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Cataanda James is a passionate, skilled, and talented stylist who has been in the game over 20 years and worked with celebrities like America Ferrera, Terrance Howard, Kobe Bryant, Laila Ali and Jane Birkin. As the current brand educator for The Mane Choice, she lends her expertise to help teach and educate the critical touch points that come with product development and how each collection improves the customer experience. She has worked for major beauty brands like L’Oreal and MAC cosmetics and has used her experiences to help teach others about the fundamentals of natural hair care whether it’s a classic wash and go or protective style.

We’re very honored to speak with her about her career as a celebrity stylist and her 2022 trends forecast for what will be emerging with natural hair this year!

Tell our readers about your experience as a stylist

My mom went to cosmetology school when I was growing up, so I was exposed to the world of hair and beauty at a very young age and my mom encouraged me to explore the talent I had for playing with the mannequin hair. I would get to help my mom when she was doing clients' hair in the living room or kitchen when she was doing styles like jheri curls. As I got older I went to cosmetology school and ended up teaching our instructors how to perform braids and styles for curly and textured hair. 

I famously quit cosmetology school before attending college at Michigan University where I was studying accounting and began side hustling doing hair services on fellow students. College wasn’t for me and I found myself revisiting my love of beauty at Dudley Cosmetology University in Winston Salem, North Carolina where I learned how to not only do hair, but also how to manage my own business. I didn’t wake up one day and decided to be a hairstylist, it was always within me. 

What are your signature looks, specializations, or expertise?

My expertise is curly hair or “texture expert” but I don’t prefer the latter because straight hair can also be textured. I had to learn at an early age how to work with curly hair because my mom wouldn’t let me permanently or chemically straighten my hair. The challenge was to learn how to use a straightener sans heat protectant and keep it moisturized, nourished, and hydrated with the limited knowledge we had back then. I would advocate that my clients not get relaxers and provide alternatives to straightening their hair and now the majority of them are natural.

I’ve been fortunate to work for many brands like The Mane Choice which has expanded my education of curly/textured hair and what I’ve come to understand is that you’re never done learning because no two curls are the same. My hair changes all the time, my curl pattern has a mind of its own and I’m constantly adjusting my routine based on the weather, hormones, etc. We just have to embrace and love it.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self who is experimenting with beauty?

I would tell myself to focus on my own individual beauty. We get so into hopping onto beauty trends and being poppin for the moment, but I remember not being able to be trendy because of my hair texture. We're so inundated with social media filters and apps to adjust our looks, how can we ever truly embrace ourselves for all that we are? It’s so liberating to embrace your natural beauty.

You’ve worked with celebrities such as Terrance Howard and America Ferrera, what have been three lessons you’ve learned as a stylist to the stars?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a celebrity stylist is:

  1. Be able to listen to the client and deliver what they want.
  2. Have the foresight to dig deep into your expertise why a certain style, look, haircut, etc. isn’t the best idea and steer them in a direction that will make them shine. 
  3. You always want to show them in their best light and communication is a pivotal skill with those caliber of clients.

Can you share a favorite styled you created with a client and why

Photo Credit

I got to work with one of my favorite musical artists and do her makeup and hair for her album cover. This was at the height of COVID and I was wearing three masks and I was genuinely nervous for such an undertaking and there were so many layers to working with a client during the pandemic. It’s one of my proudest moments because I got support from my peers and colleagues who were also having to work with their clients during this time and receive insight into the safest way to do this. This job is one that fulfills me and it was an honor to be a part of that experience at such a pivotal point for people in the world.

What are the natural hair trends you see being big in 2022?

Braids never go out of style so whether it’s knotless or box braids, I foresee stylized braids coming back into the forefront of trends with retro looks from the 80s and 90s. Braids used to be a seasonal look for the summer or traveling and now we’re seeing them year long because of their versatility. They can be casual, glam, sporty, elegant, and there are so many accessories that can be used to create your own unique style whether it’s headbands, barrettes, scarves, etc.

Faux locs have been an ongoing trend but have evolved exponentially in the past few years with butterfly locs, passion locs, and blending different hair textures into the locs. Unlike box braids, faux locs get better with time and look more natural and lived in.

Last but not least is the classic wash and go which is also my personal favorite. It’s not just about hydration and moisturized hair but having a great shape. I personally have a fringe now and get it shaped up every two months. Wash and go’s for me end up being the most time consuming hair style that requires a pivot in routine and products, but having a great shape can transform your entire style. I always recommend pulling it up loosely into a pineapple, adding a satin scarf, and then securing it with a bonnet. Once you get up in the morning and take the bonnet and scarf off, you should be able to give your hair a quick shake at the scalp and go. If it’s taking you too long to get a voluminous wash and go then you need to get a haircut.

What does your role consist of as the hair expert and brand educator for The Mane Choice?

My role consists of a few different jobs all rolled into one. First off, I make sure our customers and consumers have product knowledge for each collection and ensure the brand copy describes the collection accurately so the customer has the desired results. I review each set of label directions for clarity and conciseness in accordance with how we tested the product and I also advise the social team on how to create education content, product development, and come up with the ingredient story that really illuminates a product. Whenever editors are looking for stories and commentary I ensure that they get the education they need from The Mane Choice and do retail education for companies like Target or Wal-Mart. 

Which products are currently in rotation for your hair care routine?

My favorite mask is the Manetabolism Rejuvenation Solution Extra Warming Treatment Mask which I used after shampooing my hair. It’s similar to a steam treatment without the cap because it leaves your hair nourished, smoothes the cuticle, and preps my hair for the styling of my wash and go. Next is the Heavenly Halo Herbal Hair Tonic & Soy Milk Deep Hydration Pre-Poo as pre-treatment to my shampoo to help detangle my hair. It can be worn with or without a cap and has a defined, frizz-free look, which preps my hair before I start washing. I don’t have a favorite shampoo and conditioner, but my go-to styling product is the Ancient Egyptian Anti-Breakage & Repair Antidote Cuticle Control Leave-In Lotion helps to fight the frizz and gives me a soft and touchable curl. 

We’re still in the chilly months, what are a few styling tips you can give to our readers for maintaining their curls in the cold?

The air is already drier because of the crispness of the cold so you always want to keep your hair hydrated and that starts from the inside out with water consumption. Your products should be hydrating and avoid co-washing your hair in the cooler months. When you do this too frequently you’re blocking the moisture because it’s coating the cuticle and that can cause build up. Always shampoo your hair at least twice a month because hydration starts with your wash day and shampoo cleanses the scalp from the build up.

You have worked for brands such as MAC and L’Oreal, how has beauty evolved for big corporate brands?

It’s pretty sad to say that it’s taken so long for these bigger brands to acknowledge Black Lives Matter and Black hair matters which limited our access to premium products. They have come to realize the majority of people have curly or textured hair and that similar to Wal-Mart and Target, they needed to expand their collections to reflect the consumer. Brands like Garnier and L’Oreal Paris have expanded their makeup and hair care products to be more inclusive and diverse. I’ve been in the beauty industry for many years and the past 10 years of evolution has been beautiful to witness and be a part of.