PHOTO BY KIMBERLY P. MITCHELL
Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press Espy Thomas, 31, of Detroit, who with her sister, Jennifer, 29, hosts periodic natural hair meet-ups that attract hundreds of women.
Pregnancy motivated Gwen Jimmere to stop using chemicals to straighten her thick, curly hair.
"I was pregnant and I knew anything I put on my body goes to the baby," says Jimmere, 29, of Canton, Mich.
She had tried wearing her hair without a chemical straightener a decade earlier. But the fervor for the afros of the '60s and '70s was long over, and there was little information or encouragement on how to pull off a natural style.
Most black women, like Jimmere, were perming, hot-pressing or flat-ironing their kinky, curly hair. Straight hair - better still, long straight hair - was the way to fit in, the way to be pretty and conform to the standard of American beauty.
Fast-forward to 2011 when Jimmere chose to set her own standard by rocking her hair in all its natural glory. This go-round, she found an abundance of support — meet-ups of women wearing natural hair styles, books on natural hair care, celebrities talking about their stylish, natural 'dos.
But perhaps the biggest signifier of the current natural hair movement is found online. A community of women created a virtual pulpit for natural hair that includes social forums, video instructions, tutorials, product websites and personal testimonies.
It's not that black women aren't straightening their hair — most still do. But a growing number of women of all ages are finding beauty, acceptance, liberation and business opportunities in wearing natural hairstyles like braids, locks, twists, knots, afros and various creations in-between.
"Women are sharing information on Twitter, YouT ube, LinkedIn, Facebook, everywhere. It's endless," says Espy Thomas, 31, of Detroit, who with her sister Jennifer, 29, hosts periodic natural hair meet-ups that attract hundreds of women.
"More and more black women are opting to wear their natural hair and discontinue use of relaxers," says a 2011 Mintel report showing that from 2006 to 2011, the sales of relaxer kits dropped 17 percent to $38 million. The trend is "expected to continue," the report states.
Mintel is a global market research company. A consumer study it conducted showed that the percentage of black women who said they wore their hair natural jumped from 26 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2011.
"The shift from relaxed to natural is becoming so common that it has spurred growth of a whole new sub-segment of products for women who are 'transitioning,' with products that minimize breakage as hair transitions from chemically straightened to curly or kinky," the report states.
It's also a booming business, says Sue Silva, marketing director for the Sofn'free, a hair care line. "Everybody in the business is starting to manufacturer a curly line," she says. And not just for African-American women.
"Our target is 70 percent African American and 30 percent other. A lot of other women - Jewish, Latina and red heads who tend to have coarse, wiry, coiled textured hair — are interested in these products. Caucasian women have curly hair, too."
She noted that Target, one of the nation's largest retailers, now has a section devoted to natural hair products in most of its stores. And several of those products are produced by companies owned by black women, including Miss Jessie's and Taliah Waajid.
READ MORE http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/jun/17/more-black-women-choose-to-go-natural/