Simone Tetteh & Maude Okrah are the founders of Black Beauty Roster (BBR) a diversity and inclusion platform that connects the media, fashion and beauty industry with diverse beauty talent for on and off set needs. "As businesswomen, beauty enthusiasts, and Black women, we saw an opportunity to close the beauty diversity gap in the industry by providing more opportunities for beauty professionals with diverse skill-sets and helping the media, fashion, and beauty industries truly understand how to become better allies and advocates for diverse talent and their beauty needs."
We created BBR because we saw and heard the cries from talent of color in the industry about the struggles to find not just great but even adequate hair and makeup professionals who knew how to take care of and style their hair and work with their skin tones.
What were your individual relationships to your hair growing up?
Simone: Growing up, my hair served as a means of self-discovery. I saw my hair as an accessory that helped me try on different types of personas, and try to live out the ones that most fit. As a younger child I only wanted to look like the girls on the Just4Me relaxer boxes, all smoothed edges and bumped ends and as I grew into my adolescence I wanted to look like the girls I saw in music videos, with long straight weaves and highlights.
When I look back on what my "hair goals" were growing up, I can't help but realize I was always trying to be and look like someone else. I was constantly rejecting the texture of hair that grew out of my own head in favor of what was deemed most palatable and trendy by others. It wasn't until fairly recently that I was able to not just come to terms with my natural hair texture, but also show it off and honor it in ways that truly suit me and my own preferences as opposed to the dominant trends of the day.
Did you have any stylists or hair inspirations that influenced you?
Simone: I was always flipping through Hype Hair magazine back in the day and absorbing all the daring and cool styles rocked by my favorites like Kelis and Rihanna. I also paid close attention to the credits in the magazine where I learned about the stylists behind these incredible looks like Ursula Stephens and Maisha Oliver. I learned early that it was these stylists, often women of color, who were the masterminds and true trendsetters behind so many of our favorite celebrity looks.
What inspired the creation of the BBR?
Simone: We created BBR because we saw and heard the cries from talent of color in the industry about the struggles to find not just great but even adequate hair and makeup professionals who knew how to take care of and style their hair and work with their skin tones. This is an issue that is pervasive for both men and women and across ethnic backgrounds on film sets, photo shoots, and red-carpet/press opportunities. Models have shared stories of crying in their trailer or bathrooms because they were so overwhelmed with having to take on the task of being talent + hairstylist/makeup artist or even actors convincing directors that their character should have braids for a role, so the actor could avoid the uncertainty of the hair and makeup trailer.
We know there are a lot of amazingly talented beauty professionals with diverse skill-sets who can work on every hair texture and skin tone but for many reasons they are not getting the opportunities to show off their skills and get the jobs they deserve.
We know there are a lot of amazingly talented beauty professionals with diverse skill-sets who can work on every hair texture and skin tone but for many reasons they are not getting the opportunities to show off their skills and get the jobs they deserve. We also know that the beauty, fashion and media industry wants to become more diverse and inclusive and needs to understand not only where to find diverse talent but also how to truly engage in the conversation of allyship and diversity. BBR serves as a platform to be able to both engage the beauty community and the industry and finally bridge the beauty diversity gap.
How does BBR’s mission help to create a more inclusive environment for Black professionals in media?
Simone: At BBR we are constantly advocating for the presence and influence of diversity on set and we know oftentimes that can begin in the hair and makeup trailer. We understand and have seen firsthand what a positive influence having hair and makeup that understands how to work with all hair textures and skin tones can be for Black talent.
Not having to worry about if they know how to work with curls or kinky coily hair or if the makeup on your face matches the skin on your neck while standing under a stage light, helps talent to truly focus on what they are there to do, whether it's delivering an award-winning stage or screen performance or showing off the season's most coveted designs. This ability to focus solely on their craft allows Black talent to shine and live up to their greatest potential.
How would you describe the current evolution of natural hairstyles in Hollywood?
Maude: I think the showcasing of more natural hair across TV and movie screens is truly an evolution. It has been great to see more Black actresses wearing their natural hair on screen and writers and directors are embracing the importance of it in creating storylines. Representation matters, especially with natural hair – normalizing it in Hollywood is a major step.
What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the CROWN Act?
Simone: The Crown Act is such a monumental moment in helping to destigmatize Black hair in the workforce and beyond. It's an incredible step in truly addressing the history of anti-Blackness in the professional world.
Editor's note: The CROWN Act is a law that prohibits race-based discrimination, including the denial of employment and educational opportunities. CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”
Have you seen any immediate impact from the CROWN Act being passed by legislature in 2021?
Simone: The passing of the Crown Act across a handful of states has led to previously unheard of and unspoken conversations and curiosity about hair discrimination. Everyone from hair stylists to corporate executives are now speaking about and examining how they've previously thought of and approached the topic of hair in the workplace as well as removing rules and mandates that were previously harmful and exclusionary to people of color. These are great early steps, however we believe more tangible and lasting change can come once the law is passed nationwide.
The CROWN Act is currently a law in California, but is still pending legislation in 18 states, how can Hollywood help inspire change?
Simone: Hollywood sets the tone and is the driver of so much of culture. Hollywood can continue inspiring the embrace of change and diversity by continuing to show that in the content it produces. The more we see diverse faces, hairstyles, and even clothing in the media, the more people become accustomed to difference and don't see it as a threat or something to be controlled or minimized. Creating more inclusive film and TV sets leads to more voices and appearances being heard, seen and uplifted.
What do you think is our biggest hurdle in overcoming hair discrimination in the workplace?
Simone: The biggest hurdle appears to be communication and education. In certain workplaces people are not educated not just on various ways of styling one's hair but also how to engage and speak to folks who are different from themselves. It's important for people to look inward and examine their biases, educate themselves and communicate with others before coming to conclusions on others' appearances and what that says about their lifestyles or ability to thrive in certain work environments.
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