Published on Wednesday September 12th, 2018 by Afrocks
Interview Of Blogger, Writer And Hair Coach Tola Okogwu Who Is Crowdfunding To create Documentary About Hair Products For Black Women
Pretty sure you guys have seen Tola’s BBC interview being shared on social media. She was discussing the harmful effects that hair products cause in black woman health and the importance of being more ingredient conscious. In a study, published in April 2018 by researchers from the Silent Spring Institute and Battelle Memorial Institute in the USA it was found that 80% of black hair products contain endocrine disrupting and asthma causing chemicals.
Tola is now launching a crowdfunding campaign to finance a documentary called ‘My Haircare Nightmare’. The documentary will creatively explain the science behind the research and delve deeper into the societal and cultural pressures that lead black women to use these products. They will speak to real women and hear their hair stories. The documentary will also provide expert advice and practical approaches to help Black women reduce their level of exposure to EDCs and asthma causing chemicals. We met with Tola for a quick, yet insightful chat.
Hi Tola, how are you doing today?
I’m very well thank you.
You recently got featured in BBC interview about the potential dangers of hair care products marketed at Black women. Is it when you decided to do a documentary?
Yes, the BBC interview was definitely the catalyst for this film project. I’ve been aware since 2012 that certain products like relaxers were potentially linked to fibroid but the new study by the Silent Spring institute published in 2018 showed the issue was much wider than I’d realised. The response I received after I did the interview made me realise that there were many other women just as concerned but unsure what to do about it.
In the documentary you say you want to meet with black women to hear their hair story. What is your hair story?
Well my hair was relaxed when I was 10 years old and I spent the next 16 years struggling to care for it and unable to retain any sort of length. I was stuck in a cycle of breakage caused by lack of knowledge. In 2009 I discovered shea butter and American hair blogs, which featured black women with long healthy hair. I decided then that I too wanted the same results and thus began my healthy hair journey. I started my own blog called My Long Hair Journey and over the last 9 years I’ve been studying Afro hair and applying the knowledge to my hair with great results.
“The natural hair movement of the last 8-10 years has given women the impetus to not only embrace their natural hair and set aside a product that was causing a lot of damage but it’s also empowered them to demand more from the products they use.”
You could have written a book about the subject. Why did you choose to do a documentary?
That’s an interesting question, as a writer a book would have been a more obvious route. However I think we now live in such a visual world that a film seemed a better choice. I wanted to build on the momentum created by the BBC interview itself and other documentaries that have gone before such as ‘Good Hair’ and ‘My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage’. Also the feedback we received from a survey we sent out confirmed that our target audience would respond well to a film..
Why do you think some women continue to use certain harmful products?
It’s a question I ask and am asked frequently. Firstly, I think lack of knowledge plays a big part. Hair care is something that’s passed down from mother to daughter and so too any bad habits, choices or knowledge. Secondly, up until now I don’t think that black women have felt they had any real choice. The natural hair movement of the last 8-10 years has given women the impetus to not only embrace their natural hair and set aside a product that was causing a lot of damage but it’s also empowered them to demand more from the products they use. It’s launched a whole slew of new (and many cases black owned) brands whose ethos is creating effective products using healthier ingredients.
What products do you like to use?
I love conditioners and they form the backbone of my regimen. I currently love Eight by Jim & Henry, Camille Rose Naturals Coconut Leave-in Treatment, Vatika Frosting by Hairveda and Papaya Slip Taming Potion by Trepadora.
You mentioned many harmful ingredients are not stated on labels, is this legal?
Not it’s not but it’s a difficult thing to prove. Cosmetic products are certified safe in the EU based on a formula supplied by the manufacturer. So to a certain extent a lot is taken on trust. It’s cost prohibitive and logistically difficult to individually test each product to check what’s in side it, which is why manufacturers can sneak things in. As a minority group, there’s no-one advocating on our behalf or demanding accountability, which is one of the things we hope this project will help change. Especially in light of the fact that once we leave the EU, it’s uncertain how cosmetic product regulation will work in the UK.
“The [UK publishing industry] industry is well aware that it has a diversity problem but hasn’t yet figured out how to solve it.”
Where can we go find products we can trust?
Unfortunately there’s no one ‘place’ that has this information and we hope to change that with the creation of a website that seeks to provide clarity on ingredients commonly found in hair care products and also spotlight healthier brands. Until then, Antidote Street and My Luxe Beauty are online vendors, which feature a wide range of curated and reputable brands. It’s still important to do your own due diligence.
How did you get into publishing and what inspired you to write ‘Daddy do my hair’?
I came across a powerful illustration online of a black father doing his daughter’s hair. Its impact was heightened because it reminded me of the relationship between my husband and my eldest daughter and how passionate he is about playing an active role in her life. Because of my working hours, he had to take her to nursery 3 days a week and so he stepped up and learned to do her hair so that I wouldn’t have to put it into damaging long-term styles. The moment I saw that illustration, the title ‘Daddy Do My Hair’ popped into my brain. I loved the idea of a book that celebrates a father taking an active part in making his daughter feel loved and beautiful.
I decided to self publish my books when I couldn’t find a publisher willing to do so. I did try the traditional route first but I always knew when writing the books that I might have to self-publish them. Luckily for me, I have the most supportive parents in the world. My mum, who has also gone through the self-publishing route in the past, encouraged me to pursue that path and together we decided to form a publishing company.
“[As a hair coach] My job is to de-mystify the process for my clients and build them an effective hair care plan, which suits their needs and lifestyle so that they can achieve results.”
How would you describe the UK publishing industry now?
A tough nut to crack, if you are a new writer from a BAME background. Publishers seem to only be interested in stories from celebrities or established writers and most of them look a certain way. The industry is well aware that it has a diversity problem but hasn’t yet figured out how to solve it. There are however, some great initiatives like the Write Now programme from Penguin Random House, which aims to mentor and publish new writers from under-represented communities in the UK.
Then of course there self-publishing which is a lot of work but also provides new and unique opportunities for writers seeking to get their work published. I happen to think it will play a big part in the future of the industry.
You are also a ‘hair coach’. What does it mean, and what does it involve?
It’s something that I’ve being doing in some way shape or form for over 8 years and recently began offering as a formal service. Ever since I started my hair care blog and also started taking better care of my own hair, I’ve had women from all walks of life asking for advice on how they can achieve the same results. I quickly realised that the main issue is a lack of knowledge about Afro textured hair and an over supply of often conflicting information. My job is to de-mystify the process for my clients and build them an effective hair care plan, which suits their needs and lifestyle so that they can achieve results. I have several coaching packages from one-off consultations to an on-going mentoring service.
We are seeing a positive trend in the afro hair industry with brand new businesses and ventures disrupting the market – for the better. These businesses also often struggle with funding and capital. What is your take and this, and what can we do about it?
I think it’s great and very much needed. As a business owner myself funding is always and issue as is marketing and creating awareness of your brand and products. I think crowdfunding is an avenue that’s worth exploring. It offers an opportunity to not only create awareness but to connect directly with your target audience or customer and get their buy-in. Afrocenchix recently ran a campaign to increase their product range and whilst they didn’t meet their target they did raise some capital but more importantly were able to generate buzz and increase awareness of the brand.
If you want to help and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign just click here!
Want to read more amazing interview from black women in the afro hair space? Check out our interview with Klerissa McDonald, founder of natural hair products Curly By Nature