What started off as a trickle has now become a tsunami. At first there were a handful of Black bohemians, people like Erykah Badu, who wore natural hair styles, but the trend is becoming more popular again. Natural hair styles, like Afros, braids and dreadlocks, are becoming so popular, relaxer sales are actually decreasing.
According to marketing research firm Mintel, sales of relaxers have seen a 26 percent decline since 2008.
“The natural hair trend is driving an increase in sales of products such as styling moisturizers, setting lotions, curl creams, pomades, etc., but the increase has caused the relaxer segment to decline in sales,” said Tonya Roberts, multicultural analyst at Mintel. “A look at expenditures from 2008-2013 shows steady growth in the Black hair care category for all categories except relaxers/perms.”
Apparently, many Black women are jumping on the natural hair band wagon. Sisters are opting to “go natural” for a variety of reasons. Some do it for health reasons, others do it because they find natural hair cheaper and easier to manage.
Temecula Valley resident Callie Hoggard, who works on the investigative side of federal law enforcement, said she opted to go natural when she moved to California from Detroit, Mich., in 2005. When she was back in Detroit, she had a perm. But when she moved to California, she found herself spending about $50 every two weeks which was a tough on a college student’s budget.
“$100 a month was way too much,” Hoggard said. “So, I went on YouTube and learned to do it myself.”
Hoggard now wears a style called “sisterlocs,” which are a variation of dreadlocks. She finds the style much cheaper and easier to manage. She gets it done every five to six weeks, and it only costs $75. She also saves a lot of time, since she no longer has to spend up to five hours at the beauty salon. Getting her natural style done only takes about two hours.
Health concerns were also a consideration when she decided to go natural. Hoggard decided to take a closer look at what she put in and on her body.
“I stay away from chemical products I can’t pronounce,” Hoggard said. She now uses coconut oil on her hair, her daughter’s hair and has even convinced her husband to use it.
Hoggard also finds wearing her hair in a natural style freeing and is glad she no longer has to conform to Western beauty standards.
“It was liberating,” Hoggard said. “I want to wear my hair the way I want to.”
However, going natural is not without its controversies. According to Hoggard, in social media groups where Black women talk about hair, the conversation can often descend into battles between “Team Natural” and women who still want to get perms and use relaxers.
Health concerns were the main reason why Visalia resident Heather Smith decided to go natural. Smith, co-owner of a home repair service and founder of THASBlack, an African American empowerment organization, decided to stop using artificial hair products because she was concerned about the damage they were doing to her body.
“I fell victim to the harsh results of relaxers and it caused a great (deal) of my hair to fall out, literally coming out of my head in clumps as I rinsed it out,” Smith said. “My hair went from past my shoulders to maybe four inches long in minutes.”
Smith also grew tired of the agony of going through chemical burns just to have long hair.
“Chemical burns are nearly a rite of passage,” Smith said. “It’s common for people to have scabs on their scalp (after undergoing a relaxer). Some stylists use products after relaxers to try and avoid them, but they happen. And yes, there are forms of alopecia that result from use of relaxers.”
Smith opted to go natural about three years ago and hasn’t looked back. She now wears an Afro and has experimented with several different styles. Smith mainly uses natural hair products, purchased from Black businesses.
“I use different techniques, such as twist and braid outs or Bantu knots to change up the curl pattern every so often, but I love the more natural me,” Smith said.
However, wearing a natural hair style does have some drawbacks. Smith said people tend to look at you differently. They assume a natural hair style means you are militant.
“People look at you as if you’re a pariah at times,” Smith said. “And some companies actually frown upon our natural hairstyles, some outright forbidding things such as braids and locs. My line of work doesn’t interfere, luckily, but when people see this, they see militancy. And dating is harder. Even our men have been conditioned to be more attracted to the long, flowing hair. Some will even be verbal with their disdain for natural hair.”
Smith said choosing to wear your hair naturally shouldn’t be a controversial act. But it is, because it’s seen as not conforming to societal expectations. This may be why it is sometimes frowned upon in “corporate America.”
“The controversy stems from centuries of trying to be accepted, trying to blend in,” Smith said. “When things are different, the dominant society tends to frown upon it. It’s because we’ve been programmed that what’s natural and normal for us, is not acceptable in American society. And it’s hard to remove that programming. But it’s really catching on, thankfully.”
The natural trend seems to be growing in strength, something that doesn’t surprise either Smith or Hoggard.
“I think it’s growing because we are finally realizing just how beautiful and unique we are. Our kinks and curls are a marvel,” Smith said. “Our hair is incredibly versatile and we are just now waking up to that notion. The hair industry will lose money from relaxer sales, no doubt. But they will just evolve to further cater to the latest hair trends. But if we are smart, we will get in and take our place in marketing and maintaining our own hair, as we know what’s best for us.”
Hoggard said natural hair is not just confined to Afros, dreads and twists. Some women are also now asking for natural weaves.
However, it’s not just women who are opting to go with natural styles. Men are also choosing to wear more dreads and Afros.
Riverside resident Ardavia Westley, a Kinesiology student at Moreno Valley College, is growing his hair into small dreads. He has had several different hairstyles over the years, such as a mohawk and a flat top. He uses a “natural-locking” gel to style his hair. When he was first growing it out, he got his hair styled every two weeks and it cost $35.
Some African American entrepreneurs, such as Los Angeles resident Shelley Davis, are capitalizing, on the growing demand for natural hair products. She is the creator/owner of Kinky-Curly, a natural hair care line, that was named one of the “hottest makeup and hair products of 2008” by Essence magazine.
She said the natural hair movement is more than just a trend.
“It really is a lifestyle change, a shift in thinking. For so long we have been conditioned to think we need a perm,” said Davis, who has been wearing her hair naturally for 17 years. “Now, we have learned that we have options, options in a hairstyle choice and options in products to style our hair. We can walk down the aisle and not just see blue grease and relaxer kits.”
“It is a beautiful thing to walk into a major drug store and see an entire end dedicated to natural hair,” Davis said. “The future of the natural hair market lies in the product makers … build it and they will come. But build it well.”