Miko Branch’s Tips For Dealing With Natural Hair Discrimination In The Workplace
When the natural hair movement took root in the early 2000s, a woman’s natural hair journey was considered a very personal one marked by a path to texture acceptance and discovery of products that work for one’s hair type and needs. Now, women find themselves engaged in an external battle as well, particularly against employers who deem non-straight hair unprofessional, inappropriate, and all-around unappealing, as a recent study on natural hair bias proved.
When women were just beginning to experiment with their true texture, Miko and TiTi Branch were there for them with their curly girl hair care line Miss Jessie’s. And 13 years later, the brand is still supporting women on their journey. We talked to Miko Branch about the concerns her clients have about being discriminated against and the best styles to combat natural hair bias. Plus she gave us a few extra tips on how to switch up our hair routines for the different seasons and find balance between taking care of our hair and our health.
What do you tell clients who have concerns about wearing their natural hair in the workplace?
There is a time and place for everything. It’s hair and it shouldn’t be as serious or as heated as it can get. If it comes down to a situation where you have to make a choice and you have to feed your family, I recommend that these women maybe wear a wig to work if that’s something they can do temporarily to satisfy the task and then when they come out of work they’re able to embrace their natural hair.
I understand that for many women, particularly African American women, who for years didn’t embrace their natural hair, it’s a new phenomenon for some of us but we’re excited. And through our excitement, we want to express our hair in all areas of our life so I get it. Sometimes, if our coworkers or our employers don’t share the same excitement, I believe that there can be a compromise, as I mentioned. And the good news is that it’s temporary and there are so many style options available — like wigs — and once you get home, you can let your hair out naturally, and hopefully all of your friends and family who love you will be delighted to see you in your natural glory.
What are other style options for women who aren’t comfortable wearing a wig or don’t want to?
If your hair is natural, unfortunately, heat is the solution to wearing your hair styled straight. I advise you to take caution with that approach because once you put heat on your natural hair, depending on how much heat you put on, it can damage your hair so when you go back to wearing it natural, your hair can be permanently straightened, unfortunately, and I know many women who go back and forth wearing their hair from straight to natural experience that.
If you have to have your hair not voluminous, or if you need to wear it more conservative I recommend maybe a ponytail, a low ponytail or a low bun might do the trick. Or, if you have to wear your hair straight, I encourage you to do it on low-heat temperatures because you don’t want to damage your glorious natural hair.
Are there Miss Jessie’s products that can be used for straight styles?
Yes, our shampoos for cleansing, our co-wash for cleansing, our deep treatments are amazing — Super Sweetback Treatment is amazing for hair growth and Rapid Recovery is amazing for damaged hair. As you know, if you’re wearing your hair styled straight we do encounter damage just because of the heat. The Rapid Recovery is a wonderful way to get your hair back to safety.
Also, Baby ButterCreme and Curly ButterCreme are daily moisturizers which can be used for straight hair and also natural hair. I find that some of the styling products that are used for curly hair are also doubling as products for styling the hair straight. Some of our styling products — like Jelly Soft Curls in light doses — you can spread around your hair while it’s wet before you blow dry. And because it’s a soft gel, when you put heat to it, it’ll hold your hair in place, which is a great tool and styling product for people who have natural hair because as you know when humidity hits our hair in its natural state it tends to revert back so that hold factor is going to be key when you’re trying to preserve your hair in its straight state.
There’s also Curly Meringue and Curly Pudding for pulled back ponytails and low buns. These products are excellent for edges and keeping your hair down. They’re wonderful for people who like to keep their hair straight and pull back in one.
Our other products like Multicultural and Pillow Soft Curls are also wonderful as a leave-in with a teeny tiny bit of hold for people who want to style their hair and have a little bit of softness and moisture.
What are the biggest mistakes you see women make when it comes to taking care of their natural hair?
I cringe when I see women with natural hair cut their own hair in a double strand twist or braids. It’s a quick way to address ends because it binds the hair in one and you’re able to really just snip, but what it does when you take your hair out is you get a really disjointed and uneven cut. And I know for some women who want to sometimes wear their hair straight, it’s a horror story when you blow your hair out straight and see the damage that has been done. Also, cutting hair in its wet state, I wouldn’t recommend it. Cut natural hair, particularly kinky hair, in its dry and straight state.
The way to get hair prepped for a proper cutting is to blow the hair out. This is not a style blow, this is a blow-out that’s going to simply change the physical state of your shrunk up hair to pull out and elongate hair. We recommend that because of the high texture [of your hair] you can’t really see what’s going on, so we encourage you to change the physical state when cutting and it will revert back when it’s wet and you will have a technically sound cut whether you want to wear it straight or in its curly state.
I know that there is a large group of us who don’t use any shampoo in our hair and Miss Jessie’s offers shampoos with sulfates, aka suds, and although we understand the moisture factor because for people with curls, kinks, and waves, our hair tends to be very dry so we get the moisture factor. And oil does remove oil so that’s why we offer products like our co-wash so it can remove oil in the cleansing approach. But I do also understand that some people just want to get a good scrubbing and some people want to clean their scalp. And we get it because the scalp is actually attached to our face and we use sulfates and suds for our fac. So if we can apply it to our face, which is an even more delicate skin texture, we can certainly apply it to our scalp. So we recommend if you like to have some kind of deep cleansing, do it, but do it with a very hydrating and moisturizing shampoo with suds. And once per month might be the way to go instead of doing it daily or weekly.
How should women switch up their hair routines for the different seasons?
In colder climates, I’m really concerned for women who are doing wash n’ gos and airdries. Some of us, we take on being sick in exchange for our hair. I don’t recommend that. I’m a mom, so I really care about health. In colder climates, don’t be afraid to take out your blowdryer and stretch your hair a little bit. Do a double-strand twist in its dry state, a dry two-strand twist, and that way you’ll still have texture and you’ll be able to enjoy the length.
If you live in a humid climate, I definitely recommend you totally embrace your curl and let it do what it’s supposed to do. That probably means a lot of shrinkage and that’s fine. We have plenty of products that help with the hold factor—Miss Jessie’s Curly Meringue, Curly Pudding, Jelly Soft Curls, and even the Coily Custard.
In terms of humidity, that’s a season when you can be a bit more experimental. If you want to try braids you can and that might be a way to take your mind off of your hair for a little bit. If you wanted to wear your hair out styled straight or in its curly state, I would definitely recommend you use products with more hold because it’s going to make all the difference in your natural styling.
Also for winter and summer, you’ve got to put moisture in the mix. Both seasons require moisture, a lot of us have forced air as the heating source. Many of us don’t have radiators anymore which is moisture heat, we have forced air which is dry heat and that’s rough on our hair. Also, the hats tend to be rough on our hair and sleeping at night without our satin caps so moisture is key.
What should you do to preserve hair before a workout and what should you do immediately after for maintenance?
If you are a person who is committed to working out, I certainly encourage you to split your hair into two parts, a ponytail on each side, so it can breathe – and nothing tight so air can still go throughout it and hopefully you won’t sweat your hair out and you’ll keep your hair isolated in two parts so you won’t experience too much sweat.
If you’re going to work out, you may have to wash your hair if you sweat. If you have to wash your hair, that’s the time when you don’t use sulfates necessarily, that’s a time when you rinse the sweat out and use a co-wash because you need moisture because you just sweat a lot.
Working out might also be a great time for you to do a double-strand twist or braid your hair up. If you’re not a heavy sweater, if you braid your hair while you were working out, that might be a great styling set so when you take your hair out it has a nice wave pattern to it. Before you do it, out a little bit of product with a little bit of hold in it, like a Jelly Soft Curls or Coily Custard and who knows? You might come out with a great set and a great texture that you love.
What hair product should a woman always keep in her purse?
Curly, kinky, and wavy hair have three different needs so the necessities might be different.
For kinky hair, you definitely need Baby Butter Creme or Curly Butter Crème. It’s a rich and decadent moisturizer, it can touch up any edges, and if you wanted to do a quick two-strand twist in large pieces you can. And those products come in 2-ounce sizes so it’s great for your bag.
A must-have for curly hair I would say is either Pillow Soft Curls or Multicultural Curls. Those two products have a lotion-like consistency. It’s not too heavy and it’s not too light. It has just enough hold factor and it has a ton of moisture so if you want to just quickly touch-up your curls without making your hair revert back to frizz, you can.
For wavy hair, I would recommend a lotion-like styler with some hold in it which is going to boost up the wavy pattern and the texture. That product is called Quick Curls. Particularly people with a looser wave sometimes need a boost when they’re doing their initial styling, and they also need a boost when it comes time to refresh their hair.
Miss Jessie’s products can be purchased online at MissJessies.com or in major retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, Target, CVS, Sally Beauty Supply, and HEB. Miko and TiTi Branch’s memoir and business guide, Miss Jessie’s – Creating a Successful Business from Scratch – Naturally, is also now available in paperback.