by Athule Mbena

AU NATURAL

Black hair is big business–as we watch a new trend towards natural hair unfold...

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Africans have been braiding, manipulating, locking and styling our hair before even recorded history. Today, be it braided, manipulated, coiled, dread locked, twa, protective styled or locked, black hair is big business–as we watch a new trend towards natural hair unfold...

For thousands of years African tribes have mastered different hair techniques and present day hairstyles pay homage to that. Our hair as black women is our culture, our heritage and has great social significance. Our hair and the styles therefore link us to our rich past and our ancestors who bore the brunt of repressive systems like colonisation and slavery.

More and more black women are embracing the natural state of their hair and to celebrate and promote this, the Nakiso Curl Fest, the first upscale natural hair festival in Southern Africa, will be held at Zulu-Nyala Country Manor in Johannesburg on 8 October 2016.

Michelle Mpofu, Co-Founder of the Nakiso Curl Fest, says the diversity of black women is something worth celebrating. “It is a strong and proud lineage and heritage that we would do well to entrench in future generations of black African women.”

Nakiso Curl Fest is the first event of its scale in South Africa, specifically built to attract natural hair care product manufacturers to an audience of women and men who are growing their hair naturally, or even considering doing so. Internationally, the US has been at the forefront of putting together such events and many other countries are doing so as well, even within the African continent. So what’s to be achieved by hosting a natural hair festival? The organisers say they want to educate, have fun and celebrate black hair and its heritage.

“Among black women, our hair has always been our crowning glory and the process of grooming has culturally been a bonding opportunity for women. In times of mourning, we would shave our heads as a sign of respect for the departed, in times of joy and celebration, we would style our hair in intricate designs to show off our skills and abilities and ultimately our beauty. Today, our hair is an extension of our individual journeys, and subsequently our human stories. Our hair speaks to our political leanings, it speaks to our acknowledgement of ancestry, it speaks to our ambitions and aspirations for our futures and that of our people as a race and it speaks to our personal growth and development. Our fashion and lifestyle icons are wearing their hair naturally, our political icons have worn and are continuing to wear their hair naturally—the story is endless. The differentiating factor will always be what the hair means to individuals and how we choose to articulate it,” says Mpofu.

As Africans, throughout our various points of interaction, hair is considered to be the highest point to one’s soul, to the extent that it is a cultural belief that hair care is entrusted to a close family member or a stylist you have a long standing relationship with. Black women seldom change hair therapists, once they have found one who understands their hair needs. For many cultures across Africa, hair has a variety of cultural and artistic significances. For example, AmaXhosa believe that the sons who are initiated must shave their hair off as a sign of leaving the transgressions of a boy to becoming a man. In many tribes it is considered a sign of respect for families of the bereaved to shave off their hair as a sign of moaning

She says every woman has her own reasons to retrieve her authenticity; some of them want to preserve their hair against aggressive hair styling methods or harmful straightening chemical products, while others simply prefer natural hair aesthetically in spite of the pressure from the dominant aesthetics.

“The natural hair movement has been encouraged by the choice performed by some stars to abandon straightening in favour of a comeback to their natural hair.

The movement designates black women to wear afro-textured hair in its natural, coiled or curly state. Recent studies indicate that there is a link between black hair care relaxers and health risks. Hence there being a 45% decrease in hair relaxers sale year on year.”

The chemicals used in black hair products enter the body through the scalp, particularly when there is a burn or cut on the skin. They upset the internal chemical balance which leads to complications.

The consecutive fall in popularity of relaxers and the increase in natural hair products confirm that the natural hair ‘trend’ is here to stay, according to Mpofu.

She says our stories of grappling with the question of identity are similar as women—they transcend race and colour. “Yet I feel more than all else, with black women, this is a critical question. We are the only people, to the best of my knowledge, who actively seek and wear other people’s hair. We have forgotten what it means to love ourselves the way we were made and I think this is a critical conversation that needs to be had until black women stand up and love themselves.”

Mpofu told BBQ that the Nakiso Curl Fest will aim to explore, debunk and provide solutions to the many hair struggles that the black female has.

Further to this the organisers have enlisted the services of Brian Warfield (internationally acclaimed hair stylist), Donna Nedo (natural hair YouTube blogger whose work receives over 6.7 million views annually) and Faith Seoue (South African make-up artist who has worked with SA’s high profile celebrities) to be keynote speakers throughout the festival.

The idea for a festival of such nature in South Africa was born from the need to engage a wider audience of women to share their experiences and educate each other on maintenance practises and product options.

There have been many meetings in the country, which highlights the fact that a sisterhood is thriving and conversations are taking place, and Mpofu says they simply wanted to create a bigger platform for women to meet each other.

In an exclusive interview with BBQ, Mpofu says black hair is big business. “We have an increased awareness or consciousness around identity and we are exercising our right to choose and define our own standards of beauty. Any business that thrives does so with the simple knowledge and understanding that it is there to serve the consumer.

In this case, the consumer would like products that do not inflict harm on her overall health or the structure of her hair and add to an enhanced perception of self.

“To retain and grow market share, businesses whose primary focus is black hair will need to align themselves to these new needs.”

When asked why the need to highlight the work done in the natural hair community, Mpofu alludes that the natural hair community is made up of phenomenal people who are actively interested in creating products for a discerning segment, and the consumers are equally engaged in ensuring that they buy these products because they support local businesses and still want to enjoy top-notch products.

“I would say it is a win-win situation. Another reason for our interest is to help spread the word that our hair can and does grow and help people find the right products for their specific needs. Some want to soften their hair while keeping it short, others want to grow it as long as possible while keeping it moisturised and easier to manage, others want to experiment with colour without damaging their hair with peroxides.”

Looking at potential business opportunities to be expected from this event, Mpofu says that any savvy person who attends the festival will be able to identify the gaps that exist in this particular segment.

One particular opportunity that jumps to mind is the acute lack of hair salons specifically catering to people who wear and grow their hair naturally.

Malcom X once said, “Remove the kinks from your mind not your hair,” and that is what the Nakiso Curl Festival is here to do, Mpofu concludes.

More about the festival

There will be exhibitions for the entire day of the Festival, which is expected to draw more than 400 visitors daily.
The exhibition will be yet another divinely orchestrated avenue to highlight the great work in the natural hair community and inspire as many as possible to be a part of the work for greater exploits in this journey to ‘thy authentic self’.
Visitors can look forward to experiencing more than 100 exhibition stands both indoors and outdoors—from the public, private and NGO sectors.
The minimum price for an exhibition stand is R1 095 per square meter.
BBQ Magazine is a proud media sponsor of the event.
For more information, go to www.nakisocurlfest.com.

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