Tangled Up: The Politics of Natural Hair


Time for some R and R with London fashionistas Rohmarra Kerr and Rose Othell. The dynamic duo are a team of self taught artists/stylists whose sensational debut will be at this year's London Fashion Week. We caught up with them before the big run for ice cream, and talked about the politics of natural hair.

Rohmarra, you’ve been working really hard on your hair styling business. Where does the inspiration for your hairstyles come from?

Rohmarra: Mainly traditional African and Caribbean styling. I come from a very traditional Caribbean family where there is an emphasis on having your hair natural – no relaxers, perms, or anything like that. I grew up in London and the mix of all the different styles and fashion is definitely a big influence too.

What tools do you use? What can’t you live without?

Rohmarra: Wow, that's tricky! I'd say it's definitely my rat-tail comb! It’s always chilling in my hair. Oh, and my titanium ionic blow-dryer for super sleek straightening. Bobby pins for on the go and my slicking brush for high ponytails.

Rose, what do you try to capture in your shots?

Rose: I know it sounds contradictory as photography is a still medium but I try to capture people’s movement. It’s quite difficult, but when you get it right, it looks amazing on film. I went to India in July and that had a really big influence on my artistry – I try to capture the culture and everyday lives of people I photograph while making them unique and individual.

Girls, what are your Holy Grail (HG) products and why?

Rohmarra: For sure, it’s the Keracare Edge Tamer. I use it on all different racial hair textures to create sleek, modern styles.

Rose: Coconut oil and shea butter. 100% natural and keeps my hair moisturised. My hair texture tends to get quite dry and these keep it nice and healthy.

Your work heavily features women of colour. Do you think that representation is at the core of your work?

Rohmarra: I definitely agree with that. I’ve tried to create something where black hairstyles are just seen as normal – making them more available is key to that. Some clients I get with coarser hair apologise for their hair texture, which is really sad! Nobody’s hair is “bad” or “difficult” to manage. Misinformation on Afro hair has led to many black women mistreating their hair, mainly because they haven’t been taught how to properly look after it. Every hair texture is beautiful when its healthy! I would encourage all women (and men!) with curly hair to identify their curl type – just do an online search for some images – then you can see what works for you!

Do you think that more black women are embracing their natural hair textures?

Rohmarra: For sure. Scientific and salon knowledge of Afro-Caribbean hair is expanding and becoming more common, so more black women feel comfortable getting their hair done in salons that aren’t run by their friends or family. Lots of salons are even given awards for their services to Afro-Caribbean hair!

Rose: Social media is also a huge part of raising awareness on different hair textures. Instagram and Tumblr are places where people can search for unique styles and talk about what works for them. It’s where I started!

Speaking of Instagram, there has been a lot of discussion in the media on whether people who aren’t of African descent can wear traditional hairstyles – like dreadlocks - and then the subsequent appropriation of them. Take “Kim Kardashian” braids, which have been dubbed so in exchange for their actual name of “cornrows”. Do you think that hair should be styled freely or that some styles should be worn with a deeper cultural understanding of their cultural significance?

Rohmarra: Most definitely. People still need to know what the styles mean to black people, and should be prepared to explain why they have such hairstyles. Like you said, the Kardashians literally threw the term “cornrows” in the bin and renamed them after themselves! It’s a shame - they have this huge platform and could have used it to promote black hairstyles, but they literally just performed textbook cultural appropriation.

I get it – theses styles are on trend right now. People are going to style their hair regardless, but they should at least be calling the styles the right names! I have no problem with freedom of expression and style, but you really should know where the style comes from and what it means, rather than just adopting it as your own, “unique” look. Hopefully this revival of black hair styles will mean that people will visit their local African hairdressers and support their local black economy! You know, hating on “Sarah” because she got some nice box braids in is a bit harsh. If she knows the history behind the style and where it comes from, then she can most definitely get excited about it and rock some box braids if she wants to. Sometimes I think the problem isn’t the people getting the styles - it’s just the misinformation in the media.

 

Follow the ladies on their Instagram for more sassy styling! @rohmempire @svdanxse_