Model Tyesha Smith. (David Pierini/staff photographer)

Big hair and bold style took center stage at the 3rd annual Natural Hair and Fashion Show Aug. 23 in Austin.

Models sported the latest in casual summer gear and couture evening wear at the Saturday showcase sponsored by Sankofa Business and Cultural Arts Center.

But the star of the show was a new take on an old look from the 1970s: the Afro. Black women are redefining that style with kinky lush wavy curls that’s trending the natural hair movement.

The event’s goal, event organizer’s said, was to showcase the beauty and elegance of women making that transition from straight, chemically-processed hair to embracing the “natural curl given by God.”

More black women are going natural, said show organizer Stacia Crawford, who put on the fashion show with her niece, Julissa.

The natural look is more acceptable now, Crawford said — which is a far cry several years ago where “you [had] 90 percent of the population with relaxers and … straight [hair].”

Before the shift, people perceived natural hair as “unacceptable” or “ugly,” Crawford, who sports her own natural look, said.  Now, black women embrace the natural hair concept from short naturals and twists to full-blown “fros.” Black women, according to Crawford, are not letting outside forces prescribe what’s the “standard of beauty.”

“When you see someone wear natural hair with confidence it is recognizable,” she said. “Some women ooze confidence. I think that is why the natural hair movement has become so popular, because women are starting to recognize their own beauty; that this is what God gave me and it’s beautiful. God didn’t make any mistake when he made this hair.

And a great hair style is not complete without great fashion, Julissa said, adding, “The more you see your type of hair, the more you want to wear your hair.”

It was three years ago when Crawford and her niece launched the show, which typically takes place at the Ed Bailey/Leola Spann Community Garden at 5840 W. Chicago Ave. near Mayfield, but rain forced Saturday’s show inside.

Stylist and designer Chanecia Williams was one of two designers showcasing their fashions. She showcased her scarves, bracelets and other accessories, as well as reconstructed jeans and T-shirts that she cuts up, bleaches and adds embellishments to create an entirely different look. But for Williams, hair and clothes are an integral part of fashion.

“Your style depends on your hair,” she said, “so what you wear for that day, that week that event depends on your hair.”

With natural hair, women must make a bold statement with their clothes, Williams said — a plain white T-shirt just won’t cut it with natural hair. Bigger, she insists, is better.

“The bigger the hair, the bigger the outfit should be, or the bigger your style should be,” Williams said. “Hair is fashion because you express yourself with what you wear and your hair is an accessory.”

For Ghana native Jennifer Akese Burney, she incorporates a lot of African print, vibrant colors and textured fabrics into her work. For this season’s fashions, Akese Burney combined African prints along with flounces, darts, pleats, gathers and tucks — all derived from the curl pattern of black hair.

“When you look at our hair you’ll be surprised by how many inspirations you can get just from looking at someone’s hair,” said Akese Burney, who sells her clothes online. “Some people have natural hair that’s locked up so…the locks look like fringes in the clothes or pleats in the clothes. I usually like to incorporate my print with the hair [pattern], because it looks unique and different.”

The fashion show’s lone male model also had a unique spin on natural hair.

Yaprie Jenkins, a student at Simeon High School on the South Side, wanted to show that men can wear dreads and be fashionable. Sporting dreads for eight years now, Jenkins said there’s a right way to wear dreads — and it is not the Chief Keef look.

Jenkins credits the rapper for getting more youth to dread their hair, but says the rapper’s style unfairly stereotypes black youth in thinking that “certain guys wear their dreads a certain way.”

The right way, Jenkins said, is to wear dreads hanging down the side of the face or pulled back for a more formal look. The 16-year-old hopes participating in Saturday’s event can show youth that they can “wear dreads and be fashionable” without being perceived as someone that they’re not.

Showcasing women’s versatility in hairstyles and fashion was the reason behind creating the event, said Crawford, who went natural eight years ago. The showcase was inspired by the many questions she got about her long, thick, lose curl and how she got it.  

Going natural, she said, was a goal for a lot of people who insisted they don’t have good hair; that theirs is too nappy or it won’t have any versatility if it’s natural.

“It’s all about your image,” Crawford insists. “When you look good, you feel good. We want to show people the whole package from the floor up; from the shoes, fashion, to the makeup and the hair.”


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