Like many black women, my relationship with my hair has been one of love and (dare I say) hate over the years. My head of thick hair was always a challenge and an inconvenience; I was the third of three girls and my mum had her work cut out for her. Societal perceptions of 'good' hair were deeply ingrained, and I didn't believe I was one of the lucky few who could actually wear their hair in the way that it naturally grew- and look good doing it.
The relaxer years
From the age of around 12 and until 3 years ago, I routinely chemically straightened my hair because I believed that was the only way to manage it. Periodically, after a sustained period of chemical straightening, my once-(overly) abundant mane would become a brittle, thinning mess; at which point I would simply cut it short and start again. This was a pattern that continued for many years. My determination to maintain a 'sleek' look meant that my root touch-up appointments were sometimes closer together than I care to admit. Without realising it, I was stuck in a beauty rut, with no idea of how to escape- or how liberating such an escape could be.
Around 3 months into my first pregnancy, I found myself facing a dilemma; to relax or not to relax? My roots were stubbornly coiling out of my head, and I felt a strong urge to retouch them, but for the very first time, I hesitated. I had read many conflicting stories about whether chemically relaxing hair is safe in pregnancy. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk, and for the first time in my adult life, I found myself experimenting with various styles that didn’t involve chemical processing. I tried a multitude of looks (and used a LOT of heat!), but somehow I never felt that I found my go-to style. I enjoyed the experimentation, but eagerly reached again for the relaxer once my son arrived.
You don't know what you've got til it's gone...
Nature threw me a curveball in the form of post-partum hair loss and I was becoming increasingly aware of the helping hand that the chemicals were giving. Worried I'd end up bald, I started researching and trialling other ways of achieving the look I wanted. I tried keratin treatments, Brazilian blow drys, and even a modern take on the hot comb (remember those?!), but my stubborn afro prevailed and nothing else seemed to get me anywhere near the 'straight hair goals' that a relaxer kit offered, so I continued with it.
Wake up and smell the reality check
2 years later and pregnant again, I duly retired the relaxer and re-entered the world of braids and twists- and for the first time, I tried crochet braids. I noticed, after a 9 month break from processing, how beautiful my natural curly roots really were (pregnancy hormones accelerating my growth had a lot to do with it). I liked what I saw, and wondered why I'd spent so many years trying to cover it up. My hair was thicker than ever, but this time, I LOVED it. Even after baby 2 arrived, I never went back to the relaxer. I vowed to re-discover my own hair, as nature intended it to be, in all its kinky, curly, unruly glory.
So I embarked on a journey of cultivating my ‘fro (I had a lot of fun along the way, trying out different colours and styles), embracing and inspired by the beautiful natural curls that several of my friends and family were proudly wearing. On this journey, I became all too aware of the limited supply of hair extensions that emulate and mimic what my hair is supposed to look like. I wasn’t brave enough for the ‘big chop’, and even if I had been, I didn't feel my baby afro was ready for the world yet. I wanted to rock styles that looked like they could have grown out of my head, rather than the silky straight styles so readily available. I grew increasingly frustrated with seeing images of beautiful kinky curly styles achieved using hair extensions, only to discover that that particular hair wasn’t easily found in the UK. Simultaneously, I became disheartened by the lack of expertise that staff in shops selling hair extensions seemed to really have about afro hair. I was tired of being fobbed off with half-hearted advice.
I spy a gap in the market
After an ill-advised purchase of some beautiful curly (but not quite 'me') synthetic hair extensions, I found myself with a number of hair bundles that I couldn't return, but didn't feel I could use (and successfully pull off!). Not wanting to waste them, I put them on eBay, and was amazed when they sold out within a couple of weeks... buying and selling hair online was actually a thing.
I found common ground in my experiences with one of my oldest friends (a beautiful naturalista) and we realised that between us we might be on to something. We spied an opportunity to make a difference, so we joined forces and the rest really is history.
I'd now say that I have come full circle, in more ways than one. It's funny to think that I once (unwittingly) fought so hard against the very thing that Tiwani Heritage is all about celebrating. But you live and learn! Onto the next chapter...