Last weekend in Paris nearly 9,000 natural hair enthusiasts gathered to interact with beauty brands, listen to thought leaders, and most importantly celebrate their gloriously textured crowns. 

The Natural Hair Academy (not an institution — despite it’s name) is the annual event that facilities this fantastic fellowship of folks. Now in its eighth year, Chimole Williams, the co-founder of NHA, has worked tirelessly to ensure the event delivers a powerful experience

Sadly Europe doesn’t have the same level of access to natural hair products as the United States, yet the need is just as great. NHA has become the ultimate destination for women of color with natural coifs living in Europe and yearning to connect with like-minded and like-haired individuals.

“It is the one time of year they can come together from all over to have fun, be inspired, shop, dance, and really interact with this fast-growing community of women of color,” Williams told ESSENCE.

She adds, “Our logo, has become an iconic symbol in France and invokes a feeling of black pride, and sense of community here in Europe.”

Two mainstays at the event (which takes place at a park outside of downtown Paris) are the “Power” and “Empowerment” panels, that feature luminaries from the beauty industry to the world of politics. This year the stage was graced by Sundial Brands’ Chief Operating and Branding Officer Kimberly Evans Paige, New York Times best-selling author and speaker Luvvie Ajayi, celebrity hairstylist and entrepreneur Felicia Leatherwood, as well as image activist Michaela Angela Davis, just to name a few.

ESSENCE even got involved in a big way. 

“This year we added the Essence Panel, which gave us the amazing opportunity to speak directly to Richelieu Dennis, the new owner of Essence,” Williams explained. “He, along with the media brand, have inspired so many women of color all over the world.”

In order to keep the conference fresh and exciting, Williams also introduced workshops focused on wellness this year. There were guided workouts, yoga, cooking classes and meditation sessions. 

“They do not come just to buy, they come to experience each other, connect and bond,” Williams told ESSENCE. “We have been able to create an authentic experience for our attendees and support this European sisterhood. They remain excited and passionate about our event — which we do not take for granted.”

Williams hopes to take the magic she has created in Paris to other markets around the world.

“It is a blessing to still be relevant and thriving,” notes Williams. “It also confirms there is a strong need to continue providing a space where women of color from all of Europe can gather and connect around a variety of topics and issues.”

What does the future hold for NHA? Williams has her sights set on bringing the event to several locations from Canada to Holland — but Africa is at the top of the list. 

“I grew up in Africa, so that part of the world holds a special place in my heart,” Williams said. “I cannot wait to host an NHA event in an African country. It will be powerful experience.I just know it!”

We have no doubt — and we’ll see you there. 


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