What inspired you to launch your own natural hair blog?
When I first decided to go natural in 2008, all I knew about natural hair care was that I needed to stop relaxing my hair. I had no clue about what types of products I should be using or transitioning styles and as a result, I wasn’t really taking great care of my hair and became frustrated with my whole transitioning to natural hair process. Eventually, after 4 months of my transition, I begged my stylist to relax my hair again because I just couldn’t take it anymore. The next day, I ended up regretting my decision and felt like I had given up too easily especially since I knew I really wanted to return to my natural texture after being relaxed for over 20 years. Thankfully, I had recently made some friends who were natural and were also transitioning to natural hair and they really encouraged me to begin my transition again. They also pointed me to natural hair blogs and YouTube channels that were starting to pop up that were teaching women how to care for their natural hair. Armed with more information, I began my transition again and decided to document what I was learning by creating my website (NaturalChica.com - was initially called Going Au Naturale) and YouTube channel (Nikkimae2003). I used my site as an online hair diary for myself but also wanted to provide encouragement for others who were also on the journey of discovering how to care for their natural hair.
As an advocate for embracing one’s natural hair, what’s your take on what’s going on with the student protests in South Africa?
Although I hate to see these young women have to endure this blatant discrimination, I’m really proud of them for having the confidence to let their voice be heard! For young women to be able to stand up for what they believe in despite being surrounded by people who try to belittle them shows immeasurable strength on their part. Standing united not only gives them power, but serves a powerful and encouraging reminder to onlookers who may think that their voice doesn’t matter or their fight is not worth fighting. It shows them that their voice DOES and ALWAYS MATTERS. I’ve been an advocate for natural hair care for over 7 years now, and it has been beautiful to see women not only learning to embrace their natural hair texture but also challenging these “ideals” of beauty that have been forced on them for so long and fully accepting their inner and outer natural beauty.
You stated in your bio that your mission is to help women recognize their inner beauty - How do you respond to a society that capitalizes on women’s insecurities?
It’s sad to say but many businesses will do anything to make a dollar, even if it means feeding into someone’s insecurities. They preach a message of SUCCESS but then also present with it a single definition that is somehow supposed to apply to every single, unique individual. Even with the rise of social media usage, it has become too easy to compare our lives to the lives of others through their carefully curated personal feeds of images and video clips, not ever really knowing what truly goes on behind the camera. Throughout the years, I’ve come to understand how you cannot let anyone else define what success looks like for you. Following someone else’s laid out path for your life will never give you true happiness and will instead lead you down a path where you’re second guessing your true gifts and purpose. I encourage women to stop focusing on all of the outside material things and really give themselves the time to pause and really ask themselves what it is they want out of life and to pay attention to their own voice. Its so important to also take time for self-care and to affirm the people that you love. This is how your inner beauty blossoms.
You have a Ph.D in Materials Science and Engineering. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? How do you think we can get more black women involved in the STEM fields (i.e.Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)?
I completed my doctoral studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology at the end of 2014 when I was about five months pregnant with my son. My graduate school journey was a trying journey that taught me the importance of taking small steps towards your goal even when you can’t fathom reaching the finish line. For those who may not be familiar with the field of materials science and engineering, it is the study of the interdependendent relationship of a material’s synthesis, processing, properties and structure and how that relates to its performance. This knowledge helps an engineer design new materials and improve existing materials so that they perform better in their desired function.
While I was in undergrad, I had the opportunity to be one of the leaders for the Pre-College Initiative program in my National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter. As a leader in that program, I learned how important it was to expose children at a young age to the STEM fields through hands-on activities. Many children at the schools we visited either hadn’t heard much about STEM careers or if they did, they weren’t really sure what was entailed, but after getting a glimpse of the types of engineering problems they could be solving through their activities, they wanted to learn so much more! In addition to exposure at a young age, I believe the key to increasing the numbers of black women in STEM and retaining them is mentorship and a support network. I was fortunate to have really great mentors throughout undergrad and graduate school and was also a member of supportive networks such as NSBE and the Black Graduate Student Association. These were key in helping me stay encouraged when self-doubt started to kick in, since I was usually the only person of color and sometimes one of few females in my engineering classes, especially during my undergraduate studies. It has truly been exciting to see the increase in women of color pursue STEM fields from the time I was in undergrad, but I believe there is certainly more work to be done in the early education sector and creating more programs that help retain and support these women throughout their undergraduate and graduate studies and even in their working career.
How do you balance being a mother, a wife and running a blog?
As a mom to an early toddler, I'd say that it is certainly something I’m still figuring out! What I have learned is that priorities will continuously shift and its about being able to shift gears and putting your all into what needs most attention at that time. My son and husband will always be my highest priorities, but during times when I’m working hard to meet deadlines on campaigns, I take complete advantage of those free moments I have, whether it’s during nap times or bedtime for my son . I’m also grateful for an amazing husband that makes parenting a true team effort. We are also very intentional in making sure we have some us time and call on the grandparents when we want and need a child-free weekend! When I look at the amount of things I’m able to juggle now compared to when I was single, I wonder what was I doing with all that time lol! You really learn how to adapt and find a system that works for you and your family, and for me, having these different roles has made me a better manager of my time and has also made me more discerning in the opportunities I do accept. I have to add that I’m all about writing things down! I live by my planner and writing down all my tasks, both family and business related, helps me to organize, prioritize and more importantly clears my head and allows me to focus on the task at hand.
How did you become an ambassador for Shea Moisture products?
Before I became an ambassador for Shea Moisture, I had been using their products early on in my natural hair journey. They worked really well for my hair and were at a great price point. They eventually started sending me products to review on my site and it was through that working relationship that I started to get to know their team. I can’t remember the year, but their team came down for the World Natural Hair Show in Atlanta one year and it was then that I got to sit down and talk to the CEO about some of my ideas for working with their brand in a more formal partnership. I’ve been a brand ambassador with them for several years now and I’m honored to work with a company that has grown tremendously over the years while providing numerous hair, body and skin care products for an audience that for a long time was being neglected in the mainstream beauty market.
Besides the blog, are you working on any other projects?
This year, I’ve been able to participate in a number of different projects outside of my blog. I was honored to participate as a speaker this year at several stops for the Living No Lye Tour put together by Constance Cash. It’s been an amazing tour that has pulled together so many women, providing scientific-based hair care information, styling solutions, a platform for local businesses and empowerment to those participating and attending!
I’m also the new Creative Director for Natural Hair at COLOUR, which is an on-demand in-home hair styling service for women of color that provides blowouts and natural styling services for women with relaxed or natural hair. it's been great working with such a motivated team that is passionate about providing hair care solutions for women with busy schedules who may not have the time to visit a salon.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve put on an annual event with celebrity makeup artist, Mimi J. in Atlanta called Naturally Pretty. We created Naturally Pretty to celebrate the fusion of makeup, natural hair, fashion and music while helping to raise funds for the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children. Next month on November 3, we’re hosting our 6th annual event, ‘The Art of Curl’ , where we will be showcasing the amazing work of curated artists. Guests will have the opportunity to participate in auctions for artwork throughout the evening and will also enjoy music, shopping, prizes, and light fare. To learn more about the event, you can visit naturallyprettyevents.com and if you have any readers in Atlanta, we’d love to invite them to join us that evening!
You and your husband just had your first child last year (2015). Congratulations! What have been some highs and lows of parenthood so far?
Thank you! Parenthood has been such a life-changing journey and every day is a brand new adventure. One of the hardest things for me, especially when my son was first born was the LACK OF SLEEP! People tried to warn me while I was pregnant, but there was nothing they could have said that would have adequately prepared me for how hard those first several months were. If I didn’t have the help of my husband and both sets of grandparents, I don’t know how I would have managed! They certainly helped to keep me sane. Let’s just say there was a huge celebration in our house after my son slept through the night for the first time!
One of the things I love most about being a parent, is being able to see your child’s growth and evolution. They learn things so quickly and it forces you to stop and pay attention to the little things. I also enjoy how having a child can bring out more of your ‘child-like’ nature, where you’re seeing everything now from their inquisitive eyes. Getting to experience my son’s long list of ‘firsts’ is almost like a new set of firsts for me as well! Now that my son is in the toddler stage, one of the best feelings is when he displays affection. I just love his little hugs and kisses!
What are your top 3 favorite hair products and why?
This is always a hard questions since I have MANY favorites, but here goes.
I love both the shampoo and conditioner from Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil line. I wash my hair while in the shower, and both of these products make it easy to detangle my hair while in the shower, saving me a lot of time. They always leave my scalp feeling cleansed and my hair well-conditioned and moisturized!
The Camille Rose Naturals Almond Jai Twisting Butter is hands down one of the best style butters I’ve tried over the years. Its incredibly moisturizing with its base of sweet almond milk & honey, it gives yours style great definition & hold, plus it smells really great!