Healthy hair is relative, say women who have bid adieu to the old standards of beauty, turning to the soil instead for solutions to enhance their natural tresses. Noluthando Ngcakani speaks to three natural hair warriors.
For centuries natural hair has been tangled with issues of race and politics labelling black coils as “untidy” and “unruly.” The most recent centre of controversy is pharmacy chain Clicks who has come under fire over an advert widely perceived as racist insinuating that African hair is dry and damaged.
As the Clicks ad controversy highlights, textured hair is often still perceived as a source of shame that needs to be corrected, usually using heavy chemical relaxers.
But Mzansi-made hair-care brands are now rising up to dispel the negative perceptions of black hair. Some of them source 100% organic oils grown and produced from as far as Ghana and Nigeria to create a wide range of products made with textured hair in mind.
The soils of the African continent are a treasure trove of rich oils and butters – extracted from shea nut, cocoa beans, and plantain ash – beneficial to natural hair growth and nourishment.
Long books can be written about the struggles of caring for “black girls’ hair.” Sitting in a scorching leather chair in a salon for long hours on end on a hot summer’s day. Tying and twisting every strand to make sure it is safely tucked away before bedtime.
The struggle often becomes more intensified, for the naturalistas with 4C textured hair, says Sanelisiwe Igboanugo (32).
Natural hair patterns are classified on a spectrum of curl forms, ranging from type two (wavy), type three (curly) through type four (coily, tight), says the Durban-based entrepreneur.
Her very own natural journey began in 2017 when she decided to embrace her kinks and coils. Not long after she grew frustrated with the limited range of products that catered to the needs of her 4C hair.
“None of these brands on the shelves in my day spoke to 4C hair. As naturals we are diverse, and our hair care needs can never be the same. You struggle to find your place as a woman with 4C hair.”
In 2018 this prompted Igboanugu to create her range of products with her husband, Sunday. She lovingly calls it Afro Sundae.
Afro Sundae stems from the couple’s shared love for nurturing and caring for natural hair and includes products made with 100% organic ingredients accredited with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).
“The salons were doing it wrong, they always used too much heat or too many products with parabens and petroleum. For me my journey just progressed to a point where I started mixing my own products with natural oils and butters.”
Noting her well-cared-for strands, women started to approach her for hair-care guidance.
“It’s been a beautiful journey. Your natural hair should never be classified as a painful experience or a burden,” she says.
Hair is an extension of you. You need to put in the work to see results, she believes. “It’s like a baby. It behaves like a child, you have to nurture it, feed it and care for it until it grows.”
Founder of Johannesburg-based online beauty shop Masodi Organics, Liz Letsoalo (28), says the birth of her enterprise stems from her combined love and passion of politics and entrepreneurship.
“I started realising how westernised standards of beauty are, and these are not new conversations that we are having. As producers of natural hair-care products we are actively in the business of revolutionising standards of beauty.”
Beauty in your own terms means “whatever the highest expression of yourself is,” she says sternly.
The Tzaneen-born entrepreneur has worn her hair natural in all stages of her life. Her journey has been one of breaking the standard notions of beauty looking to the earth to gain a sense of self-worth in her own skin.
“Natural hair care for me is about being deliberate in my representation as a black woman. It’s about embracing my natural beauty.”
There has been a timeless debate as to what is classified as “good hair”, to which Letsoalo says, “good hair is whatever hair you want it to be!”
To those looking to start a business of their own, she says “never be afraid to bother people to make your dreams a reality. Go out there and be great!”
A ‘boskoppie’ living her best life…
For the better part of her life, Liesl Katzen (28) wore her hair straight. She, like many women of colour, was taught that her curls could never be classified as beautiful. “I always asked myself what was wrong with my hair?” she questions.
In 2015 Katzen grew tired of spending hours straightening and damaging her hair with heat to get it as straight as she possibly could. “I didn’t have the time to do my hair anymore and would wear it frizzy. Obviously this did not look nice at all and it was a mess,” Katzen giggles.
She founded her business, Curl Chemistry, in the kitchen of her Cape Town home in the suburb of Parow. The range is influenced by her own needs as a natural and is made from natural oils and butters, devoid of any parabens, silicones, or mineral oils.
“Natural hair unites the continent. I use organic oils and shea butter from Ghana,” she says proudly.
“Natural hair is a journey. You will figure it out and you will never know what your hair needs immediately. It is a process. My one job is to give you that sense of confidence to rock your boskop.”
Amid the pandemic business has been booming, she says. With people under lockdown and salons only recently reopening, people were forced to care for their own hair.
“In the past they were never buying products online, because they wanted to save on that delivery fee. Now they are super keen!”