Our first decade of the new millennium has undoubtedly revealed a resurgence of natural hair. Chemical-free coils exploded into twenty-first century pop culture. We saw variations of the “new afro” in the pages of our most prestigious fashion pages. Mainstream beauty advertisers jumped aboard this express bandwagon re-creating products with a “natural” tag line. The packaging stood out in deep brown and golden hues in the CVS “ethnic aisle.” Donnie’s “happy to be nappy, I’m black and I’m proud” on heavy rotation in the emergence of the neighborhood Natural Hair Care Salon accompanied by loads of online communities devoted to the coiled way.
Although fros and locs has proven its resilience in our cultural memory and the continued commodification of Black hair aesthetics appear everywhere from the Louis Vuitton Spring 2010 runway shows to the “we can do Black too” pages of the Italian Vogue, there is still a need to affirm the beauty of natural hair. There is still a need for comedic documentaries like Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” to blow open the closet on Black cultural intricacies. When Philly-based designer, Andrea Pippins decided to turn her Temple University MFA thesis into the brand, I Love My Hair she instinctively became apart of the field of natural hair soldiers.
At a reasonable price, Andrea affirms in screen-printed turquoise blue on chocolate Murano paper, “You can call my hair kinky coily curly whatever it’s mine, its me and I love it.”
In a market of anti-coil messages, Andrea’s I Love My Hair is a celebratory and honest extension of Black self-love arts that can be perfect for holiday gifting or for the walls of our own pads. Calling upon the liberating feeling of going and gone natural, Clutch caught up with Andrea to discuss I Love My Hair and why this statement is still necessary to affirm.
Clutch: Why did you decide to go natural?
Andrea: I went natural because I was tired of getting a relaxer. One day I just asked myself, why am I doing this? Although my permed hair was visibly healthy who knows what those chemicals were doing to me internally. The process was unappealing, uncomfortable and felt completely unnecessary. Besides, I wanted to try something different. Back then there weren’t any natural hair blogs or magazines for me to get ideas, or ask questions so I had to look completely within myself to make the decision and once I did I felt so free. That was eight years ago.
Clutch: How did this transition propel you to create I Love My Hair?
Andrea: The transition of going natural is so beautiful to me. The internal debate of whether or not to do it, then the journey once one finally decides to do it, and the sisterhood and friendships that evolve between women who have gone through the same process. When I was developing I Love My Hair for my thesis project all these things came to mind. I wanted to take those elements and interpret them into a very simple image that encouraged Black women to embrace their natural coils. Although the overall going-natural journey is unique to each individual, most women have identical experiences within the process. So when creating the campaign I felt it was important to suggest those parallels. When women, mainly naturals, see the images they can always relate in some way. Those personal connections inspired me to create the brand.
Clutch: Your work clearly falls along the trajectory of the Black is beautiful/Black arts movement. Marcus Garvey affirmed the beauty of Blackness in the early twentieth century. Nearly a century later, why do you think we still have to affirm the beauty of natural hair?
Andrea: We still have to affirm our hair because we still have so many issues with these coils. A lot of us still hate our hair, are ashamed of it and think that it’s inferior. Just the other day someone close to me said that they hated their hair. Not like “I hate brussel sprouts” but like “why did God give us hair like this?” kind of hate. It is just hair, but the relationships we have with our hair is just the tip of some deeply rooted issues. If it is just hair then why are we the ones spending billions of dollars on products and tons of hours in the salon to change the way it naturally is?
Let’s face it the media has an extreme impact on how we see ourselves and how we define our own beauty. It also plays a big role in how we see or don’t see our hair. Clearly, naturally coily hair is not a part of the standard of beauty the media imposes. As a matter-of-fact, there are many anti-coil messages all over the media. Although it’s a problem, forget the media! Until we own and love ourselves (and our hair) we will never see changes in magazines, in hair salons, and beauty/hair supply stores. Once you love yourself (and hair for this matter) you will demand high-quality hair products and services. Hair salons will have to figure out ways to attract your business instead of turning up their noses when you walk in with a head full of thick coils. Lord knows that has happened to me a number of times. The media will then take notice and cater to the growing number of naturally coily ladies.
Clutch: Some of your works are hybrids of text and images. You declare in your “Self Love” piece, “I went natural for me and my daughter. I wanted to be an example of self-love.” What is the process like for creating these affirmations?
Andrea: At first, when writing the messages I was thinking about my own natural hair experiences. But I also wanted to speak from different points of view (i.e. a mother to her daughter). I spoke to natural friends and read a lot of hair blogs to see what was being said about the going natural experience. Then I developed my own brief versions of those stories.
The messages are affirmations, ones I would think a woman might say to herself when she thinks about her natural hair and why she loves it. But they could also be viewed as answers to someone asking why they went natural. In the end the viewer is looking at a confident women expressing her story through her hair, both visually and metaphorically.
Clutch: Who are you speaking to?
Andrea: Mainly I’m speaking to women who are natural because they can be vehicles of positive re-enforcement. These images remind us that we are beautiful and when we feel beautiful, our self-confidence inspires others. I’m also speaking to those who have and who have not thought about going natural. Instead of being anti-perm, I wanted these stories to be pro-coil. I have to say I really believe that you should do whatever you want with your hair, so I would never impose my natural beliefs on anyone. The I Love My Hair messages are here to say to Black women that coily hair is not ugly, not inferior, but should be embraced and loved.
Clutch: Tell us who some of your influences are?
Andrea: Marian Bantjes. She is a phenomenal hand-lettering artist and I always look to her work for inspiration. Luba Lukova is another designer I LOVE! She’s known for her poster illustrations that simplify heavy global issues into graphic shapes in very limited palettes. And I also love graphic designer Roberto De Vicq who is just brilliant! I love how he uses type to tell a visual story.
That’s what I love about art and design, taking a boring, difficult, or heavy topic and communicating it in a way that is digestible and beautiful.
Clutch: What’s next for I Love My Hair?
Andrea: More artwork. A very small run of t-shirts, stationery, and some other things I’d like to keep a secret. I hope to reveal when the time is right.
[Photo Credit: Photo by Emily Wren]