I’m starting what I hope to be a series entitled “The Pursuit of Nappyness,” where I profile people that will enlighten you about natural hair salons, events, and just all-around fly people to watch in the natural hair community. This is my first “natural hair interview,” courtesy of Elaine M. Truesdale, VP of Business Development for Atlanta Natural Hair Care in Atlanta, GA. I have not written many posts about natural hair, but being new to Atlanta and new to the natural hair world (I big chopped last summer), I felt this interview was a great opportunity to learn more about the subject, as well as explore a different part of town!
I talked with Erica Blevins, who manages one of three “Oh My Nappy Hair” (OMNH) salons (they’re in L.A., Oakland, and Atlanta) and founder, Rosario Schuler (her mom). They’ve been in business for 22 years–the first exclusively-natural hair salon on the West Coast! Erica has styled celebrities such as Stevie Wonder and Halle Berry, and took some time from her management duties (and her June wedding planning!) to talk with me about:
- How the business got started, and feelings about the word “nappy”
- Why she wears her hair natural
- The lack of natural hair curriculum in beauty schools
- Fear of natural hair acceptance from others
- Natural hair “nazis”
Entrepreneurship is in Erica’s blood. Her mother Rosario Schuler started the first OMNH salon in 1989 in Oakland, CA, a second salon in 1993 in L.A., and the third in 2003 in Atlanta. Erica started managing the Atlanta salon in 2004.
Erica: “When we started out, no one else was doing natural hair styling. My mom would go to hair shows like Bronner Bros., trying to pitch natural hair to stylists to get into it, but they shut her down as if it was undesirable. Shops did some press-n-curls, braiding and locs, but nothing else–not to the extent of defining curls and other styles, and it wasn’t being taught. We thought, ‘Let’s see what else our hair can do.’ “
Daree: What kinds of styles are most often requested at OMNH?
Erica: “Big chops, loc coloring/styling and maintenance are pretty consistently in demand. But some style demands come in ‘waves,’ such as straw sets, rod sets, twist outs to produce waves, coil outs, flat twists, and bantu knots (which last for a month). People have come from as far as London and Japan–who have never been in America before–just to get their hair done here.”
Daree: You’ve been in business for over 22 years–longer than almost any other natural hair salon–and certainly longer than many naturals today have been natural. Tell us about why you use the word “nappy” in your name, which has a negative connotation in our culture.
Erica: “The name caused a lot of controversy, and we had to overcome a lot of hurdles. People actually wanted to fight us because of the name of the salon! We’re trying to say that nappy hair, natural hair is beautiful because it’s the way God made us. But we got lots of death threats and hate mail because of it. We were challenging people’s notions of what natural hair was, after being brainwashed for years that straight hair is the best and only way to go. It was a fight within themselves– ‘I have to accept my hair? My hair is beautiful the way it is?’ But they tried to flip it on us. We’re just trying to embrace and celebrate our beauty, and announce it to the world!”
Lack of Professional Training
and Consumer Empowerment
Daree: It’s my understanding that the beauty industry and cosmetology schools do not teach students about natural hair styling and services–at least in the past. Are there more avenues to learning natural hair styling techniques now that natural hair is becoming a little more mainstream?
Erica: “Unfortunately no. A lot of the information floating around [by word of mouth and on blogs] is incorrect and misleading. We need a formal forum with QUALIFIED, experienced, professional stylists to teach. There are more products available on the market than there were when we started in ’89, which is a plus, but we still have a long way to go before we can offer a certification program.”
Rosario says she is fine with patrons asking questions about her services and what they entail.
Rosario: “When you go into a natural hair salon where you have not received service before, question them before you let them do anything to your hair. OMNH is a good point of reference to compare to, and that’s what you need before you let them do anything to your hair–a point of reference. Find out if they know what they are talking about. Let them tell you what they know. Also, I think they should also be natural themselves–I would be leery of someone who was doing my hair and didn’t have natural hair.”
Erica: “True information comes from experience.”
Natural Hair Don’ts
Rosario: “If I see someone with really long locs, sometimes I will ask, “How long are you going to let your hair grow?” With our type of hair, you can’t let it grow too long on top because gravity comes into play and causes too much stress on the root because of the weight of the hair. That’s why you see a lot of balding near the curvature of the scalp when there’s been too much weight on the hair on top.”
Erica: “Some naturals don’t seem to understand that they need to keep their hair trimmed, even if they have a small afro. Keep it trimmed so it won’t snap at the ends. Don’t go around looking raggedy and tore up. You still need to comb your hair. http://thankgodimnatural.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/yes-you-can-comb-your-hairtgin-breaks-down-the-rules-to-combing-your-hair/ Good grooming is still necessary even after going natural.”
Rosario: “It’s like pruning a rosebush. It keeps the hair healthy.”
“You’re Not Really Natural If…”
Daree: What’s up with these women who want to strictly define naturals or classify naturals based on whether they dye their hair, straighten it, wear weaves or wigs over their natural hair, etc. and denounce women who do? (Author’s Note: As I asked this question, a woman came in off the street, wearing a weave and expressing that she wanted to stay natural, and Erica attended to her.)
Rosario: “We’re human–we like change. There’s nothing wrong with change. To me, you’re natural if you use nothing chemical to permanently alter your hair’s texture. But if you use chemicals with heat and the hair comes out bone-straight, that’s something else. Thermal protection is just making it smooth–but if you see it bone-straight and it doesn’t revert back [to its natural state] with moisture. Why does it have to be bone-straight? Is it more appropriate [to be straight-haired]? I say just blow-dry it straight. Get used to texture. Be creative and keep the texture.
“Now I have color and that’s a chemical, but I’m not trying to change the texture of my hair. Think of a tree with green leaves. If you spray it purple, you can wash it off. But if you add acid or lye to it, you change the composition of and chemical make-up of the leaf and [essentially] kill it.”
Daree: A lot of celebrities have been “going natural” or displaying their natural hair lately, bringing awareness to natural hair such as Kim Coles and Raven-Symone, Chrisette Michele and Tiffany Pollard to name a few). Then there are some (rappers, comedians) who denounce it and tell women they need to get a perm. Some women are natural under their braids, weaves or wigs, but but are afraid of what their family members, co-workers, or significant others might say if they don’t like it or accept it. What is your advice for these women who want to experiment with their natural hair without scrutiny, or they’re afraid of ignorant, disapproving comments?
Rosario: “Get unstuck on stupid. Learn how to embrace self and say “This is who I am.
“Take take two sheets of paper that are exactly the same and set them on a table. Crumple and then uncrumple one of the sheets and put it back on the table. Which sheet of paper can you look at the longest?
“We have been brainwashed into believing that straight hair is better. But why [is straight hair better]–because it moves? Our hair moves too! I have a dog whose fur moves when he runs, but it’s not super-straight, it’s an afro!
“We have to learn to appreciate self. I can do all kinds of things to my hair. Our hair grows like sun rays or tree branches–up and out. That’s your beauty. That’s the way God made you–why cover it up?
Erica: “Hair is a psychological security blanket.”
Can I Shine a Light on You?
I enjoy spotlighting businesses and organizations who contribute to the empowerment and welfare of women and children in our communities. If you would like to have a profile featured on this blog or Atlanta Natural Hair Care, leave a comment below with your information, and we’ll be sure to get in touch with you.