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Erika Pope

Source: Courtesy of Erika Pope

The digital media age has opened numerous doors of opportunity for individuals to create their own lane and market their talents. And Black people, Black women in particular, continue to remain the innovators of the industry, connecting and initiating the power of social media in influencing culture, style, hair and beauty.

Many companies like Aunt Jackie’s Curls and Coils, a natural hair care brand founded in 2012, have taken notice of this important factor and have used their insight to hire young Black female change makers who help connect consumers and brands in authentic ways. One of those women happens to be Erika Pope, the Global Brand and Product Development Manager for Aunt Jackie’s.

MadameNoire sat down with the self-proclaimed “inspirer-er” and to talk about the launch of Aunt Jackie’s newest line, The Grapeseed Collection, a multi-layered project supported by celebrity stylist Felicia Leatherwood, and the ways in which the brand is pushing forward to show and celebrate the diversity of Black women’s hair abroad and globally.

MadameNoire: Can you tell us how it came about and how you got affiliated with Aunt Jackie’s?

Erika Pope: I’m the global brand and product development manager for the brand. I got involved because I started off as a consultant. I used to be a buyer and I have a great understanding of merchandising so my company was looking for some young fresh blood to come in and help assist and breathe in some new life into the brand. So that’s what we’ve been doing this past year and I’m really excited about the launch of our new collection, the Grapeseed Collection. It’s an ingredient story that all of the naturals are talking about they’re doing a lot of cocktailing of these grapeseed oils into their products so we are really excited to be able to bring to market a full regiment of products with that ingredient story.

MN: Merging your large social media reach and working for a corporate organization, how do you bring those aspects together?

EP: I like to call myself an “inspirer-er” because I really found joy in this position being able to be hands on in the community and working with a lot of women, and the community has inspired me too. I just actually did another big chop a few months ago, so I’m going through my natural journey too. But really being able to see how women identify with their hair and how personal it is for them has made me feel like it’s important that strong young Black women stand up and say it’s ok to embrace who you are. I’m happy to be a part of providing products to a community that really needs more attention as far as beauty and cosmetics, so I’m really excited about what we’re able to offer the community as far as hair goes.

MN: There’s such a huge influx these days of natural hair care products. With Aunt Jackie’s what do you think differentiates them from the plethora of products available for Black women with natural hair?

EP: When I first started I wanted to bring some key initiatives to the brand and two of those key initiatives was being the authority over product education. I think a lot of brands, they do the trade shows and things like that, but when it comes to the instant direct resource for information, like Instagram and social media, I wasn’t seeing a lot of the other brands taking the time to really educate [about] the products. It was really [the] selling of the product, so definitely project education. I like to think that we are becoming the authority over what I’m calling “curl conversations.” And that’s because hair is deeply rooted in identity and it’s not just about vanity, it’s about how you see yourself, how you feel about yourself. And so we really work as a brand to give [a] platform to young women to talk about their experiences and engage about different things as it relates to hair. Because like I said, it’s not just vanity. It’s political, you know there’s a lot of social economics to it. So we have a lot of touchy topics that we’re willing to talk about on our platform.

MN: What are some of those topics?

EP: We have this thing that we launched last year that we called “The Comfy Couch” where we bring a stylist, or an influencer, and just different girls from the community come and chat about different topics and we’ve talked about getting the older generation to accept and embrace our hair. We had a young girl from India come on and she talked about her experience and how her family didn’t accept her wearing her curly hair and how she pretty much was the rebel of her community. We had girls come on and talk about how they gave up on their natural hair journey because of different things from work, being discriminated against, just very personal conversations and it’s always interesting to hear people’s experiences. I really enjoy being able to provide platforms for people to have those types of conversations.

MN: I think it’s important not just to see diversity in race, but diversity in hair texture. A lot of times in the natural hair community, there’s a certain type of hair that we see—maybe because it’s easily manipulated or whatever the case may be, but I like seeing the differentiation. How does Aunt Jackie’s feel about addressing the different types of hair textures in the diaspora?

EP: One of the things that I’m also proud of as well, is that we really do provide products for all the different hair types and we celebrate every single type. I think it’s beautiful how different hair can be manipulated in different ways. I get excited every time I do something different with my hair and I’m like, “I didn’t know my hair could do this.” I think it’s really important as a brand that we identify all hair types as equally beautiful and equally beautiful to work with. I think a lot of times I think people want to push coarser hair types into this box that it’s hard to manage and I just don’t agree with that. Again I think it’s all about educating yourself and understanding how to use your hair with the right products.

MN: What are some of the things that Aunt Jackie’s has coming up using the channel of social media.

EP: We actually just are launching a new campaign, partnering with MadameNoire called AJ Pro-Torials. Now we all know that YouTube has a plethora of how-to tutorials out there. You can get lost. You can be on there for hours and now they’ve made it so that it just automatically goes to the next video. So there’s tons of information, some of it is good and some of it is incorrect. So we thought it would be wonderful to partner with Felicia Leatherwood of all people, to come out and show in quick 60 second clips how to actually achieve a certain desired look with our product. We have an ongoing campaign called “AJ Taught Me,” which is basically a how-to tutorial showcasing our products and different styling methods. Also we do like fun facts that we have sponsored by different retailers that we work with. And then we do polling and things like that where we start conversations again and it’s really exciting to see what people come up with.

MN: What products of AJ’s are your favorite?

EP: My two favorite products for sure are Butter Cream from our Coconut Cream Collection. You know us type 4 girls, we have that kitchen area back here, I don’t know it does some magic back there on my hair! And then I also love “Knot On My Watch,” our detangler, because again type 4 hair, I get the knots, I get the tangles, and it just makes wash day a breeze.

For more tutorials and information on Aunt Jackie’s Grapeseed collection, check out HelloBeautiful’s review with celebrity stylist Felicia Leatherwood!

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