For many years, women with curly hair have had to constantly deflect unsolicited comments.
It’s the reality for many curly girls, and is especially omnipresent for the Black community.
“I don’t think people understand that you’re constantly apologizing for your hair, and it follows you every single day,” said Clare Brown, a digital marketer and content creator who unpacks hair politics in the Black community on TikTok, during a panel conversation at Fairchild Media Group’s inaugural Wear House SXSW event held in Austin, Texas.
The session “Becoming the Change — DEI Across Industries” was moderated by WWD beauty market editor James Manso and spanned topics such as the pandemic’s racial reckoning brought on by the murder of George Floyd; hair politics; consumer demand for representation; workplace inclusion; lawmaking, and more in the hair industry. Speakers included Clare Brown; Alicia Williams, senior director, anti-racism and brand equity at DevaCurl; Christin Brown, celebrity stylist and DevaCurl ambassador, and Arielle Egozi, brand adviser and creative director of Study Hall.
Brands had a “sudden” reaction to racism, Egozi said, but there are myriad “foundational” ways where equitable exchanges can occur in the business of beauty.
“There’s the external [advertising] piece, there’s the education piece — which is so important — but I want to know who is the photographer, who is creative directing the campaign, who is making the models feel safe on set, who is in the leadership room coming up with the brainstorm, where is the budget going? I want to know the answers to those questions before I can say whether this is working or not. I think it’s really easy to put on a really cute outfit to present yourself to the world without having done any of the actual work behind it.”
Egozi also spoke of the ways in which the workplace becomes a “coercive environment” when employees don’t feel empowered to be themselves or make change.
On the flip side, Christin Brown spoke of the ways in which safety can be bridged between stylist and client relationships. “I create a safe space for people even when it’s not my job to — I’m a space holder. As a stylist and a colorist, that’s what I do, and I do it really well. If I can be that catalyst and that tether then I’m down for the cause.”
At the micro level, a bad haircut can lead to “hair trauma” for years, especially the case for many Black clients, Brown said. “At the macro level, I think it starts as soon as you tell a kid their hair is crazy, it is wild, it is weird, ‘Ooh, you have too much.’ Then you’re a 25-year-old person that’s sitting in my chair apologizing for the amount of hair you have growing out of your head. That is crazy,” Brown said.
The work of true representation is never-ending, Williams said. Making “connection points” is easier said than done, however, and conversations may be imbalanced or uncomfortable.
“There are a lot of people who are eager to learn but they are uncomfortable inherently, so a lot of conversations on race fall on people of color to share their experience and share their stories. I think there’s also a warped definition of what racism is….White people spend a lot of time trying not to be called racist without actually unpacking the work. What I try to do with my content is make it funny and make it relatable, so people feel like, ‘OK, I can feel safe in this space to conquer my bias and come in without feeling judged’….People want to learn but don’t want to feel unsafe in the process, so it’s striking that balance,” Brown added.
DevaCurl has been backing the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The act came onto the scene in 2019, when California became the first state to pass it. The law aims to end employment and education discrimination based on natural hair texture or protective hairstyles such as locs, braids and the like. As of February 2023, 20 states have passed the CROWN Act, among them New York, Virginia and Connecticut.
“It’s 2023, and we’re only just getting these rights to have our hair,” reiterated creator Clare Brown.