By Branielle Edmonds
Hundreds of natural hair lovers gathered recently at Florida State University’s Alumni Facility to honor the natural hair culture in The Capital City Natural Hair and Health Expo.
Valencia Jones, along with her sister, started Mandisa Ngozi Art & Braiding Gallery in 1996 after a humble beginning of braiding hair as a student at Florida A&M University.
Jones has a degree in psychology and worked in that field, but in 2012 she decided to start the Capital City Natural Hair and Health Expo to create a space for networking and putting black African culture on full display.
“I had to ask the question to myself, ‘will this be something that will stick around?’ I said yes and then worked to make sure that I touch people and build that genuine connection with my clients,” Jones said.
Since the first hair expo in 2012, it has grown to feature celebrities and influencers such as Tyra Ferrell, who starred in the “Boyz n the Hood” movie; Angela Bailey, who owns a modeling company in Miami; and Nikki Frenney-Wiggins, a social and fashion influencer known as “NikkiFree.”
Vendors had the opportunity to put their talents on display for purchase and informational purposes. The expo even featured businesses from as far away as Turks and Caicos.
Greta McBride of natural curly hair extensions vendor Hair Gem4U, started her business for her daughter while in college. “I went into the community and realized that there was a need for more education [on natural hair],” she said. “It’s amazing to see how now we are back at our original look.”
McBride added, “For me this has been a huge advantage for me to get out and network with my own people, even if there were no sales from it.”
Not only did the expo display natural hair care products, but it also had live hair braiding sessions and interactive workshops.
The focus of the expo was to highlight all things natural, but it also gave the public a chance to be exposed to how African American culture is growing in other areas of the beauty industry.
NikkiFree held a workshop in which she detailed her experience as a plus-size influencer in the fashion and social media world.
“The plus-size fashion industry is changing, and it’s because of us,” said NikkiFree. “When I say us, I mean black women, and black women with curves because we really set the standard for the culture — popular culture!”
Natural hair has not only grown into a phenomenon of health and authenticity, but it has also sparked a demand for natural beauty in the hair care, fashion and makeup markets, as well as popular culture.
“We are trendsetters and other cultures see it. That’s why you have what people call cultural appropriation,” said Jones, who has been based in Tallahassee for over 20 years. She, along with her sister and daughter, have grown their business into a legacy. They plan to continue the expo and look forward to spreading it across the country.
One of Jones’ concerns is that it continues to circulate across college campuses, specifically FAMU’s, since that is her alma matter. The annual expo is scheduled to return to Tallahassee next April.
When asked what is her favorite part about putting on the hair expo, Jones responded, “The feedback, just knowing that I touched one or two people means so much to me.”