The same weekend the epic Black Panther movie was released, guess where lucky me was scheduled to go? AFRICA!!! Johannesburg, South Africa to be specific. I was on set with a team I assembled for a prestigious hair care company as the Creative Director for a global brand image campaign. So, you know I was ready to give hella “Wakanda” vibes with extra motherland sauce!
As an African-American woman and a creative hairstylist, I was beyond excited to come to South Africa and connect to the culture on so many levels! Primarily because I see Africa as the birthplace of beauty, and often times it’s omitted in the beauty conversation. So this campaign uniquely incorporated Africa and it’s beautiful imagery. The campaign shoot was so special and dope because it wasn’t just about black beauty, but African beauty, which brought about a genuine and unfiltered approach.
South Africa: The Surreal vs The Real
If you think you’ve heard the sweet sounds of birds chirping in the morning, wait until you wake-up for the first time in South Africa. The birds sound like they’re from a symphonic safari projected through the highest quality Beats By Dre headphones! The food was also the absolute best, so seasoned and highly flavored!
But to my surprise, the effects of globalization has developed Johannesburg into a very urban-influenced and westernized metropolitan city beyond what I would’ve thought. I saw more polos worn than dashikis. It reminded me of a South Beach Miami vibe. So being from Florida myself, it felt like it could be a second home away from home.
Before the trip, I shopped around for fashionable tribal prints, and even contemplated getting braids to fully immerse in the African culture I was expecting to be engulfed in. But none of the women in Johannesburg that I saw were wearing braids. With the exception of one lady wearing gray braids at the airport, reminding me of the classic Angela Bassett in Black Panther, I would’ve appeared out of place if I were to have gotten braids exclusively to fit in for the trip.
Natural vs Texture
What was most common to see were naturals. Type 4 hair mostly, worn in low, well-kept styles that us naturalistas stateside call “teeny weeny afros.” This was so interesting to me because in the U.S. we celebrate texture, but not a whole lot of pure natural. In South Africa, I noticed that they didn’t get into the obsession with texture management and manipulation, or the uber-texture message of a natural style alone not being “enough” until the curls are way poppin’!
Thus, I found myself having to adjust my perception of “natural,” because there weren’t as many curl defining styles and twists. There was a beauty appreciation for simplicity, and not being overly-done. It wasn’t about altering the hair to get juicy curls and twist outs. The natural TWA alone seemed to be enough for the women, to be at work or in public, simply as they were. Extensions were also not as common to see. When I did see them worn, they weren’t nearly as advanced as what we’re accustomed to.
Who’s The Driver of Natural Hair Trends: Africans or Black Americans?
Definitely Black America. South Africa, as I can see based on my week-long trip to Johannesburg, is maybe 3-5 years behind our current natural hair texture movement. There’s definitely an aspiration I recognized amongst many women in South Africa for the #BlackGirlMagic hair and beauty images they identify African-America women with.
Only fifty percent of South Africans currently have internet access, but it’s growing. Social media is used as an aspirational outlet for them to see our styles and trends. I remember the look on an influencer’s face when I finished her natural texture extensions’ styling as she said: “OMG, I have an American weave now!” She had seen it previously and loved it but never had a stylist that could capture that look on her until I styled her.
I am so thankful for this opportunity I had to do what I love, on the continent where my ancestors are from and where mankind began. It was such a connection in resource sharing. By working on a great campaign with a great company, as well as a team native to South Africa, I now feel a sense of community to Africa at large, that I want to grow.
I was able to work with models from different African Regions – from West, North, Central, and East Africa – in creating a global image of natural African beauty. I was able to use my expertise to advance the style while appreciating the culture and its organic feel for beauty, which I embraced by not executing any style that could be considered over-processed.
My role was not only to showcase Africa but progress it. I was the African-American influential piece to an African project of beauty. That in and of itself is a new chapter, to a great book about our collective culture, that I can’t wait to style and write about again in the near future!
For more on my journey to Africa, check me out on ig @pekelariley!