads, Punks, all sorts! I think we are in danger of things coming a little too homogenous.
We need to make sure we preserve the parts of our culture that ensure creativity and diversity-it’s so depressing how many record shops and important music venues have closed down in the last few years.
Abi: I was a professional athlete for 12 years. I went to two Olympic Games including London in 2012… basically I travelled the World training and competing. As a former professional athlete I do quite a few things alongside building our brand; I’m a coach and personal trainer, and I’m also learning to be a Pilates teacher. I do quite a lot of motivational speaking to young adults and corporate engagement work.
Liha: I have an art publishing company that makes posters of classic literature, and I was working as community engagement officer at a Museum. I really miss that educational element, but our workshops make up for it a little!
Abi: For me I want the beauty industry to be more inclusive; It’s no longer about having one shelves tucked away at the back for WOC, it’s about having a range of products for any skin type on the same shelve regardless of race.
I would also like to see it being more transparent in terms of what is in the products.
Liha: I agree- I would like brands to stop trying to sell the same thing over and over again in different packaging! People are too smart for that.
Liha: We will be at Wah Power lunch on 20th April talking about product development. We also have a workshop coming up at Shoreditch House on the 27th May and some in Boxpark also in Shoreditch in the Summer. We will be launching some exciting new products soon, so keep checking in!