When I sauntered into the calm atmosphere of Jenny’s Beauty Supply in Dallas, it was a far cry from the cramped stores I inspected as small children. I ascertained people who were in between haircuts and others who had clearly just finished a work shift. Very few wandered aimlessly. It seemed as though the majority of patrons had clear intentions. A new wig, a battalion of mane. My intent was clear as well. Before this year, I had never installed my own kanekalon hair, a synthetic fiber that replicates kinky textures and is worn everywhere from the red carpet to manner week runways to my own neighborhood.
Instead, I sat between the legs of someone else, who would intertwine it with my natural whisker to craft thick-witted, golden cornrows and micro braids, respectively. However, a recent move inspired a change to match my new environment. So after looking at old-time photos of TLC member T-Boz, I knew I wanted to pay homage.
In the midst of my impulse conversion, I realise just how second-nature a trip to the store for kanekalon hair had become not only to me, but the Black community in general. Though it isn’t exclusive to our culture, most accepted it’s a Black innovation because we invest in it “the worlds largest”. Even if we aren’t is accountable for its creation, its legacy started with our demand for it. And as with most trends started by PoC, kanekalon hair is entangled in both celebrated pop culture instants and oft-repeated disputes, the latter of which is still exacerbated by the fashion and beauty industries today.
Its beginnings are muddled, to say the least. Though it’s most closely associated with and bought by Black women, its original purpose may have had nothing to do with textured whisker. Some say that kanekalon was intended to be a wool alternative when it was initially created in the 1950 s. Nonetheless, a more widely-known origin story is tied to the uprising of Korean beauty supply owneds, who cornered service industries in the 1960 s and were encountering requirement from its majority-black consumers. According to In-Jin Yoon’s book, On My Own: Korean Enterprises and Race Relation in America, 1967 is a more accurate birth date. And once more beauty supply chains started profiting from it, Hollywood wanted a piece of the pie, too.
By the mid-1 970 s, the style and charm industries weren’t simply exploiting the synthetic fiber for publication shoots and the runway. They began making brands of their own, too. It became normal to see Kanekalon wigs sold through ad placements in Ebony and worn by white-hot buyers. For lesson, most forget that Lauren Hutton was the face of a Kanekalon brand in 1972.
The irony of its quick and lucrative trajectory is that the most popular Kanekalon options were poor replications of what Black hair gazes and may seem like; the fuzz attached to women who helped make it a hot merchandise in the first place. So when Black supermodel Naomi Sims retired from the runway in 1973, she exploited her status to create Kanekalon Presselle, one of the few labels to curate products that accurately matched the hair of the consumer.
According to Sims in a 1980 interview with The Washington Post, 40% of women buying wigs were Black women, which all but supported the qualifications of the the render definitely didn’t meet the demand. There was also the influence of Sims’ own simulate job, which helped inform her post-retirement move. Oftentimes, she was tasked with do her own hair or equipped with wigs that appeared nothing like her own. Instead of settling, she mastered a recipe that would become the blueprint for her company years later.
” I bought several Caucasian-type, silky-haired wigs, wet them with setting lotion, rolled them with sword rollers and set them in the oven…I cooked them at about 175 degrees for about 15 times and when they came out they looked like black straightened mane ,” she shared. According to The Entrepreneurial Spirit of African American Inventors, Sims’ products became best-sellers and helped procure kanekalon’s spot as an stay haircare staple. In other terms, the investment of a Black woman once again helped propel the staple to new heights.
By the 1990 s, it had settled into its legacy and become synonymous with pop culture instants we still fawn over today. For example, Janet Jackson’s box braids in Poetic justice( 1993) are just as popular as the movie itself. The hair used to create Jackson’s’ do was likely Tiara II, a assortment within the Kaneka haircare line made nearly 15 times prior.
With a legacy clearly heightened by Black women, it’s sadly unsurprising when credit is given to those merely influenced by something they had no hand in creating, especially in the social media period. For instance, when Kim Kardashian’s crimped kanekalon ponytail and slicked babe hairs were featured on Vogue’s website in March 2019, it was described as ” modern” on Instagram. In other terms: complete erasure of the people who innovated and wore the style decades before. Thankfully, social media has stimulated it easier to challenge the people and rooms who make such assumptions.
In response to Vogue’s ratioed tweet, Twitter user named Micah Nicole shared four photos of Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Beyonce and Janet Jackson wearing a similar appear months or times prior and from there, others used to opportunity to co-sign her annoyance with media’s misinformed takes on beauty. Similarly, Ariana Grande has been accused of wearing kanekalon braiding mane, although she maintained her fuzz is simply crimped.
But unlike celebrity hair minutes, the runway has been more definitive in its borrowing of lookings rooted in the Black community. For instance, white-hot models were fashioned with jumbo, blonde kanekalon braids and baby hairs for the Blonds’ Spring 2015 NYFW show. The hairdresser called the hairstyle “madness”, which many rightfully took as offensive.
Of course, for every snafu is a celebration that feels like a healing salve. The random, but joyous DMX challenge was one of the most recent and unexpected homages to the beauty supply staple. Using the rapper’s classic “What These B-tches Want” second verse, where over 40 calls are recited, social media customers( the majority of which were Black women) stimulated mashup videos that demonstrated various hairstyles syncing with each name.
“I’m 16 and hair is one of the ways I convey myself. Especially in braids. You have..Passion, Havana, and Marley[ twists ],[ and] twistings that are put into a bob ,” Twitter user Abygail Metellus told me in the midst of the challenge.” Then you have the actual hair…My favourite colour is purple, so you are able to ever realise me in purple. But never the same hue-[ I like] dark purple, plum, lavender, and ombre. I forever change my style and never search the same although I ever have the same color in my hair…”
Oh! Virgin Hair proprietor Jasmine W . also shared the ways she wears kanekalon, writing “I use it for a ten time ponytail, a long Rapunzel braid, twin buns, or a braided bun! When I have no time to play and I still need to slay,[ I] merely set a ponytail out and popping that bad boy on.”
Fleeting viral moments like these have a way of highlighting just how intertwined-in this case, both literally and figuratively-certain products or lookings have been integrated into our culture. Kanekalon hair is undoubtedly one of those things. Though its genesis and eventual advancement are arguably multicultural , no one has espoused and invested in it more than the Black community. And irrespective of what whisker innovations are created in the future, it will be impossible to divorce from our rich history.
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