Melissa was one of the many lovely people I met at the Sali Hughes ‘Pretty White Female’ event that Thandie & I were on the panel of at Selfridges in London recently. I was very inspired by meeting so many enthusiastic entrepreneurs, all with a view to expand the beauty market to embrace women of colour as part of the mainstream by creating beauty brands that are totally inclusive, and in Melissa’s case, created for all hair types and ethnicities rather than the archaic ‘ethnic section’ so commonly segregated to separate areas of a store and specialist outlets.
I often discover a good story behind why people start brands, and Melissa’s is no exception.
Thank you for sharing your story with us Melissa, and may it inspire other young pioneers too.
My journey to natural and launching Big Hair Beauty wasn’t a conscious one. It was organic and although I’m still unsure of where ‘here’ is and where it’ll end up, I feel as though the universe conspired it.
When I look back on some of the pivotal moments of the past few years, and indeed life, I see how essential it is to have many experiences, regardless of how negative we may perceive them to be at the time.
Making that change
Just over 4 years ago I was working in the corporate world for a top firm in Central London. It was everything that I thought I wanted at the time, however, in hindsight, I wholeheartedly feel that it was meant to be the breaking and making of me.
A lot went on during that period. One of which was that for the first time in my life I became distinctly aware of being a black woman.
It’s not that I hadn’t noticed before, obviously, but I was always ‘just Melissa’, raised with the belief that I could do and become anything I want.
The limitations of being black, being a woman or being a black woman were never placed onto me.
I initially didn’t mind the intrigue when I brought leftovers into work for lunch, I grew up in a pretty traditional Jamaican household where we had soup on a Saturday and chicken/curry goat and rice and peas on a Sunday .
To me, all pretty run of the mill and I continued it once I left home. I also didn’t mind the questions the first time I came in with braids that were triple the length of my actual hair that I had worn in it’s natural state the day before.
But the questions/comments didn’t seem to let up and I became more and more conscious of who I was, and who I was not, which became increasingly difficult.
This, and a combination of other things are possibly what encouraged the quarter life crisis that was about to commence. I quit work, mainly because it was a horrendous environment, extremely stressful and I was terribly unhappy. But in all honesty, I just felt lost and confused.
Who was I?
In addition, my once clear skin (that had managed to evade teenage spots and hormone-inspired acne) was awful and my long working hours meant that my diet was poor.
My hair was falling out from stress. I was unrecognisable, visibly, spiritually and emotionally – especially to myself.
I resigned. Cut off my hair. Then went travelling around China alone. Why China? I just wanted to be somewhere where no one would talk, or communicate with me. It wasn’t easy, and the lows outweighed the highs – but I can honestly look back and say that the journey to ‘self’ was SO worth it.
I became more aware of who I was, my environment and my wellbeing. I began to eat better, exercise, and just became more conscious of ingredients in general and wanted to incorporate this attitude across all areas of my life.
So I started to make my own hair stuff.
I let my hair do what it wanted and the bigger my fro became the more attention it received. Women would stop me and ask questions, like what I used on my hair. At the time I was just watching YouTube videos, researching things online and whipping up stuff at home.
Then a friend suggested I look into starting a business – then one thing led to another, and so became Big Hair Beauty.
Ironically, I was never much of a hair person. I wore hats throughout college and university and was never a girly-girl so missed that whole ‘experimenting with hair phase’ in secondary school.
My family owned a hairdressers ran by my mum so I always had my hair done for me. However, a Saturday job is practically compulsory when your family runs a business so I got to know a lot about women and their hair.
I got a relaxer at around about 15, not because I wanted to look or be like anyone else, but because it sounded easier and I was fed up of sitting between my mothers legs to get it cornrowed or being burnt with the hot comb because I could never keep still.
Equally, when I started to wear my natural hair, it wasn’t to ‘be natural’. My hair was in a bad condition, so cutting it off made sense, and I had adopted a healthier lifestyle so not using chemicals again did too.
Big Hair Beauty isn’t just about ‘natural hair care products’- for me it’s so much more than that!
The brand is about challenging the status quo and revolutionising the way naturally curly and afro hair and women of colour are seen. Not just by the media, the beauty industry or the corporate world, but more importantly, how we see ourselves -and each other.
I’m not ‘anti relaxer’ or ‘anti weave’. I’m not interested in the ‘good’ hair, ‘bad’ hair debate. I won’t take part in the team light skin vs dark skin narrative.
I’m team LOVE. And love starts with loving ourselves for who we are and radiating that light, not darkness, onto others. Not just women of colour, women in general. We can no longer have a ‘one size fits all’ beauty standard and ideal, but the change has to start from within.