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Kinky Curly founder Shelley Davis on the natural hair community

originally published on: theparachutemedia.com


Over the past few years there has been an ongoing conversation among Black women about inclusivity and toxicity within the natural hair community.

Black women with tighter curl patterns have been discussing the idea that the curly hair community and Black hair care brands prioritize looser patterns such as 3A or 3B, and social media accounts for natural hair leave Black women with 4A to 4C patterns out of the curly hair narrative. On the opposite end, Black women who choose not to wear their hair naturally sometimes feel shamed by natural hair wearers. Black women are constantly judged for their hair no matter how they style it. Founder of Kinky Curly, a natural hair brand, Shelley Davis has been a part of the natural hair world for a long time and experienced the beginnings of the flourishing of the natural hair community online. Davis discusses her journey toward natural hair and the controversies within the community.


Q: What got you into styling your own natural hair?


A: I tried growing my hair out in high school, and honestly, it was not curly. I just didn’t have the knowledge, and the products and stuff just weren’t available. I was not going to get a Jheri curl that was just not part of the plan. So, I tried it again — and this was in the late ʼ90s — and I said, “OK, let me try and grow it. I want my hair to be curly.” I did not do a big chop. I like long hair. I’ve had long hair pretty much all my life. So I grew my hair out using twist-outs and braid-outs, and every six months I would cut off the relaxed ends gradually. The process took about two years. And, you know, I got used to managing my natural hair.


Q: What inspired you to start making your own products?


A: I wanted to start my own product line because so many products out there kept changing formulas, being discontinued and you’d have to start this whole search [for products] over again. When something got discontinued, it was like somebody threw a monkey wrench into the program. I’m from the island called St. Vincent in the West Indies, and I took a trip home with my family and I just saw the natural stuff. They were using aloe and they were boiling berries and rinsing the hair with it. I was there for like a week and my hair had this great shine and luster. So when I came back I was like, “OK, how can I recreate this and package it?”


Q: What was the process like of getting started with actually formulating the products?


A: I tinkered around a lot in my kitchen, and I partnered with a lab to help me preserve [the products] and help it not separate. It was a lot of give and take, because they’re like, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” I'm like, “Well no, I want this to be the primary ingredient.” We came up with a product that can last on the shelf, and that was my first product. It was called Jojoba Jelly. It was a moisturizer and a curl definer. I took a lot of online classes, just basic cosmetic chemistry. I just learned the basics because I was a business major in school. I went to Syracuse and I majored in business. This was like learning something new, so I basically took a class like how to make soap. We came out with my first product, and that was 2003. I was working full-time, and I was like, “Let's create a website and see what happens.” It was just getting one sale here and there before Instagram, before Twitter, before Facebook. I got like little small ads.


Q: How did you turn your attention to natural hair completely?


A: At a certain point, I had to just take a leap of faith. I’m like, “OK, I can continue working my day job or I can just, you know, put everything into this and launch a business.” And, I did. A lot of it, too, was the momentum. A lot of women were going natural. The market started changing. Women started veering away from relaxers and flat-ironing their hair. Braids are still popular, but more and more people started to embrace their natural hair. [It was] myself and a few other companies and, you know, timing. It was great timing.


Q: Did you feel like there was a curly hair community when you were starting your business?


A: When I started, Afro Bella was a popular one. At that time, before social media, there were a lot of online communities that talked about hair. There was this one called Naturality. I don’t think they’re around anymore. [There was] Youtube. A lot of people did hair tutorials. So that became the new neighborhood salon. People would come on and say “This is how I do a twist out” and “This is how I do a roller set.” Long Hair Care Forum was another popular one. People would take out an ad on those platforms and people would review products and share tips that I feel really contributed to the natural hair movement and the online community. It grew and grew there, and it truly started on the internet.


Q: What are your opinions on the controversy surrounding the lack of inclusivity of 4A-4C hair in the curly hair brands and products?


A: I may have been accused of it. “You’re leaving out tighter curl patterns.” I don’t feel like I am. It’s just a different way you can use products. Where somebody with 2C or 3A is able to just watch and shake it in and go. 4C may have to work the product through. But I feel that I’ve included that on my label and instructions.We feature anybody who is happy and looks good with the products.


Q: How do you respond to criticism?


A: I’ve heard the criticism. My company personally includes the different hair types. The other side of the coin is realizing one [hair type] is not better than the other. Like do not email me with “My child has a good grade of hair” or “I have a good grade of hair.” I reply back and say, “All hair is good hair, it’s just different textures. Can you please rephrase your question?” They’re like, “Oh, my God, she’s crazy.” A lot of it is psychological, and it goes back to history [of Black hair textures]. There’s no such thing as bad hair. There just isn’t. It’s just different textures of hair and it just requires different rules.


Q: What are your opinions on hair discrimination against 4A-4C hair on social media apps like Pinterest, or on what brands are posting to their Instagram pages?


A: I can only repost what is posted. If you tag me , I’m gonna go through what’s tagged. And if you’re tagging me and you have 4C hair, yes, I will post you. Because that helps me, as a company, showing all different types of hair. I’m finding that [with] people with 4C hair, I’m not getting a lot of tags.



Q: What do you think of judgement surrounding shame from the natural hair community on women who choose not to go natural?


A: I’m not seeing it as much. I’m not seeing the thing back in the early 2000s when they would refer to them as “Hair Nazis.” Like, you’d be criticized if you blow dried or if you flat ironed your hair. You’d be criticized if you didn’t do a big chop. I am not seeing as much of that as I once saw. I’m not saying it’s not there. I’m saying I’m not seeing it because it’s your hair and you can do what you want to do with it. My goal as for my company, because I make curly hair products, is I truly want people to love their hair. There’s been such a stigma around natural hair. “Oh, I’m going to a job interview, I have to straighten my hair.” No you don’t. You can be professional with natural hair. Maybe you don’t want to go up there looking like The Weeknd if you’re going to interview for a super corporate job, but you can have natural hair and be professional. That’s where I stand as a company. Just being proud of your hair.

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