By SARA BAUKNECHT
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Nearly 100 people packed The Alloy Studios in Friendship on Saturday for discussion groups and a fashion show spotlighting the beauty and diversity of natural African-American hair.
Many were part of the local group It’s a Natural Thang, which educates and supports women and men in their journey to let chemical agents and relaxers grow out and natural hair textures and curl patterns grow in.
In Washington, D.C., a few hundred gathered in the name of natural hair, paying special attention to styling tips for kids and members of the military. The celebration continued from Connecticut to Canada, Tallahassee to Tokyo and more than 50 other places in between to mark International Natural Hair Meetup Day.
Adeea Rogers of Greenville, N.C., started the event three years ago as an opportunity to connect for “naturalistas,” as those who forgo chemical styling agents affectionately call themselves. Word of her efforts spread organically through social media, she said, and the meet-up day has picked up more participation each year in America and abroad.
Saturday was the second time the event had a presence in Pittsburgh and the first time it included a fashion show featuring hair styled by The Natural Choice, a barber shop and salon in Oakland specializing in natural hair care. Globally, the event was presented by Koils by Nature, a hair product line specially formulated for curly, textured hair.
“It’s not just about hair and beauty and fashion,” Rogers said. “It’s really about the total individual. We’re concerned about their hair, mind, body and soul.”
Tamiah Bridgett, founder of It’s a Natural Thang, has watched her Pittsburgh group grow from fewer than 20 people in 2010 to quarterly meet-ups in the area that attract 100-150 guests and a Facebook page that’s 3,000-plus followers strong.
In the early days, they met in homes and then at libraries until “we got too loud for the library,” she said. These days, they typically gather at Union Project in East Liberty. Meetings can cover anything from how to find a good hairdresser to how to dodge natural hair product marketing schemes. People come for varied reasons; some are thinking about going natural while others are seeking advice in the midst of their journey. Others have multi-race families and want suggestions for their children’s hair.
“Each meet-up has its own theme and its own flair,” Bridgett said.
To become an official meet-up day host city, local groups pay a fee and complete informational webinars educating them about tips and requirements for their festivities. This year, all attendees were asked to bring a new natural hair care product to be donated to charity. INHMD Cares, the altruistic arm of the international meetup organization, also raised awareness in each city about lupus and suicide prevention.
Hair groups are the latest iteration of the natural hair movement, which has been evolving since the 1970s. For many, what differentiates the endeavor between then and now are the intentions behind going natural.
“Back in the ’70s, it was more of a cultural and political statement and kind of a sign of the times,” said Ms. Rogers, who started wearing her hair naturally in June 2009 out of “sheer curiosity.” “Now it’s more of an individual choice, whether it’s for health reasons or just a more holistic lifestyle.”
Bridgett made the decision 13 years ago in graduate school.
“I was surrounded by women who wore their hair natural, and it was beautiful,” she said. “I thought, `Why am I not wearing my hair like that?”’
After school, her day job was as a social worker and on the side she aided women with styling their natural hair. They liked how she wore hers and requested her help. She pursued her license in cosmetology, and It’s a Natural Thang was born.
Social media and worldwide attractions such as the annual World Natural Hair Show in Atlanta have brought more attention to natural hair.
“The acceptance of it through television and media has definitely helped,” said Nate Mitchell, owner of The Natural Choice.
Hair groups also have helped establish a sense of community among naturalistas in Pittsburgh and beyond.
“I think that the biggest things that can be taken away . are encouragement and empowerment and equipment,” Bridgett said. “You can feel like you’re part of a family.”
Tips for going natural
Get to know your hair: Learn your texture and curl patterns and get to know how your hair works and what styles are possible.
Avoid hair envy: Everyone’s hair is unique and can achieve different looks. Don’t compare yours to what you see in the media. Embrace what you have.
Have a stylist on standby: Do-it-yourself styles are great, but have a professional you can trust on call in case you get frustrated or need styling advice as your hair grows out.
Use the products that work for you: Experiment with organic and commercial lines and use the kind _ or a combination of types _ that are best for you. Water-based products are important for moisturizing hair as it grows. A leave-in conditioner and styling gel also can help lock in moisture and define curls. Ingredients such as grape seed oil and apricot seed oil are nourishing, don’t weigh down hair and absorb quickly.
Be patient and enjoy the journey: Letting chemical relaxers grow out can be a lengthy process. Take the time and discover how your natural hair looks and feels at each stage.
Sources: Pamela Jenkins, CEO of Koils by Nature (www.koilsbynature.com); International Natural Hair Meetup Day (www.nnhmd.com); and It’s a Natural Thang (www.itsanaturalthangpgh.com)