When Terrinique Pennerman transitioned from chemically relaxing her hair to wearing it in natural curls, she discovered that many natural hair care products are synthetic. In her quest to resolve the irony, she says she began researching the chemistry of specific natural ingredients and the effect they have on hair. Ultimately inspired by traditional hair recipes from her native Bahamas, Pennerman launched Kurlee Belle. We asked her about her natural hair journey and how exactly she translated her personal decision into a business. MadameNoire: What made you decide to go natural? Terrinique Pennerman: When I was growing up, my mom always told me that she was sorry for relaxing my hair because she loved my texture. In between relaxers, I would examine my roots to see the texture that she adored. In retrospect, the seed was planted that my natural hair was better than my chemically relaxed hair. On the other hand, having straight hair was limiting in my mind: I always had to travel with an umbrella and could never fully enjoy myself at the beach, pool or gym. I could not help but think, “Who wants to live a life dictated by their hairstyle?”In addition, I had suffered scalp damage from being burned by relaxers and my hair was frail. The real ‘AHA’ moment came after watching Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair. It was the icing on the cake. MN: In going natural, did you cut off all your hair and start over or let the relaxer grow out? TP: At the time I decided to go natural, I worked in investment banking in corporate America. Natural hair was not accepted. So I decided to transition instead of “the Big Chop.” …For the first year, I went with “Dominican Blow Outs.” Surprisingly, getting my hair blown out was [almost the same as] using chemical relaxers as the hair was being permanently straightened through a process called denaturation. After my experiences with heat, I switched to [sew-in weaves]. For a transitioning natural, sew-ins done effectively can be your best friend. My entire head would be braided down under the weave except a small portion at the top to cover the tracks. After months, of new sew-ins and getting trims to cut off the straight hair, I realized that all of my hair was curly except the little patch at the top—pretty funny stuff. This little observation set me back a few more months, so I had to switch from straight to curly weaves. I would wrap my little straight patch at the top, around flexi rods or perm rods to blend in with the curly weave. After a few months of curly weaves, I was finally free and could wear my natural hair out. MN: How did you make the leap from caring for your own natural hair to starting a natural hair care business? TP: If I was going to be natural, I wanted to use products that were natural. In between weaves, I searched for organic or natural products, but could not [find] products that worked well with my texture. Seeing my frustration at the time, my then-boyfriend said, “Why don’t you start your own natural hair care line? You keep saying that the products made from natural ingredients don’t work and the synthetic products work, but the ingredients suck. Try to find that happy medium.” I have always been entrepreneurial and had recently left corporate America to pursue an MBA at Duke University. I took his advice and started researching natural ingredients and how they worked with the chemistry of hair. My goal was to build a brand with integrity while applying my knowledge from business school — to make products from natural ingredients that really work. MN: How did you arrive at the recipes for your products? TP: Kurlee Belle products are inspired by traditional hair recipes from the islands of the Bahamas. The main ingredients of all of our products are indigenous to the Bahamas: orange, hibiscus, aloe vera, coconut, banana and honey. Some of the butters like Shea butter, Argan oil, [and] Cupuçua can be found in different tropical regions of the Caribbean. I grew up using many of these recipes as the ingredients were found in my backyard. For instance, we use hibiscus to clean the hair and aloe vera to soothe the scalp and stop dandruff.
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