She takes to Instagram to talk texture discrimination in the industry.
Being a black woman who works in fashion and beauty means there’s no way you haven’t encountered a hairstylist at a runway show or press event or photo shoot who doesn’t know what to do with your hair. I certainly have. The face the stylist (usually white) makes when I approach their chair is unmistakable: It’s a mix of worry and disgust as they size up my Afro and silently curse the moment they got paired with such a “difficult” client. Comments follow. They make a condescending remark that they don’t have much time to style me (because it’s so difficult and would take all day, you know) or they assure me that they have experience working with “my kind of hair” so I shouldn’t worry, referencing that one time they worked with [enter black celebrity name here]. Worse, they dismiss me or act like they don’t see me at all. The latter happened to model Olivia Anakwe, who took to Instagram to voice her troubles backstage at Paris fashion week.
“I was asked to get out of an empty chair followed by having hairstylists blatantly turning their backs to me when I would walk up to them, to get my hair done,” she wrote, captioning two videos of black stylists tending to her hair backstage.
She shared one harrowing experience where her edges were pulled too tight which causes breakage leaving her no choice but to ask around backstage until she found someone who could do cornrows properly. “I arrived backstage where they planned to do cornrows, but not one person on the team knew how to do them without admitting so,” she recalled. “After one lady attempted and pulled my edges relentlessly, I stood up to find a model who could possibly do it. After asking two models and then the lead/only nail stylist, she was then taken away from her job to do my hair. This is not okay. This will never be okay. This needs to change.”
Fashion brands are getting praise for being inclusive and casting black models, but they are still not hiring creatives who are skilled enough to style textured hair. “No matter how small your team is, make sure you have one person that is competent at doing afro texture hair care OR just hire a black hairstylist,” Anakwe wrote.
She also made a valid point that white stylists should know how to work with different hair types, like most black stylists do. “Black hairstylists are required to know how to do everyone’s hair, why does the same not apply to others? It does not matter if you don’t specialize in afro hair, as a continuous learner in your field, you should be open to what you have yet to accomplish; take a class.”
“I was ignored, I was forgotten, and I felt that,” she continued. “Unfortunately I’m not alone, black models with afro texture hair continuously face these similar unfair and disheartening circumstances. It’s 2019, it’s time to do better.”
Olivia is most certainly not alone. In 2016, I interviewed supermodel Naomi Campbell about similar experiences she’d had at fashion weeks across the globe when she was just beginning her decades-long career. “When I was younger, I encountered this same issue. I would be backstage at shows and there would be stylists who didn’t have any experience working with black models,” she said. Years later, not much has changed.
As Olivia explained, brands can and should begin hiring black stylists who know how to care for black hair. But the other question is: Why aren’t stylists of different races being taught to do all types of hair? And can you truly call yourself an expert in your field if you can only work with one type of hair?
For Bustle’s “Good Hair” series, writer Faith Cummings reached out to hairstylists to address the disparity in cosmetology schools. She spoke with Topher Gross, a stylist at New York City’s Seagull Salon, who said “it’s likely a result of many beauty schools centering their training on fine, straight hair, inherently excluding natural hair and kinkier textures.” He told her, “You [have to] go back to school or [pay to] get extra training for textured, natural, and ethnic hair. That’s a huge problem. Every stylist should know and be trained to cut, style, and/or color all textures [from the start].”
It’s an issue that continues to make headlines every fashion week season. But on a structural level from cosmetology schools to backstage at runway shows change isn’t happening fast enough. Until hair of all textures is properly cared for backstage, models should continue to use their platforms to call attention to the discrimination. And as an editor attending beauty press events, I will continue to feel empowered to get out of any stylist’s chair who doesn’t know what to do with my hair and doesn’t care enough to learn.