At the forefront of the natural hair movement is NaturallyCurly, an online community that produces content by, for and about people with curly hair.
Story by Selome Hailu
Photos courtesy of Michelle Breyer
Co-founder Michelle Breyer started out as a journalist at the Austin-American Statesman with NaturallyCurly as a side project. The success and growth of this after-hours project took her by surprise. Since its inception in 1998, however, NaturallyCurly has become her life’s work. ORANGE Magazine sat down with Breyer to talk curls, coils and community.
What was your vision when you started NaturallyCurly?
It was a hobby created by three “curlyheads” who were frustrated by the lack of information that existed for people with curly hair. We wanted to provide a place for people to get support and to educate themselves and hopefully inspire each other. Completely altruistic. It was about people helping each other. It started with a discussion board called CurlTalk, with people emailing in their curl journeys. There were barely any curl products on the market at that point, barely any stylists who knew how to cut curly hair, so it was about leading people to things that did exist, but we didn’t realize that we were at the beginning of a revolution.
What is it like behind the scenes, working in the office with these women?
Oh my gosh, lots of talk about hair! Just what you would expect working around a lot of hair products and around a lot of women. It’s fun! People work very hard. They’re very passionate about what they do.
What has been the biggest surprise in your journey of building NaturallyCurly?
Just how big of a difference we’ve made in the industry and in people’s lives. We’ve helped create an industry. We’ve helped prove that there is a market for curly hair. I wrote a book that came out last year and on my book tour I was surprised at how many people would tell me their story about how NaturallyCurly changed their lives. There was this woman in her 70s who hated her hair for most of her life and found a stylist on our salon locator and that person changed her whole view of herself.
NaturallyCurly is primarily an online community, but has living and working in Austin affected the development of the company?
It totally has! Austin is a very entrepreneurial city. I was a newspaper reporter and one of my sources at the newspaper, a venture capitalist, volunteered his time and brought in different people in the community to help with different things. Now I’m on the other side of it. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and mentor them. I’ve heard Austin is unique that way, being so supportive of entrepreneurship.
Videos on NaturallyCurly’s YouTube channel allow women to bond over their curls while starting conversations about a lot of other things, including fashion, film and politics. Was this something you planned for or did it start to happen on its own?
It kind of happened organically. Evelyn, EvelynFromTheInternets, started working for us when she was a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin and video was an area of interest for her. So she helped start our video department. Things just kind of happen! We try things, people like them, so we do more of them. We’ve always been a place that is very open to creativity and trying things, so if people have an idea, we let them go for it!
A significant portion of your audience and your staff are women of color and NaturallyCurly has become an important space for them. As a white woman, what is your advice for people who want to use their privilege to be effective allies?
I have always believed in inclusiveness and that I don’t know everything. I know about my journey and I can’t pretend to know about anyone else’s journey, but it’s all about sharing your journeys. I think it’s one of the things I’m most excited about with NaturallyCurly. How inclusive it is, how it has become such a place for women of all ethnicities. I’ve never pretended to be something I’m not. It’s always been very, very important to me that our workforce reflects our community and that our community feels welcome no matter who they are.
What was your favorite NaturallyCurly moment?
We do this big fashion show in New York called Texture on the Runway and this last year was our third year doing it. We did it in a new place called Gotham Hall, this beautiful venue, and it’s kind of intimidating because it’s so big. But coming down the runway at the beginning of the show, it was packed. There were 800 influencers, dozens of paparazzi. Just looking and realizing that we created this, that it didn’t exist before, this fashion show where diversity and inclusiveness were celebrated and that feeling that you can make a difference! Going back to being a white woman in this world, I guess I realized that you can have a positive change on people who may not look like you. You owe it, you have a responsibility to make the world a better place.
Are there any goals for the company moving forward that we should be excited about?
We wanna continue to build what we’ve been doing. The online community is wonderful. But these offline things, events like Texture on the Runway, there’s just no substitute for people meeting each other face-to-face and sharing their stories. That’s a really beautiful thing to watch, when women and men are all in a room, excited, talking about their hair, talking about other things, and being brought together by this common thread. That’s one of my favorite parts of the company. The natural hair world has evolved and that offline stuff is so important.
What do you have to say to your college-attending audience?
I wish I had been going to college now. I feel like it’s a more welcoming world for being unique. When I went away to college, everyone wore their hair the same way and looked the same way. I didn’t look like they did and I spent a good part of my college years fighting. Fighting my hair and fighting the way I looked. The standard of beauty, there’s just so much more.