Five years ago when Susan L. Peterkin started the Natural Hair Industry Convention (NHIC) it was to fill a void in the industry. Natural hair, and the business of natural hair—including styling, braiding, and hair care—was being treated like an afterthought in cosmetology school. Representation was sparse, and in many cases non-existent.
“We didn’t have a place where we could go and connect, and network, and educate each other, and pour into each other. So we decided that our industry, which is growing, and is a five to seven billion dollar industry, needed that representation,” said Peterkin. “We needed a place where we could connect with each other, so that we can inspire each other, support each other, so we can go back, pour into our businesses and empower our community.”
Along with co-founder Angela Walker, natural hairstylist and owner of N Natural Hair Studio, Peterkin gathered nearly 100 of the top stylists, influencers, manufacturers, and tastemakers in the natural hair business to ideate about what the convention would look like.
Today, it’s attended by hundreds of people, and looks like a realization of their dream. For anyone who currently makes their living in the natural hair industry (hair braiders, stylists, manufacturers, show producers, hair care creators, salon owners), or anyone who wants to make their living in the industry, the convention is a safe space.
This year’s event included a hair discrimination symposium presented by EMERGE: Natural Beauty Industry Alliance, and a panel about why Black women are losing their hair. Experts for hands-on classes and discussions included industry insiders such as Sabrina Boissiere of Natural Partners In Crime, hairstylist Dinah Lefranc, and loc expert Nicole Jernigan.
Still buzzing from the energy of the convention in Atlanta this past weekend, Peterkin and EMERGE CEO Diane C. Bailey talked to ESSENCE about the growth of the NHIC, and this year’s hot topic of natural hair discrimination.
What would you like the conversation around this natural hair movement to look like?
Diane: One of the things that we wanted to feature was EMERGE’s symposium on hair discrimination. And the subtext of it was the law, advocacy, and healing. So one of the things we wanted to bring to the attention of the industry, hairstylists, barbers, and manufacturers, was the CROWN Act. We brought doctors, lawyers, a psychologist, and a politician in so we could talk about hair discrimination as being racial discrimination. We are part of the CROWN coalition. And we go across country supporting this effort and making sure that our children and our grandchildren will have the opportunities with their hair just as they were born to wear it, without the bias, without the reserve, and without the negative connotation of not being professional, because that’s the other piece. So it’s about inclusion, it’s about diversity, and we were able to talk about it fully at the convention.
I was just having a conversation about edge styling and appropriation. How can a Black stylist approach being creative with non-Black models without bordering on appropriation when trying traditional Black styles?
Diane: I’m not so concerned about appropriation. People copy all the time. My problem is that they don’t want our children to be their natural selves. They want us to conform to a standard of beauty and a cultural aesthetic that’s not ours. But they will embrace other people’s culture and misappropriate it in any way they want. Our mission is to elevate our culture, to elevate and educate our young children, to impose respect upon themselves, so we can move forward, so that we can continue to elevate our community and our culture.
How do we help our stylists who specialize in natural hair be seen and be out there?
Susan: We have a huge network of licensed cosmetologists, instructors and amazing stylists. So we can form some kind of connection right there, where they reach out to us, and make the recommendation. And people are always present on Instagram.
What do you want to achieve with the convention?
Susan: I want the convention to be the piece that kind of holds the natural hair industry together. We want to be the one stop place, along with EMERGE, where everyone can come to get any type of information they need, either about business, how to do their hiring, where to find a good accountant, where to learn the best techniques. We want to be that symbiotic relationship where everyone can come to network. There is something about coming and seeing each other, and hugging each other, and looking in each other’s eyes. I mean the air was just electric.