Last weekend, I had the opportunity to sell Hair to There’s Shea Butter Whip at the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. I took a leap of faith, blew my budget on registration fees, and prepared for the event. I purchased several pounds of Shea butter, stayed up late mixing, measuring, whipping and pouring. I made labels with the technologically-advanced Microsoft Publisher (that was sarcasm) and printed them at Kinko’s. I took way, way too many late night trips to Wal-Mart and Staples, scouring the shelves for supplies. I did my research before hand and deduced that there weren’t going to be that many small natural hair care businesses present, which I predicted would increase my chances of visibility and minimize my competition. My effort was a burden of love, and I fully anticipated it paying off in some small albeit meaningful way. I expected to sell a few jars of product, laugh and joke with two of my favorite people (shout out to Julian and Shannon) and meet a wide array of wonderful and intelligent black people who were interested in a quality product that could actually do what it promised. What I did not anticipate was a profound reminder of my purpose in the natural hair community. Last weekend I officially become a Natural Hair Entrepreneur and was quickly reminded that with that title comes much responsibility.
For those of you who may be new to the natural hair party, here is a bit of context. For decades, we (people, and especially women, of color) have been the largest consumers of hair products but rarely owned any meaningful share of the market. The great variance between styles, textures, lengths, colors, and patterns of hair lent itself to myriad opportunities for those interested in finding the right product for their unique head of hair but did not produce corresponding black ownership of the products that were filling our bathroom cabinets and vanities. One fantastic outcome of the natural movement has been that, finally, black women are able to capitalize on the longstanding markets that have catered to black dollars, but not to black business ownership.
Black women are now (and have been for some time) exploiting opportunities for entrepreneurship in the natural hair marketplace in unprecedented ways. These women are bringing ingenuity and innovation to a space teeming with possibilities. They are cleverly claiming territory that should have always been theirs. They find themselves both supporting and supported by their fellow women of color both of naturalista and relaxed variety. Most importantly, these natural hair entrepreneurs bring with them a sense of deep understanding of the journeys we all take to appreciate and love our hair.
Let’s be clear, black natural hair entrepreneurs, myself included, are embarking on delicate, tender work. We encounter women with varying levels of comfort with or confidence in their hair. We understand the disappointment of promises broken time and time again by hair companies claiming to be the miracle “cure” for hair in need of “fixing.” We know what it’s like to be constantly reminded of the "inadequacy" of shineless, curless, kinky hair. We hate seeing our deepest and most troubling insecurities downright exploited, then marketed to and made to believe that one hair type, texture or behavior is the only way to really be natural. The endless list of unpronounceable chemicals, the countless dollars wasted, the frustration, the irritation, the trials and errors. We, black hair entrepreneurs know that life. Or at least we should.
We boldly seized the opportunity and became natural hair entrepreneurs. We develop products, tips and styles for our fellow naturalistas (and relaxed and weave wearers too), and we should be proud of that calling. But, most importantly, we should be beacons of hope for women, who simply want to love their hair. We should stand side by side with the women who swear it “shouldn’t be this complicated” to love and care for their hair. We should cherish all hair types and textures, never placing one pattern or texture or length above another. We should support all of the women who are or have been on the long, often arduous journey of loving their hair in a world that does everything in its power to force them not to. We should understand, value and treat the women who have no emotional, political or social ties to their hair with the same care and reverence as those who deploy their strands to defy the standards of the status quo.
I have been many things in my (somewhat) brief time on this earth: a daughter, a student, a mentor, a sister, an educator, and a storyteller. Perhaps the most personal and endearing has been that of a natural hair entrepreneur. To be in and contribute to a movement of love, and value, a community of uplift and support, is unimaginably rewarding. And it is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
One recent customer wrote:
I just wanted to extend my gratitude towards you for your service and the information you extended to me about “Hair to There.” Your brand is amazing! As a natural, it’s always great to see other beautiful naturalistas out in the world showcasing for us and doing so with such grace.
I am the one who is grateful. It is with grace and honor that I serve you, my fellow textured haired women of color. I offer to you fantastic products that won’t burn, hurt, maim, or dry your hair. I will do everything in my power to dismantle harmful remnants of colorism and texture favoritism. I will value your presence, and honor your journey. To all of my sisters out there, Hair To There is officially open for business.