Amanda Cooke, one of the five-member team of organisers, said the festival grew out of a need to “be real with yourself, connect to your roots and be authentic”.
The women met at various points, and with a shared interest in natural hair, “they clicked”.
Nobody had products, and there were only a few international products available for “natties”.
Cooke questioned the myth that your beauty is in your hair, and the straighter the hair the more beautiful you are.
“People are tired of being fake,” said Cooke.
The first Natural Hair Festival in Muizenberg in 2016 attracted 35 people; a year later at the Canvas Event Space in Paarden Eiland, 800 people pitched.
This year at the CTICC, the venue has a capacity of 3000 and the organisers are excited as this would be the biggest event of its kind in the country.
There would be discussions on hair care, but said Cooke, the vibe was different. “It’s a festival of authenticity,” she said.
She said Cape Town was leading the way in the natural hair movement as similar events in Johannesburg would attract a much smaller crowd.
Her own journey started five years ago. It’s not easier, she said, just a different way of taking care of your hair.
“People are still into their weaves and protective styling. And there is nothing wrong with that,” Cooke said.
She started on the natural hair journey because of her daughter Caitlin, 16, whom she described as “comfortable in her own skin”. And it has filtered into other areas of Cooke’s life.
“It opened up my mind and I’m looking at the world differently,” she said.
Marion Hermans is the woman behind the Marley Grey brand. She became fed up with using chemicals and initially had dreadlocks. Two pregnancies caused her hair to thin and she cut it all off and went natural. She creates her own products, including satin-lined caps which she swears by.
“Satin protection at night is just as important, if not more important, than finding the right products for your hair,” she said.
She too believes that going natural is about more than just your hair.
“Loving yourself allows you to build confidence. It lessens insecurities we as women, and men, face with regards to our hair.”
Most times the negative comments came from the older generation, she said. “All the years they’ve believed that straight hair is ‘better’ and ‘neater’.
They did not see the bigger picture, and therefore struggled to encourage their family members to love themselves “as God made them”, she said.
Michelle Phala has been a hairdresser for 34 years. She is well known for working with natural hair and trained with the best in the business.
“I have not encouraged people to go straight,” she said.
Phala’s passion started because of a struggle to do her own hair. It included an incident when all her hair fell out after a chemical treatment.
She quoted a Japanese-born American celebrity artist who said “Don’t change people. Enhance their beauty”.
Phala was the in-house hairdresser at a Cape Town hotel where she’d do the hair of the rich and famous. She also did the hair for late president Nelson Mandela’s entourage, including his wife, Graça Machel. People still travel far and wide to her salon in the Cape Town CBD.
“Find your passion. Love yourself, then you don’t care what other people say,” Phala said.
The festival is on Sunday, December 16, from 10am to 5pm. A weekend pass includes the launch event on Saturday, December 15. Book at Computicket.@WeekendArgus