Who Started The Modern Natural Hair Movement? Tribe Called Curl Founder Tells Us

Imani DawsonPhoto: Courtesy of Imani Dawson

 

At this point, natural hair has proved itself to not be a cultural phenomenon but a permanent part of the Afro-diaspora aesthetic. In addition to beauty brands confirming this truth with a plethora of products, women with natural hair have created groups of all types to uplift and inform one another.

One of those individuals is Imani Dawson, founder of NYC-based Tribe Called Curl. The journalist and author started the organization to educate, inform, entertain and inspire women of color to celebrate their unique beauty and live empowered lives. And in it’s three-year existence she’s been able to unite women with very different hair journeys.

We got a chance to chat with Dawson soon after her Kinks Come Out at Night event in Brooklyn to discuss her personal hair movement and how the culture has grown.

On when the modern natural hair movement began and what it was sparked by: “The 1990s, as a growing number of young women abandoned chemical straighteners and adopted a bohemian look rooted in cultural pride. While the guys were busy rocking hi-top fades and locs, women were also experimenting with textured styles. I stopped relaxing my hair in 1990, because of a desire for healthy hair that evolved into a sense of self-acceptance and pride about my curls and coils. A few years later, I went to college in Philadelphia which had its own underground scene of artists and musicians who rocked naturals. Buoyed by celebrities such as the women of Zhane, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, the natural hair movement blossomed in the mid nineties and has been growing ever since.”

On the most influential person(s) spreading the word about natural hair: “The Internet fueled the natural hair movement by providing women of color with inspiration and education around textured haircare. It isn’t just one prominent voice, it’s the collective chorus of influencers that have spearheaded this cultural shift. It started on message boards and blogs and eventually spread to YouTube. Online resources are a much larger version of the hair community we shared on campus [when I was in college].”

On what she used on her hair before all the current products were available: “I’ve always been a product junkie, even before the current eye-popping assortment of textured hair products existed. Back in the day, I used a bunch of Jheri Curl holdovers like Curl Activator. It was then I realized how much my hair loves glycerin. I tried using hair lotions and greases, but they didn’t adequately moisturize my situation. I experimented briefly with making my own products, until I discovered legacy brands like Carol’s Daughter, Jane Carter Solution and Karen’s Body Beautiful. Consumers just have to be smart and strategic about selecting them– nothing is a miracle in a jar. Products can enhance, not transform.”

On allowing her child to use chemicals: “After watching Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair,’ I don’t think I could ever allow a minor to chemically relax their hair with a sodium hydroxide based products. Scalps are permeable, and no one has studied the long term impact of relaxers. Ultimately, hair is a personal choice so when my child reaches adulthood he or she can make any choice they wish. But, as a mother, I’d hope that my child opted for a safer way to achieve a straight look.”

On which celebrities have been most influential to motivating women to go natural: “Growing up, I loved Cree Summer, Lisa Bonet and Dawnn Lewis. I basically wanted to go to Hillman [chuckles]. I think Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Amel Larrieux, Jill Scott and the ladies of Zhane were very influential to the first wave of naturalistas. Right now, women like Teyonah Parris, Solange, Chrisette Michele, Janelle Monae and Shingai Shoniwa are killing it.”

See more of these modern purveyors of the natural hair movement on the next pages.

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