On Friday February 23 Mireille Liong Founder of Going Natural Community, America’s Natural Hair Model and author of three books joined us for our first FaceBook Live of 2018. Mireille is our feature Rare Bird of the month and had much to share on this topic. Mireille was born and raised in Suriname, educated in Amsterdam and currently resides in NYC. It is currently Black History Month in the USA and the film Black Panther was recently released, globally. We thought it a great time, to have a chat to get to know this U.S. based Founder.
To begin with Mireille shared that her own natural hair journey began when she started going bald. She did not always know how to care for her natural hair. She routinely visited the salon for a relaxer, which would straighten her hair but with time, would leave it unhealthy and damaged. Because she never appreciated the process of being in the salon and having burned hair as a result of the relaxers she decided to seek out solutions. Henceforth began the questions: What is wrong with my hair? Why am I doing this?
Mireille discussed in detail how and why black women have such an intimate affair with their hair. She delved into the history of black hair in Sub-Saharan Africa whereby a woman’s status was known by her hairstyle as well as her ethnic affiliations. Hair she reiterated in every country holds importance, however she magnified that hair in Sub-Saharan African culture has always played the role of language and identity. She made sure to remind us that Afro-hair and its importance will not be going anyway anytime soon.
In terms of fake or synthetic hair, she believes it has a purpose, particularly for those who are ill or chronically unwell. What she thinks matters most is why an individual chooses to wear weaves. Is it a matter of having fun? Or is it because you believe your own natural hair is ugly? She stressed, that for those who choose to relax their hair, is it coming from a place of lack, as in you believe you must do it to be respected or feel pretty or are you simply having fun? If the former is an issue then she believes this is indicative of a bigger problem. Her wider position is that all hair, whether weaved or relaxed is beautiful on black women, what matters most is the underlying why!
“Black Panther is definitely a love letter to African culture,” she said, as there is an unequivocal message about black hair in the film. She explained that she understood that the intention was for there to be a complete natural hair environment on the set of the film.
Mireille believes that black women around the globe despite cultural, ethnic and language differences are connected by their hair. She used the example of black women always seeking each other out wherever they are in the world to find a decent salon to get their hair done. She sees hair as the great connector for black women. Natural hairstyles she expounds,
“Are not accepted in the corporate world and as a result women are processing their hair. However, the processing and over processing is leading to hair breakage, so why not wear it natural?”
Her foray into the black hair industry started through wholesaling and led to her eventual creation of her own line of products. For women looking to start a business in the black hair industry, she mentioned there are many avenues and that one should always do their research.
Additionally, Mireille asserted that black women are experts on black hair, however 90% of the industry is not controlled by black women. She would like to see more black women involved in the black hair industry as manufacturers, wholesalers and suppliers. She believes the knowledge that black women have on hair can be monetised.
Her book, Going Natural was written because she realised, there was a dearth in terms of detailing to black women how to go from processed to natural hair and understanding its evolution. Many black women she says grew up with the idea that their hair is less than. “Growing up in Surinam, good and bad hair was not a part of my experience. I did not get that until I was in my twenties.” With time she has grown to understand the politics. She believes discovering one’s hair is a process that can have a profound impact on their identity and purpose in life. She concluded that natural hair is not a fad and that women reclaiming their beauty in this way, is a very good thing!