Every year, natural haircare guru and product creator Taliah Waajih holds a major show for fellow vendors and entrepreneurs in the field as a part of her annual Natural Health and Beauty Show. The movement of women, especially of color, embracing, or returning to, the more unprocessed texture of their locks has been in effect for some years now. The underlying intentions of #teamnatural was that after years of black women treated as pariahs or unprofessional according to their hair, and thus pressured to assimilate towards a more “European” or “white American” standard of beauty (aka straight hair, even though not every Caucasian naturally has this either), it was time to stop the self-hate encouraged by the insecurity or mean-spirit of others and welcome back the kinks, the fluffy feel, and braided styles that were once misbegotten during the height of the video vixen era.
Black Enterprise has covered the inspiring success stories of natural hair entrepreneurs, including one of the most famous, being Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter, and other beauties with brains behind popular labels like Curls’ Mahisha Dellinger. Another facet of the natural hair brigade is creating products that are not of harm,just coat the hair or in being the equivalent of empty calories.
For 17 years, Waajid’s Natural Hair and Beauty Show was conducted in Atlanta, Georgia, but this summer she brought the show in Expo form to New York City, where haircare is definitely a huge business. Tons of beauty supply stores run rampant in the streets of neighborhoods and boroughs like Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. Open to the public, the Expo was filled with tons of women, roughly in their 20s to 50s, seeking to discover new products and learn more about what else can do with to treat their hair. It was a two-day event over the weekend of July 19, and also contained workshops, live music, comedy, poetry, and an appearance by the 2013 Natural Hair Model winner, which was the gorgeous Pearl Fils-Aime.
Held at the Times Square Marriott Marquis, the Expo was a smorgasboard of familiar and home created brand names catering to the culture of preserving natural hair. Interestingly, some of the lines that were featured at the Expo like Mixed Chicks contain ingredients that some find highly controversial such as parabens and mineral oil. Vendors-wise, it was a mix of known and new names, and then fashion, accessories, urban fiction, non-profits, skincare and makeup brands booths smattered around the ballroom. Shea Moisture had inargubably the most popular stand, and were even placed right at the entrance with fans of the brands encircled for the 3 for $25 deal. There was also III Sisters of Nature; Jamaican Mango and Lime; Diamond Bond; Eden Body Works; Glamorous Chicks; Ossat; Soft Sheen Carson; and Soultanicals among others and live demonstrations hair-styling and braiding. Concerning skincare, Zurlesh had an impressive roster on display with big jars of homemade scrubs for the body and emollient creams for the hair.
Once guests got their shopping fix, the workshops were as coveted as a Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie. The workshops, which were many, were led by specialists and doctors of hair and skin, offered nuggets of tips to a thirsty for knowledge crowd. The workshops were so red-hot, a few were cut short to keep the long lines from reaching the main stage all the way in the other room.
The workshop I was very interested in was the “Debunking the YouTube Hair Myths”. It was a discussion with Patricia Stephens about how the slew of pro-natural hair bloggers and vloggers online, as enthusiastic as they are, are not necessarily experts. The advice they often give are half-truths, un-researched, or too generalized for a mass audience. Stephens stressed that while these experts in training mean well, the contradiction of information will lead a curious haircare fanatic towards an up and down path of possible hair trauma because not all information is beneficial because every case or head of hair is likely to be different. Ms. Stephens also said mineral oil is not as bad for the hair as we’ve been led to believe, but that a little goes a long way and that the whole hair class system of 4c or 2B, is ultimately a waste and that it’s best to go by the categories of fine,/thin, medium, and coarse when it comes to hair types.
I was allowed to tape the sessions with Ms. Stephens during her workshop (which was one of the ones that got shortened due to crowd control), and it was a light-hearted but real conversation she was having in a room of “sistas” looking for that voice of reason to confirm their thoughts. It was a conversation that the ladies definitely wanted to last longer, and everybody’s hair looked different from the next. They were ladies in there with weave, no weave; extensions; short Afros; big Afros; braids; loose curls; big waves; straightened buns; and dyed locs. The women in attendance themselves epitomized why black hair to the ill-informed or in the American mainstream eye is hardly ever properly represented because not only is there so much one can do with just a hairstyle, the tress textures of black women are equal in beauty but in creation.
Watch Ms. Stephens in action below: