For decades, African-Americans have changed their natural hair to be seen as acceptable and professional in the work environment. But recently, legislators across the U.S. have pushed to protect black hairstyles from being discriminated.
In early July, California became the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair. Back in June, lawmakers in New Jersey introduced a similar bill. In February, New York City outlawed discrimination based on hairstyles.
As laws change, attitudes toward natural hair are also changing, especially among Black women. They are no longer conforming to societal expectations. African-American women are abandoning straight styles that can dry out, damage and even destroy their locks and are allowing their beautiful natural curly, wavy or kinky hair to grow and thrive free. That was not the norm for many decades. Corey Watford knows that personally.
“I remember coming up when I was small not so many women were wearing their ‘fros and their kinks and TWA’s (Teenie Weenie Afro). Now it’s kind of like a revolution,” Watford explained.
She went from straight to curly as the natural hair movement gained momentum. At that time, hair care line Miss Jessie’s was growing in popularity among women with natural curls. Miss Jessie’s co-founders Miko and Titi Branch are credited with partly igniting the natural hair revolution.
”I think that Titi and I are pioneers, particularly in hair care, in the area of curls kinks and waves at the time there were no Ms. Jessie’s,” Miko recalled. “Really focusing and dedicating love and expertise, offering solutions in a jar to a market that didn’t exist when we decided to focus on curly hair. “
Miko and her late sister Titi would create concoctions at their grandmother’s kitchen table. They then took their brand, baring their grandmother’s name, from their gram’s kitchen table, to their home salon in New York and eventually to retail giant Target.
“With a handshake and an order sheet, we became multi-millionaires,” said Miko.
The hair care mogul believes other major companies missed the boat at the time when Black women were yearning for natural hair products.
“I think they totally missed it,” Miko explained. “The larger companies were really encouraging us to look unlike ourselves all the time.”
Even with all the company’s success, this hair care guru still styles hair from her Fort Lauderdale salon now that she calls South Florida home.
“There would be no Ms. Jessie’s without the salon,” Miko said.
She gets hands on for her research and development, applying new concoctions to clients like Watford’s hair. Watford says she got the courage to go natural after she discovered Ms. Jessie’s products.
“Jelly Soft Curls and Curly Pudding originally were the first two products I saw and it was at a time when there weren’t as many products for natural hair,” Watford said.
Watford says having access to quality natural hair products has not just liberated her hair from harsh chemicals, and detrimental effects of flat ironing and hot curling but empowered and connected her to her heritage.
“A major part of it has been self-acceptance, because drilled in your from the very beginning that your natural hair is something you need to change,” Watford said. “Learning to love it has been really, really important to me. “
As more women of color make that root connection, and reveal and relish their natural hair, Miko beams with the satisfaction of empowering others.
“When you see women walking around preferring to wear their hair in their natural texture, it lets me know that what Titi and I did wasn’t in vain.“