Home is where my hair products are. It is where beauty supplies are sold on every block, where the market is over-saturated with African hair braiding shops, and where there was once an endless supply of Olive Oil wrap foam, Wrap-It styling strips, a hooded dryer, and some Hawaiian Silky Pre-Crème to protect my skin and scalp from relaxers.
The first time my best friend relaxed my hair in the bathroom of Sellery Hall, I knew I was not home. The lights were too dim, the sinks were too small, and there were too many White people asking me questions. So I did what most of us end up doing when we get here to Madison, I went natural. I didn’t know the first thing about being natural and I hadn’t seen my real hair since I was 12, but I did know that Blk hair was a political ritual. I knew that taking the time, energy, and resources to maintain our hair is often our first act of radical self-care and a rite of passage. Coming to Madison had disrupted a sacred part of me, and I felt that spending an entire day washing my hair was the only way I’d find home again.
Now almost 3 years to the day I did my big chop, I am still seeking refuge in my hair. I have managed to find community through these curls, particularly with my favorite product junkie, Brooklynite, and curlfriend, Amani Breanna Alexander. Homegirl has come through for every twist-out mishap, product review, and styling method and now she’s making her natural hair knowledge a community brand through, College Crownz.
Conceived in 2014, College Crownz, is a natural hair blog, platform, and community for college students, undergraduate through professional school. Alexander, a junior at UW-Madison, relaunched the site on December 2, 2015. Since then she has been highlighting popping naturalistas on campus, reviewing products (so that we all avoid spending millions of dollars on products that don’t work for us), and keeping us updated on the trials and triumphs of her own developing natural hair journey. Recently she sat down with me to talk about what we can expect from College Crownz and how she’s doing her part to help us all find home in our hair.
JG: So I see you do a lot of product reviews and tutorials about how to build a regimen, which stood out particularly to me. How do you choose what products to review and how do you get those products, because some of the products we see on the site aren’t mainstream items we’d find in stores?
ABA: It varies honestly. I have been very persistent in finding Black-owned businesses or small businesses and buying their products. There are some companies, usually newer companies, where I can reach out to them and tell them about my site and they get excited about the demographic, so they’re more than happy to send me products to review. There have been one or two companies that have reached out to me, but those are usually smaller companies or home-made products. As my platform gets larger and I review more products companies do take notice of that, so I’m hoping to get to that level.
JG: A lot of things on the site such as reviews and regimens I assume come from your own natural hair journey and experiences. With natural hair being so unique and there being so many different types, do you intend on allowing other people to do reviews to ensure woman with a wide-variety of natural hair types can find resources on the site?
ABA: On the blog I definitely have a segment that’s called “Hair Stories” where people go in and share their natural hair journey. I ask people if there’s anything that they would like to share for their specific hair type. Aside from that I have a lot of friends with different hair textures and I ask them to try things that usually don’t work for my hair. Especially if it’s something that I feel would benefit someone with a different texture of hair better. They usually just report back to me so I can still put it on the site and recommend it for someone else. That’s something I’ve wanted to do consistently.
JG: Have you done any bad reviews?
ABA: I have actually. It usually isn’t all of the company’s products though. I did a review where they sent me full sizes of all of their products and I didn’t like their co-wash, leave-in conditioner, or refresher spray, but I loved their shampoo and deep conditioner. I’ve also received products that I couldn’t even use because I hated the smell of it, but I’ve been lucky enough to like at least one thing they send me, so I can at least review that. Usually if I try something I don’t like I try to get someone else to try it to see if they like it and usually they do. So I can still say it’s not horrible because people are really impacted by bad reviews; I can just say it didn’t work for me. I do try to say if something doesn’t work for me, it may work better with someone with lighter textured or colored hair or something like that.
JG: I did read your hair story and your regimen. How do you do that? How do you balance being a college student, and having the time? Also do you wash your hair in the shower? That last part might be more for personal knowledge.
ABA: Yes I wash my hair mostly in the shower; I don’t wash my hair in the shower all the time. Right now I’m trying to navigate how to do that because of how my apartment is set up. When the light is on the fan is on so you can’t really hear if I’m recording and talking, so if I’m reviewing something and I want to show myself actually using it, I won’t wash my hair in the shower. I’ll usually just wet it and put a towel down. Most of the time I do wash my hair in the shower
As far as balance, last semester was a lot different from last year. In the beginning of the semester I had a protective style on my hair, I had my hair up in braids, because I knew I couldn’t do my hair. I was getting back comfortable with being in school so I put my hair up because I wasn’t going to be able to take care of it. Last year I tried to get into a very specified regimen, like on Fridays I do this, but after taking my protective style down, I now just kind of do it when I have a chance. Sometimes that’s in the middle of the night, like if I wake up randomly at 4am and I have energy and don’t feel like doing homework. It takes me 1-2 hours to do the whole process of washing my hair and then I style it in a low-Maintenon way. Like I don’t do small twists; I do large twists. It helps that my hair is longer now. It’s really just about finding a couple of hours. It’s not as strenuous. I used to wash my hair whenever I was stressed out or overwhelmed because it didn’t stress me out, but now I’ve gotten into a better groove of actually balancing my hair and not letting it consume a whole day of the week.
JG: What’s the biggest challenge managing healthy, natural hair as a college student?
ABA: The biggest downfall, as far as my natural-hair journey is that I don’t experiment a lot and that’s something I hope my blog will push me to do. I don’t experiment with new things like perm rods and flexi rods or all these other styles because that’s what takes too much time. I stick to quick twist-outs or quick braid-outs. I’m hoping my blog can really help me expand to trying new things. I’m really low maintenance. As far as the health of my hair, it’s definitely been a challenge maintaining the moisture in my hair especially living in Wisconsin and the weather being really harsh. My hair is always changing as to what keeps it moisturized. Honestly natural hair is really inconsistent. That’s one of the frustrating things about natural-hair journeys in general that I really want to talk about. A lot of people find when they go natural, their hair is not as conformed as when it was relaxed. You have to always work at your hair and you have to learn it. But that’s frustrating because it’s like damn, I just want to know what’s going to work right now.
JG: You know another thing I thought about when you speak about challenges is I feel like we often think about time and time management as college students, especially with Black students here we have to wear several hats, and so the time it takes to manage natural hair is one thing, but I’ve been thinking about space. Usually we live in dorms or small apartments, some of us only have showers and no bathtubs and our drains clog easily from trying to detangle in the shower. I’ve been through 4 bottles of extra strength Draino this semester alone. So how do we work with space limitations with natural hair?
ABA: When I was in the dorms, it was right when I did my first big chop. I had locs then I cut my hair off so I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. I kept my hair up for most of that year. After that when I got my own apartment, I become more invested. I had my own space and invested in a hair catcher for my drain that came in handy. When it comes to reviewing things and having a blog, having my own space was more helpful. Now I have roommates and they’re both natural and it’s great, but it feels more comfortable when you can record anywhere in your house or you can have your products in the bathroom and not worry about taking up space. It is manageable in the shower you just have to be very organized and very strategic about what you do. My hope is that I help people with that and show that it doesn’t take all day or all this space to do your hair. That’s why College Crownz is a unique platform, because no matter level of school you’re in, you likely don’t have that much money, or time, or space. Those are things that I want to speak to and share how to navigate those and how I navigate those.
JG: If you could invent one product or device that would ease the stress of managing natural hair in college, what would it be?
ABA: That’s a really good question. I don’t really don’t know.
JB: For me I was thinking about something that would ease either the storage or transporting of natural hair products back and forth to the bathroom, especially when you’re living in the dorms and trying to juggle your toiletries and your towel already.
ABA: Yes that’s what I was thinking like some form of caddy. I can’t think about any particular product I would invent, but I would invest in a way to create discounts for college students. There are so many different Black-owned business and products that are often so expensive because they’re either really small or certified natural and organic. I think it’s really important to get products from people who have hair like yours and know the struggle, but sometimes it’s easier to buy a product that’s $6 versus a product that’s $16. So if I could do something it would be to invest in a way to create either discounts or a platform for college students to shop for products at a lower rate.
JG: I really enjoy the product review section of the blog. I feel like it alleviates the process of buying a boat load of products and knowing some won’t work and it really sucks when those that don’t work are like $20. I think the product reviews are much needed especially for this population who doesn’t have as much of a disposable income to explore products and might be stuck still using JAM because they’re too afraid to explore. Have you thought about or gotten into creating your own products?
ABA: People have asked me about it especially in terms of having a blog and getting profit from it. People have suggested I get merchandise or make products. I’ve entertained it, but I don’t know, I don’t see the gap. I saw a gap in information for college students, so I made the blog, but I don’t see a gap in product. I don’t think that’s something I would do. I do like playing with things and making different butters, but I haven’t found the need to make things as of yet. At some point I may want to do a give-away of some products, but unless I saw that there was something people could really use and I knew I could produce that, I don’t think I would make products. I do think that at some point I would look into creating merchandise for the blog with the logo on it.
JG: When talking about affordability of products, I know a lot of folks use food items such as honey, mayonnaise, eggs, etc. to keep up with their hair. As a population that doesn’t always have money to buy a $16 hair product, but has money for food or even has a Quest card do you think going the food route is more feasible for college students. And, do you use food?
ABA: I have tried it and it’s worked really well. The first protein treatments I would do I used eggs. That would also be something I talk a lot more about, just so people can know. It depends on the person, if they have the funds to get those things. It also depends on the personality of the person, if they feel like mixing things or not. It’s definitely something I’ll be exploring and reviewing more. The biggest thing I want to do, especially with DIYs and ingredients, is I want to talk about the importance of ingredients. I feel like we look at ingredients and think ‘oh that sounds good,’ but in the products I’m reviewing and with DIYs it’s important to know what you’re putting in your hair. I don’t think that’s a concern we bother ourselves with all the time. People should know what’s in their products without having 30 Google tabs open. I want to be that resource to show what ingredients can do to your hair.
JG: So you’re graduating in May. What happens to College Crownz?
ABA: I’ve been thinking about that a lot, but I realize that the experience isn’t specific to the undergraduate experience. I do plan on enrolling in a grad program and that has its own experiences. I’m hoping that I’ll also get a contributing writer as well.
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