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A renaissance in black hair and beauty is underway – and it has a new champion. We speak to the CEO of Curl Fête, the festival at the forefront of Guyana’s image evolution

Tamika Henry Fraser refers to herself as a ‘work in progress’. Refusing to be pigeonholed, the 32-year-old from Georgetown has an array of interests. Her 9-to-5 job is as deputy director at the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory. But she also created ‘For The Record’, Guyana’s first female empowerment radio talkshow. She’s a former Miss Universe Guyana. In 2019 she was named among Guyana’s ‘40 Under 40 Entrepreneurs’ and ‘25 Most Influential Women Leaders’. But she’s also CEO of Curl Fête, the one-day October festival – and year-round movement – that celebrates natural hair and beauty, “to create a supportive community for individuals who may struggle with self-confidence, as well as a platform for entrepreneurship, self-expression and overcoming negative stereotypes by encouraging women to boldly rock their natural hair textures…”

Why did you decide to start Curl Fête?
It began with an experience I had at the Miss Universe pageant in 2010 in Las Vegas. The contestants were judged on our beauty by a panel. I did not see myself represented on that panel, and it dawned on me that my beauty was being judged through lenses that were conditioned to find my beauty lesser than their own.

A series of personal challenges and realisations eventually led to me cutting my relaxed hair, and starting my own natural hair and self-awareness journey. The lack of support, access to natural hair-care services and products in Guyana highlighted the need for something like Curl Fête, coupled with the global natural hair movement that had already started. I teamed up with Denisha Victor (owner of Koko natural hair store), runway coach Keith Allicock and others to organise the first expo in 2016. Curl Fête was born out of the need to celebrate women with natural, curly-kinky hair, and others who are regarded as having non-mainstream beauty. Now it has grown to become
a platform for businesses to thrive.

How would you describe Curl Fête?
Curl Fête is a loud, colourful, unapologetic, Caribbean festival of black and brown girl magic! A full day of big hair, extravagant outfits, delicious food and drinks, crazy deals on hair, beauty and fashion products, on-the-spot salon/spa services, educational workshops, lit music, bare vibes and a grand hair show. It’s the biggest thing in hair and beauty in the Caribbean since the relaxer – only 100% better!

Who is it for?
Curl Fête is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, income or nationality. Our main goal is simply to emphasise how amazing it is to just be yourself and recognise the value of your own beauty. We include activities for women and for men – men are absolutely welcome! We have a ‘Men Den’, with beers and free haircuts; in 2018, we even had an all-male celebrity panel to get the male perspective on issues that affect women. There are also activities for children of all ages – we consider Curl Fête successful when we help a little girl to love what she sees in the mirror.

What’s planned for the 2019 event?
The theme for this year’s Curl Fête is Doll House. We want to explore the idea of perfection as it relates to our bodies and the pressures that we experience even as kids to attain the perfect image – whatever that is. Workshops will include new topics including plastic surgery, natural hair in the media and workplace, the history of black hairstyles such as locs, etc.

Our Big Chop will happen again: one woman with relaxed hair going back to her natural roots live on stage, in the process getting a complete make-over. This year we are hoping to do even more haircuts and donate those locks to create wigs for cancer survivors.

I’m especially excited about new features such as the Barber Battle and Game of Fros, plus the Curl Fête Novelty Awards for Sexiest Bald Head, Best Beards, Longest Locs, etc. The Curl Fête Hair Show after dark will be even more exciting this year, with bigger prizes and performances by local, regional and international artistes.

What sorts of products will be on offer?
Curl Fête is the hub for all things hair, beauty, skin, fitness, health, fashion and art. We have a diverse selection of vendors including massive brands such as Pantene, Bioré and Herbal Essences, as well as home-grown Guyanese products – beauty clays, coconut oil, body butters, activated charcoal, an assortment of handmade jewellery, fashion accessories, even lingerie. Of course, the most popular natural hair product lines such as Curls, Shea Moisture, Cantu, Mane Choice and Taliah Waajid will be there. If naturalistas love it, it will be on sale at Curl Fête!

Why is hair such a big issue for black women?
Hair represents something much bigger than itself. The versatility of black hair is confusing. The volume of black hair is threatening. The pride of black hair is empowering. Historically, black hair – and, by extension, black skin and black identity – have been used as means of discrimination and punishment. We are at least influenced, if not forced in some cases, to cover up the hair that we are born with, and even permanently change it using harmful chemicals. We’ve had to endure the idea that our hair was not good enough, and that we must suffer through whatever is necessary to make it better, and at the same time, tone down our blackness to make everyone else around us feel more comfortable.

Black girls grow in up in a world where Barbie dolls, most of which don’t look like us, are the gold standard. So we have to be more deliberate about celebrating our features – so choosing to wear out our natural hair became a symbol of rebellion and politically charged defiance. Redefining our features as not just ‘good’ but beautiful is a direct threat to the mainstream ideal of conformity and control. So to change the narrative on black hair to a more positive one is a very powerful message and movement.

This year, Miss USA, Miss America and Miss Teen USA are all black with curly hair. Following on the heels of the massive success of Black Panther, I’d say that’s change. Not that America is the world, but a large part of our media and culture in the Caribbean, and globally, is influenced by American culture. In our region specifically, we are seeing more news reporters with natural hair; dark-skinned artistes being more highly rated; more Afro-centric fashion; an upsurge of the Afrobeat genre on our radios; more mainstream artistes sampling Caribbean and African music and shooting music videos in our backyards, with black people just being themselves. This shift in recognition is bigger than hair but certainly includes it.

How have your feelings about your own hair changed over time?
Today I love my hair and can barely remember the feeling of wanting to change it. When I was younger, though, relaxing my hair was sort of a rite of passage – something you do when you want to grow into a beautiful young woman. I think many Caribbean girls can relate to this and how willing we were to sit through the burns of TCB or the pressing comb for a few weeks of silky straight hair.

The event is also about empowerment – how important is that?
I believe that beauty and confidence are inextricably linked. Choosing to let our tresses run wild is choosing to let who we are run wild. If we can achieve that with something as fundamental as how we look, we can extrapolate that to how we feel about ourselves overall. How we manage our business, how we function in our relationships, how we interact in our communities, how we allow ourselves to be treated – all this starts from how good we feel about ourselves. So it’s important to feel valued; it’s important to feel confident.

Do you think that 2019 is ripe for this event?
I think Curl Fête and the natural hair movement are decades late, but I appreciate so much that they are happening in my time so that I can contribute. Black women are definitely feeling more confident and emboldened about their natural hair – something I can see just from the increase in naturalistas in Guyana alone.

We are also seeing more black women self-promoting in the hair and beauty industry on platforms such as YouTube, becoming influencers with millions of followers. Big businesses are forced to respond by creating more products suited to natural hair and dark skin. On the beauty front, ethnic brands such as Fenty, Black Radiance, Sacha, Juvia’s Place and Black Opal are gaining prominence, and other mainstream brands are being forced to introduce darker foundation shades and use black, natural-hair models in their ads. The black community is boldly demanding recognition in the hair and beauty industries, first by making our own products and second by choosing to support companies that represent us.

Finally, what are your beauty tips for 2020?
Skin is always in! I truly believe in having a great canvas on which to build your beauty, and that starts with healthy, hydrated skin. Never skip the sunscreen, exfoliate regularly and invest in a good face mask, body butter and bronzer for that exotic West Indian glow. For natural hair specifically, I’m obsessed with the conditioning properties of Bentonite Clay – I use it religiously to add shine, reduce frizz, define my curls and help my hair to retain moisture. I know that neon is very 2019, but I’m secretly hoping that it carries over to 2020 so that I can keep rocking loud colours in my outfits and in my hair!

 

“When I did my Big Chop three years ago I was a nervous wreck – growing up, I was told I had a big head. For ten years I struggled with chemically relaxed hair – my scalp would always burn. Returning to my natural roots is one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself.”
Isanella PatoiR 2016 Big Chop participant

“I really enjoy seeing how comfortable the women attending are in their skin and how much they’re appreciative of their hair and the care they put into it.”
Renuka Tiwari Craft Creations & Smiles craft store

“The crowd is always bubbling over with positivity, love and enthusiasm. It allows Koko to connect with our customers and forge new friendships.”
Denisha Victor KOKO natural hair store

“Curl Fête helped push the natural hair movement in Guyana; before this, most people I knew were straightening their hair for lack of knowledge on how to manage it, and we did not have a lot of naturalistas. I am happy to have an outlet to sell my products, and it provides an amazing atmosphere for naturalistas to connect.”
Kimberly Sattaur Karma By Kim handmade jewellery & The Walk In Closet boutique

“I’ve been a cosmetologist for a number of years, and most of my customers were attracted to straightened hairstyles. I confess I saw only the good in Africans wearing straight hair; moreover it was almost futile trying to encourage customers to sport their natural hair, their cultural self. Then I visited Curl Fête and I found my true self: the pure and proud African being was awakened in me. The sight of so many African ladies and gentlemen sporting their natural hair with pride filled me with newfound hope that our natural curl is most fashionable. Curl Fête left an indelible impression on me. Since then I have used only my natural hair and I have managed to convince customers, with great success, to go natural.”
Dollette Renville Shadiyah’s Beauty Establishment

“Curl Fête is a representation of what I hold dear: the freedom to decide for yourself how you want to present yourself to yourself and then to the world. It has become a movement of self-expression in Guyana, allowing many Guyanese to feel comfortable in their own skin.”
Aisha Jean-Baptiste Haynes Makeda afro-centric fashion

“As a young entrepreneur, Curl Fête provided space for engagement with customers, to hear what they needed. The event was also beneficial for vendors to network, collaborate and share best practices; it provided a community of togetherness, teamwork and sisterhood.”
Alicia Henry Fancy Kitty lingerie store

“I’ve had a lot of great experiences in my life being a paraplegic, and Curl Fête is one. Because of Curl Fête I’ve been able to showcase my talents in designing, makeup artistry, hairstyling and moulding. I’m thankful for the experience and all it has graced me with – the freedom to step out of the box.”
Setra Oselmo Sister to Sisters Hair Salon

“Curl Fête was a godsend to Guyanese naturalistas! No more alienation because of the way we choose to wear our hair! A community has formed around the natural hair movement here; there’s a real sense of belonging.”
Carlyn Grahame Mirror Mirror Beauty Salon

“My experience was nothing other than the name Curl Fête suggests, with all textures and curls ‘fêting’ and celebrating our natural beauty – truly an environment created to embrace who we are.”
Simonia John Product Plug hair product store

“Curl Fête has undoubtedly added to the evolution of Guyana’s natural hair community, physically, psychologically and emotionally. Curl Fête has given birth to a redefinition of beauty standards, a growth of one’s pride and sincere love for his or her own roots, and those of others. What makes Curl Fête especially special is seeing all cultural barriers broken down, and beautiful people united regardless of skin colour, race, hair type or social status. In a big way, Curl Fête represents what I believe would be the ideal Guyana.”
Keishann Griffith For Every Natural satin products

“CIM was launched at Curl Fête 2016. It was my first attempt at introducing my crocheted handmade pieces to the public and it was very successful. The event brings together so many tastes of fashion, food, artists and others; it is where persons can complement their look with clothing and accessories that are locally made, promoting and supporting businesses in Guyana.”
Colita IsHmile-Mohamed CIM Exotic Designs

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