Have you always been natural? What has been your perception of your hair over your lifetime. If no, what experiences took place that lead to the transition? How has going natural changed your perception of yourself?Dee: I was natural when I was back home in Nigeria. When I moved to the states my mom didn't have the time to do my hair. My first experience perming it was at a beauty parlor, they permed my hair, then pressed it, and my hair ended up breaking off. I went through being bullied in school because of my hair and it got to the point where I just had to put my foot down at such a young age and tell my mom “Hey! you know we're African! I need to be braiding my hair and doing more natural styles!” It wasn't until I got to college that I decided that this is the end of perming my hair because I'm not gonna stress my hair or put any chemicals in it. I felt that I started to know who I was when I became natural. Perming my hair was like lying to myself. I was trying to fit in the trends of “bundles,” a time where all my friends wore bundles and I wanted to keep my hair permed to wear weaves. I realized that it wasn’t me. I finally did the big chop -- I shaved it completely off and I was kind of scared at first, but being able rock a bald head was amazing and I felt it was the start of a new journey. When my hair began to grow back,I didn’t know how to deal with it because it was a lot of texture -- a 4c texture-- It was hard to learn how to do my hair myself! I was buying a lot of expensive products which wasn’t the way to go, but I was newly natural and I was experimenting a lot with my hair. Eventually, my hair got really long and I started doing more styles. Knowing what my hair can do I ended up chopping it off again and I started experimenting with more color. That's the fun part about being natural because you can do so much. I can be three people at once.
Describe your experience becoming a freelance model, and starting/owning your ecommerce shop Vinclox.
Dee: I was into modeling and fashion since middle school days, and I was highly obsessed with Americas Next Top Model. My friends and I would pretend as if we were on the show and they’dl always make me win because I had a strong catwalk and knew how to pose. I decided to make my dreams a reality and audition for the actual ANTM show. I was bummed that I didn’t make the call because I wasn’t as tall and skinny as the other models. At that time, I struggled with my identity because I had strong features that was said to be masculine. My body was built as an athlete, from my athletic days, and my cheekbones were so strong that I thought they weren’t beautiful enough. I then decided to stop pursuing modeling because of one designer’s comment on my body. I was told by a European designer during fitting for Brooklyn Fashion Week 2012, who loved my walk and my fierceness by the way, “to take her clothes off because I would rip it with my thighs and my ass”.
Eventually while I was in College, I met a few women who were into modeling and would ask me to be a part of the college shows. As I modeled in the shows, my love for modeling resurfaced. At that time, my hair was natural and I started feeling more like myself. I attended castings people would send meinfo for and would also reach out to photographers to help build my portfolio. I started to feel out of place again because I experienced a lot of colorism and body shaming. I’ve watched people who were taller, skinnier, and lighter get gigs left and right and I felt as if I were doing something wrong or I just wasn’t built for the modeling life. This time, instead of giving up, I slowly started to find myself and my style by working in retail and being around so much beautiful clothing. I reflected back to when I was a creative intern for Elizabeth Arden and I remember how much the company loved my dressing. They called me the “Fashionista of the Creative Department”, and it made me realize that if I can just love myself more and be myself in the way I dressed, not caring about what people had to say, then I’dl be unstoppable.
With a new mindset, I began exploring more with my style and would have my partner and friends take my pictures so I can begin branding and expressing myself. From then, photographers started reaching out to me to shoot and I’ll always style myself and do my own hair and my own makeup. I started creating my own rules and finding inspiration from other models, photographers, stylists and artist, to help figure out what I liked and disliked. I then wanted to test out my skills and started playing dress up with friends and taking their pictures. That’s when I fell in love with Styling and Creative Directing. I love being in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes, so I figured a way to do both!
With styling myself and others, I would always have to come out of pocket to buy outfits and thrifting and online shopping became my best friend. It got to a point where I’ll spend over $500 on clothing every 3 weeks and my closet started to overflow. I donated a lot of clothing. After discovering about vintage shops online and watching the movie “Girl Boss”, it gave me an idea to start my own vintage shop, Vinclox, reselling good quality clothing at a reasonable price from what I originally payed for. I founded the shop after I resigned from my full-time position as a sales lead, in a high end boutique on the upper west side and after declining a Morgan Stanley, in hopes of wanting to become a Wealth Manager. Most people thought I was crazy, but the Financial World is so boring and my soul craves creativity”!
Since relinquishing a traditional “9-to-5 or 11-to-7” schedule do you feel freer now embracing your hair?
Dee: Oh my gosh it's been the most freeing experience ever. I feel like companies have policies on how your supposed to keep your hair. If it’s too wild you don't look appealing, or if your hair is in braids you don’t look professional. For me, being outside of that environment has allowed me to create my own looks. One day I can do bantu knots, next week, I can wear a fro, and the next I have long box braids -- the length I actually want-- down to my butt! I get to be myself and that's what I love. I don’t like to be confined to anyone's rules. I don't like anyone telling me how I'm supposed to look or dress. Who are you to tell me how professional I am just because of what you think is the “right look.”
When we came across your work, we were so excited to see that you regularly SLAY kinky haired looks in your shoots. But realistically we know that not everyone is on the natural hair bandwagon yet. Have you ever had a less than pleasant interaction on set with a casting director, or received negative comments about your hair? How do you maintain self-confidence while navigating the fashion industry's standards as a women of color with type 4 hair?
Dee: It can be pretty difficult at times. You get looks. I've gotten questions like “how did you get your hair like that? It must’ve been hard getting your hair like that. How do you maintain it?” I feel in the fashion industry there’s this idea that you have to have straight in order to have “the look.” I feel like that's where the industry went wrong and I can say It was difficult for me to get paid modeling gigs because they all want my hair to be straight. If it doesn't fit their clientele, they’ll pass you on.
To any woman, who may be in similar shoes, discriminated against and restricted from being herself in her 9-5, what advice would you give to her?Dee: I would tell her to be her damn self and not let anyone try to change her appearance to fit their aesthetic! Being yourself and staying true to who you really are, changes the perspective of those who are ignorant and biased to people that are different! As long as your work ethic speaks for itself, people wouldn’t pay much attention to how different you are, instead, they’ll celebrate you. Show them that you can still be a boss while being your best self. If you have to change who you are because of a company that requires you look a certain way, then that’s not the job for you! The world (and workplace) will be a better place if people learn to celebrate and accept uniqueness and diversity for what it is! PERIOD!