By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Photos by Handy Photo Media, Special to The Birmingham Times
Thousands of visitors from neighboring states were in Birmingham for the seventh annual Natural Hair and Health Expo, which was held earlier this month at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). Attendees came for several different reasons, but one stood out: the Magic City has an advanced natural hair movement.
“Birmingham is actually a step ahead of a lot of cities we visit [when it comes to embracing natural hair]—and we’re out of Atlanta, which is considered the mecca of black hair,” said Dwan White of Stone Mountain, Ga. “Here we’re seeing something younger, fresher, and more contemporary than we see in other states.”
White, creator of Aunt Jackie’s Coils and Curls natural hair care line, said vendors see a different demographic in the Magic City.
“So many kids and teens are already natural,” she said. “The biggest challenge a few years ago was getting parents to embrace their children’s natural textures, but we see [a lot of] that in Birmingham.”
The Hair Capital
Harold “HaroldOnHair” Rodgers of Farouche Salon in Homewood, said, “Birmingham has a great beauty industry. We are the hair capital, a hair mecca. If you’re not here in Birmingham getting your hair done, you’re really missing out.”
Rodgers, who specializes in natural hair, said Birmingham is perfect for companies that want to showcase their products for natural hair.
“It’s a great city to come to and display the products and variety you have. A lot of people feel like Birmingham is not an expertise city when it comes to hair, but they’re sleeping on us. They just don’t know what we have to offer,” he said.
With Birmingham leading the natural hair beauty trend, Shamarla Jones, brand manager for African Pride Dream Kids, said the annual Natural Hair and Health Expo allows her product to “catch girls while they’re young and teach them proper hair care and maintenance early.”
The event is great for parents, Jones said: “A lot of moms observe the demonstrations and ask questions. Some people are challenged when it comes to hair care and styling. Some people don’t know which products or techniques they should use. What we’ve found is that a lot of times when you don’t know what you’re doing, you end up causing a lot of damage.”
“[The Expo] is introducing proper hair care techniques to the next generation, teaching them about maintenance, and giving them tips so they don’t have to do damage repair when they get older,” Jones said.
By the Bundle
Along with Birmingham’s evolution in the hair care business is an expansion of the weave-hair industry, especially on nearby college campuses.
Erin Barnes, a Nadula hair vendor based in Huntsville and Fairfield, is a student at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University.
“I do most of my business at school in Huntsville,” she said. “I’m from Fairfield, and I get a lot of business because I’m the only person people can get [hair] bundles from without leaving campus. … I sell bundles, and I have great prices. I will package and mail your hair to you, or I can deliver it. I do it all.”
Barnes said natural hair care and bundles of virgin weave hair go hand in hand.
“Recently, I did the big chop, [which is cutting off all chemically treated hair so only natural hair remains],” she said. “I am eight months into my natural hair journey, and during those eight months I’ve worn only [hair] closures and bundles—[full-head weave, no leave out]—and my [natural] hair has blossomed completely.”
Barnes said she embraces her entrepreneurial spirit as a hair vendor while being a student.
“It’s better than a part-time job on somebody else’s time,” she said.
Genell Bowman, a Talladega resident drove to Birmingham on her day off for the Natural Hair and Health Expo to enhance her 12-year-old twin daughters’ natural hair journey. She learned some valuable lessons.
“I’m bad at trying to detangle from the root, but [an African Pride stylist] taught me that it’s best to detangle from the ends and work your way up to avoid breaking off so much hair,” Bowman said. “I’ve seen that there is a lot of hair in my hands afterward, so that makes sense.”
Tiffany Lawson said she found a seminar on hair braiding educational.
“We learned how to protect your edges when you’re taking out your braids and lots of other techniques,” she said. “I’m definitely learning.”
Lawson visited the African Pride Dream Kids booth because she has a 2-year-old daughter and wants her to wear her natural texture.
“I’m trying to be natural myself, so I came to learn more about natural hair care and products I can use in her hair,” she said.
The Importance of Makeup and Accessories
The Expo is about more than hair: makeup and accessories vendors offer products that can enhance a woman’s beauty and complement her overall appearance.
Tomeka Ford has been a sales representative with Atlanta-based makeup line Vonetta Cosmetics for the past five years. The company’s main goal since 1996 has been to develop makeup that looks natural on black women and uses only all-natural ingredients.
“[Company founder Vonetta “Ms. V” Williams] mainly wanted to make black women feel good and look natural in their makeup,” Ford said. “No caked-on powder, just soft minerals and a smooth finish.”
Tina Molette, a Birmingham-based independent consultant with Lasting Impressions Paparazzi Accessories, said fashion and beauty products should be affordable for all women. Her motto: “We want all women to look good, so we can feel good, so we can go out and do good.”
“With that thought in mind, all of our jewelry and accessories are $5,” she said.
Accessorizing resonates with Birmingham’s beauty industry because “for women, appearance, whether intentional or unintentional, plays a huge part in how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive us,” Molette said. “Something as simple as a beautiful necklace will generate attention and compliments, which helps to build self-esteem.”
Expanding Brand Awareness
For many who have chosen to embrace their natural hair, it can be a challenge to find products that work well for their textures and curl patterns.
Natural Hair and Health Expo attendee Cortne Sanders said she learned about a new product line that works specifically for her curl pattern: “I bought some curling gel and some moisturizing mist, so I’m excited about that. I want to see what my curls can do.”
Recent Alabama State University grads Mahogany Underwood, 24, and Jailyn Hale, 23—both of whom are on natural hair care journeys—attended the Expo to find new products to work with their curl patterns, as well.
“Even though I’ve been natural for about three years, this is my first time coming to something like this,” said Underwood. “I just wanted to see the different vendors and types of new specialty natural hair care products available now.”
Hale said, “I’ve been natural for two years, and I just wanted to learn a little bit more about my natural hair, experiment, get some free samples, and invest in my natural hair a little more.”