Celeb Hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood On Working With Ava DuVernay, Natural Hair On The Red Carpet And Naturalistas Abroad

February 22, 2015  |  

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Felicia Leatherwood is one busy woman. The celebrity hairstylist, who is based out of LA, stays with heads in her chair. “It gets so crazy!” she tells me, and she’s not kidding. Leatherwood is often so busy perfecting coifs for her clientele that she was actually doing hair while we were having our interview. But that’s what happens when your work goes viral and you’re the go-to hair guru for the likes of naturalistas like Ava DuVernay, Teyonah Parris and Jill Scott. We chatted about how she linked up with DuVernay, what magic she’ll work on the director’s hair for today’s Oscars, and how having locs and natural hair in general on the red carpet impacts women trying to embrace their hair abroad. Leatherwood is taking part in the fourth annual Natural Hair Academy expo in Paris, which takes places on March 21. She’s looking to teach everyone, from celebrities to everyday women with limited access to products and natural hair knowledge, how to love and manage their hair.

How She Connected With Ava DuVernay

There’s a young lady named Teyonah Parris. I did her hair a couple years ago when she was on the SAG Awards red carpet. It was a natural hairstyle. It went viral and people knew me from doing Jill Scott, but they really started seeing what else I could do with that hairstyle. It was a sculpted updo. Ava admired that and we met at a dinner, and she was like, “Oh my God, you’re Felicia! I want you to do my hair.” I said “sure.” We were introduced by Afrobella. That’s how it came about. But she knew me from my work with Teyonnah, basically.

What She Has Planned For Ava On Oscar Sunday

That’s a good question. I make this stuff up as I go. I don’t always have a plan for the hair. I kind of just let my ancestors guide my fingers and my creativity and just come up with stuff. I love doing natural hair, so for me, it’s just about being creative and letting that part of me come out when I’m working the hair. It’s something that just kind of happens.

What Seeing Natural Hair On The Red Carpet Means To Her

At the end of the day, I want people to be comfortable with whatever they’re wearing. If it’s natural, I want them to love it. If it’s straight, love it. You gotta just own your hair. But the opportunity I get as a hairstylist is to create something based on what’s already beautiful about you, but just put more of that out there. I’m proud to be a part of that process. I love working with Ava. I have a lot of fun because she’s not just natural, she has locs. You don’t often get a chance to see locs showcased in a way where people start taking notice and saying, “Wow, I might want my hair locked as well!” Locs are becoming a big thing right now, which is really interesting. But people like Ava, in being able to do her hair and show how beautiful locs can be, and look, and how professional and glamorous they are–it’s making people rethink what locs originally were.

The Number One Hair Question She Always Gets

It’s all about moisture. That’s the biggest thing. A lot of people don’t know what their hair is supposed to feel like. Some people’s hair is supposed to feel dry. That’s what it is. You can soften it when it’s wet, but once it’s dry…you have to understand our lineage: Who we are as a people, African people, the region in which we originated is hot. If you have straight hair in heat that’s like 105, 108, 109 degree weather, your hair would burn off. They had to have this hair in order to protect themselves. We’re not used to that because things have changed a lot for us. We think we need to have everybody else’s hair. You need to have your own hair and make sure you’re treating that the best possible way. The best way to treat your hair is to put things in your body that help the hair survive and grow and be strong. The best way you can treat your hair is to not be stressed out. Yoga helps the hair to grow! All the oxygen that gets to flow in the body is what gets the blood to flow to stimulate more hair growth. Drinking water is important. And I think a lot of times, people talk about their hair being dry, and I think it’s because they don’t have all those elements together. Some people are supposed to naturally have dry hair depending on their texture or curl. Other people? You can always put something on it. But a lot of times, I have women who have tried every product under the sun and still have dry hair. And when I feel their hair, it’s the kind of dry that’s supposed to be natural. It’s not the kind of dry that I feel like, “Okay, something is wrong here.” I know what that feels like. There’s a way that your hair should feel naturally that I think women need to be introduced to.

On Traveling Around The World Teaching About Natural Hair

What I do is I travel around and do events like the Natural Hair Academy, and I show women what their hair is supposed to feel like. I let them know that it’s okay where it’s at right now. There’s nothing wrong with your hair.

How She Got Involved With The Natural Hair Academy

About four years ago, women in Europe started asking me to conduct workshops. So I decided to go overseas and bring the knowledge we have here, there in person. I started in London, and then Chimole [Williams], who I’ve been working with for a while, and I like her a lot, she introduced me to the Paris group and said “Hey, they need your help over here. Women are asking about you over in Paris. Would you be interested?” And I said “sure.”

We have access to a lot here in the States. So when you start traveling outside of the States, it’s not the same thing. I try to take my knowledge to other places, and be there firsthand so people can come and consult with me and find out about their hair. I teach them product knowledge. I teach them which products are the best for their texture of curl. And I love going over to Europe and feeding that market. The women there, they’re more engaged and more appreciative of the fact that I traveled. They show up in droves. The Natural Hair Academy is very successful, and every year it has been successful. It’s grown leaps and bounds from the first time I ever worked with them.

The Lack Of Access To Products For Black Naturalistas Abroad

That’s the problem. Getting these products out to these women in other places. I go to Africa, I go to Europe, and they just don’t have access. Brazil does not allow our products to come over into their country. There are a few brands that have gotten there, but it’s not easy. You might have women in Brazil asking me how they get the products that I mention. There are people in the Caribbean trying to get a hold of products. So the natural movement is slowly growing, but it’s not as dominant as it is here for us. You can walk up the street and get what you need here, but they go through a lot. Especially when you even talk about Africa. Ordering? By the time it goes through customs and everything gets filled out, it’s like, “Wow.” Their money is spent and they don’t always get what they ask for. I’ve been going back and forth there as well. It’s a whole different thing, including in Nigeria. I’ll be there in May to train some of the stylists there about natural hair.

What She Wants Frustrated New Naturalistas To Know

Women who are struggling and having a hard time, there are three things they need to do: If they’re going to follow someone on YouTube, they should follow someone who has a texture like theirs! You have to. If you’re looking at a woman like Tracee Ellis Ross’s hair and wanting that, but your texture is more like Lupita’s hair, that’s not reasonable. You’re defeating your purpose. Both those women have gorgeous hair, but you need to follow someone whose hair is more on the level of what you have.

The other thing that they need to do is find out where the next natural hair show or meetup is in their town and go to those meetups. You can connect with women who definitely have hair that’s similar. Find out where they go and who does their hair and see if there’s a natural hairstylist in the area that can help assist someone who’s transitioning.

And they need to have a friend who is natural. And to tell them that you need support because you’re trying to do this thing but you just don’t know what to do and you’re having a hard time and you’re ready to give up. If you let somebody know that before doing it, they will help you, because they want you to hang in there. Being natural for a lot of women is not only about, “Oh I’m wearing my hair natural.” It’s also representing that I’m accepting who I really am and I’m loving it. That’s important for any woman of any shade or color to get–love for self. We grew up with a lot of self-doubt and self-esteem issues from some childhood and teenage years. So to become a woman and finally be in a position to say, “I’m feeling beautiful about what I have” is a big, big deal. So I encourage them to talk to someone who has done the journey and has been successful with it.

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