I am so honored to be featured in this month’s Upscale magazine in a two page spread nonetheless on my travels. I love reading the publication and it’s an honor to be featured with so many faces that to me are the epitome of black excellence. I’ve redacted it a bit to entice you to pick up a copy!
Enjoy this great interview by Nina Hemphill Reeder and check out more of her work @reederandwriter!
So I have a problem in Italy. At first I thought it was me, and being in Bergamo. I couldn’t find a proper place to do my nails, with gel manicures starting at 40 euros. Then when I thought of the idea of getting my hair done there, I recalled studying abroad and getting hair chemical burns. And well… I never walked down the street and saw an Italian woman with truly fly hair! It must be something I’m missing, this country is world renowned for style, surely that translates into beauty as well. A dinner with friend and beauty YouTuber based in Italy, Tia Taylor confirmed it for me. Nope, it’s not me. Italians are super behind in trends and techniques when it comes to beauty, especially hair and nails. So services I took for granted in NYC and London seem like Godsends to me now. One of these services is getting my lashes done. I got them done for the first time in London, but once I found the Lash Loft, in my old neighborhood of Gramercy in NYC, I truly upped my lash game and became a lash aficionado. I’m still open to finding a place in Milan but SandyLee at the Lash Loft set the bar supremely high. For better or worse (lash health and my pocket) I can’t get my lashes done month, more often being every 2-3 months because I don’t really trust anyone to touch my lashes anymore.
You know when a beauty practice, or fashion trend becomes so common place that you start to see bad knock offs. Like bad butt lifts? Well we definitely are beyond that point with eye lashes. Call me bougie but I DONT want my nail salon doing my lashes on the eye brow waxing chair in the back room!
And when I found out a woman of color, an island girl no less, was owner of this premium lash spa, Shellyann Bainlardi, my fondness for it grew further! I enjoy my the Lash Loft appointments because SandyLee and I talk about everything from celebrity eye shapes and the lash styles they use to how she caters to clients that wear glasses and of course, making my lash extensions tailored to me and how I sleep, travel and the wear and tear.
Here’s a little video I made originally for my IGTV highlighting a typical the Lash Loft appointment for me and why the Lash Loft sets the bar high for a lash consultation and services — it’s no wonder their clientele includes Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, bloggers, actresses, people whose livelihoods depend on their face. And then there’s ragamuffin me, who just wants to look camera ready whether getting off of a 16 hour flight or grabbing a pizza in Brooklyn or the Amalfi Coast.
Book your lash services today!
34 E 20th St. Suite 2 New York, NY 10003 Tel: (212) 353-2517
Let’s call it the Kingdom of Morocco. It is a Kingdom and that title really conveys the majesty of Morocco and it’s varied landscapes. For this portion of our trip, we opted for the Atlas Mountains and the Imlil Valley — centuries old Berber Kasbahs, mudbrick nomad villages, mountain goats whimsically walking perpendicular to the land, cascading rivers, gorges, canyons and waterfalls. That’s the side of this magical kingdom Michele and I were privy to with Kasbah du Toubkal. The landscape was as welcoming as the people, open up it’s awe-inspiring faces, centuries in the making to us.
Here’s our video of our stay at Kasbah du Toubkal and light day trek around the Imlil Valley. Comment, subscribe, let me know what you think!
*I also shot another video exclusive for my IGTV channel, same same but different — that one has more meals, a room tour but less good chat with me and Michi. Let me know which you prefer!
Heatwaves are sweeping through Europe. They say the hot winds are coming from Northern Africa and the Sahara. When a lot of people go to Morocco, they think Marrakech, beautiful opulent cities or glamping in the Sahara, but Morocco has two large mountain ranges. During Michele’s and my trip for my birthday last year, we saw both of them and were able to experience sultry hot desert climates, historical city exploration and hiking, waterfalls and properly cold mountain temperatures in one trip lasting 10 days! It might not be what you expect, but it’s in these mountains that you can discover the heart, the origins of Moroccan culture.
Morocco is famed worldwide for Moroccan hospitality, taking in guests like they are honored members of the family. Predating the Arabic influence is Berber culture and with almost half of the population of Morocco speaking a Berber dialect and more claiming Berber descent. Those famed Moroccan rugs, are often times Berber made and Berber designs (I bought one while in the mountains as well as tableware) — stunning silversmithing too. Berber history goes back 4000 years, maybe more and has resiliently weathered the Romans, Arabs and French. Calling themselves Amazigh or Tuareg, Berber is a name given by the Arabs. Berbers were actually mostly Jewish, Christian or Animists before the Arab invasion of the 7th century.
For a vacation exploring the Atlas Mountains skiing or climbing it’s highest peak, Toubkal — 4,267 meters — (just 40 miles from Marrakesh!), you should start in the Imlil Valley and stay at Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco’s premiere mountain retreat. Kasbah Toubkal is actually one of NatGeo’s Unique Lodge of the World.
“Whatever you want. Anything you need. You’re a guest in our home.” That was the policy at the Kashbah and from the delicious dates in goat milk, to their birthday cake for me (surprise!). We relished in the Berber hospitality — even a bit reluctant to return to Marrakesh!
A kasbah is an old city keep or fortress and summits in the area are dotted with them. Including one owned by Richard Branson. They are essentially ancient walled compounds, this one being a colonial mansion that had been abandoned. Kasbah du Toubkal opened in 1995 servicing an area that didn’t have very many luxury accommodations for trekkers. Martin Scorcese even shot parts of his film Kundun here!
Kasbah du Toubkal is one of those properties where every traveller seems to have a great story. We met newlyweds, families, trekkers and it was wonderful to share this experience with them. After a long trip, we were immediately welcomed with food and had my birthday dinner watching the sunset in the mountains as the air got crisper. Smiling at Michele, breathing in fresh Atlas mountain air, when I close my eyes now I can still remember it. I walked to the edge of the balcony and took a mental panorama, wanting to register how the air grazed my skin, the herd of mountain goats making their way home almost vertically, the rust color the sunset created on the mountain, Michele’s peaceful spirit. I wanted to remember it all, so I can do exactly what I’m doing now, close my eyes and just got back there.
We were welcomed with Moroccan mint tea as well as local dates dipped in goats milk. Traditional bread, amazing coucous, fresh yogurt at breakfast, we very much enjoyed meal times at Kasbah du Toubkal.
The property is also quite spacious so more often than not Michele and I felt like we were the only ones there!
We spent the night of my birthday gazing at the starts from the watchtower at the Kasbah.
We were heading to North Africa in the summer but were woefully unprepared for the Atlas mountains where the temperatures drop dramatically at night. I think it was in the 40s F while we were there and we could see our breathe in the night. We were so happy to have traditional Berber mountain robes in our room to put on for stargazing. During the day, I made use of the straw hat provided in our room too!
The next day, well rested from a wonderful night in our cozy cabin, we were ready to explore the Imlil Valley! Most of the guests were up and out while we were having breakfast as they were hiking big summits.
If you’d rather just take a day trip exploring the surrounding villages in the Imlil valley, the Kasbah can arrange that too. We went with Ali and had an amazing time.
After trekking, Michele and I booked a private session in the wood heated hammam — you do have to book it with the front desk so they prep the room for you.
We flew into Marrakesh and Kasbah du Toubkal arranges for a driver to pick you up from the airport and driver you about two hours through beautiful vistas into the valley town of Imlil. Your hosts will meet you in the town of Imlil with a trekking donkey to carry your things up to Kasbah du Toubkal. It is a little bit of a hike and surprisingly gets steep at some points!
You guys are in love. Do you love her? I know a man in love. Happy wife, happy life! – salesman in a carpet store in Imlil Valley
Every trip Michele and I take together is special, but Morocco, without a doubt holds a place in our heart. We grew and truly blossomed as a couple. It actually could be the first place where Michele told me he loved me!
The Imlil Valley and Atlas Mountains are truly magical. Kasbah du Toubkal gave us a completely different taste of Morocco that we were truly lucky to experience. Have you been there? Have any other recs for the Atlas Mountains? Let me know!
In June 2019 I appeared on CBS This Morning discussing women’s travel safety given a spat of instances recently reaching the press — a rape at Embassy Suites another assault at the Majestic Elegance in the Dominican Republic. Journalist Dana Jacobson sat down with me, and two other women who frequently travel solo to discuss women’s travel safety. I always want to encourage women to travel alone and at the same time I want to equip them with the resources to do so safely.
In March, the New York Times released an article “Adventorous. Alone. Attacked” with the sub-heading:
This is a great way to put it. How is the world greeting women who travel alone? It’s a mans world, and in some cultures, and assertive independent woman comes as an affront to manhood. In some places, an unaccompanied woman is almost fair game. In some countries, large systematic changes in attitudes towards women are needed at the most basic level and only then could we begin to address the problem about women travelers. Nor do I mean looking at it from a Western savior lens — we are after all in a country that let billionaire Jeffrey Epstein “allegedly” go unchecked and prey on underage girls for decades.
Is it irresponsible for me to encourage young women like myself to travel alone, and discussing the wonders of it, without discussing the perils. I take precautions, but I have angels watching over me and a good sense of intuition. I’ve nodded off in an Uber. Had too much to drink in a strange country and danced off into the night, been in countless situations that could have turned out poorly and by the grace of God, I made it home. I Also have been in tough situations in which I wish I were better equipped with the tools I have now. With age, I’ve become more aware and I want to share some of these tools with you.
Know the lay of the land. You don’t always have to agree with it, but if you’re in a place where women rarely venture out solo, adjust your movements to the customs. Proving a point is simply not worth your life.
The door wedge. This is a tip I got from watching a special on women’s travel safety. These little wedges, less than $5 on Amazon can create an obstacle for someone attempting to get into your hotel room that has bypassed the lock. As small as they are, they are easy and safe to travel with.
It’s falling out of practice, but hotels should not announce your room number upon giving you your room key. “Thank you Ms. Richards! You’ll be staying in room —“ NOPE! If they do, you’re not being difficult if you asked to be reassigned and tell them why. You never know who’s listening.
This is my personal preference but the anonymity of mega hotels and resorts are a little scary to me. That 10 minute walk to the front desk. Yikes, as we saw in the case of Tammy Lawrence-Daley, anything can happen. I do prefer the more “intimate” setting of a boutique hotel.
Know the staff. Or at least make sure they know you. A “hi, how are you?” goes a long way. It’s the peace of mind of having someone in your corner. The doorman that might know if you returned that night or not. The front desk that’s vaguely aware of your comings and going.
Elevator roulette. A lot of elevators now require a key for each floor but be aware of your surroundings and elevator mates. If something feels off, don’t be afraid to reroute and head down to the lobby. Or have an employee walk you to your room.
Vacation mode shouldn’t mean loose ALL inhibitions. The same safety precautions that you would take at home, take them on vacation! Lock your door at night, be aware when you’re walking down the street. Watch your drinks, especially if you’re going to be traveling home / to your hotel room alone.
Speaking of this – I am a big proponent of letting the day take you away on your travels and I’ve been guilty of this in my youth — cough, going up into the Swiss Alps for fondue on the back of a stranger’s moto — but always have an exit plan. An idea of how you’re going to get home. Are Uber’s safe and reliable in the country that you’re visiting? Living in London, where the mayor tried to ban Uber for the ride sharing apps failing to meet safety / background check requirements for its driver made me think twice about how much trust we put in strangers. “The movements are tracked,” I initially thought, way safer than cabs, and for many years let my guard down in Ubers. Those attacks in places like India were just happen stance. But having a city like London, so similar to NY question the safety of Uber made me think twice. Most countries in Europe also have better FDA regulations than the US and in my opinion, the states sometimes feel a higher level of responsibility for their citizens.
So know how you’re getting home! Is this a country where rideshare is common? If so, which one? If it’s a place where a taxi is preferred, have someone who works at the locale give you the number of a car service company, or call one for you. Are the kind of person who assumes you’ll end up walking every where? Sess it out during the day, is this route safe to walk alone at night?
Krav Maga. I’ve wanted to take women’s self defense classes for a long time, decades now, and while I did boxing, muy thai, and kick boxing, I never took a class specifically aimed at self defense tactics for women. Krav Maga, an Israeli self defense style that the IDF trains with has been on my list for a while. Upon finding out that it is indeed self-defense, for engaging in hand to hand combat on the streets, vs an age old martial arts tradition, I was sold! Developed for the army taught in lessons, it has been adapted to suit civilian life and students learn how to deal with a wide range of scenarios. I’ve never had to “fight” my way out of being jumped in a martial arts class before! Awareness, self-protection, and confidence. Trust me, signing up for a few lessons gives you those extra tools in your arsenal.
Speaking of, in another controversial technique, I carry pepper spray. It’s legal in NYC and many of my friends do. I thank God that I’ve never had to use it, but even before pepper spray, I’m of the ilk that practices things like, having your keys between your knuckles etc when walking home alone, especially at night.
In all of these instances there is the overarching need to TRUST YOUR GUT. If you’re worried something’s off, better safe than sorry. You’re not an alarmist when it comes to your safety.
What are some advice of safety that you have for women traveling solo? How do you protect yourself? Share with me below and check out my interview with CBS This Morning!
In the summer of 2017 as my mother booked our tickets for an August trip to France, I declared that I would not be returning home with her after those 10 days and would be staying in Europe. Spending a lot of time in Europe in the previous decade, beginning with studying abroad in Milan in 2006, I had managed to scrape together a community and personal life on the old continent. I’m a born and raised New Yorker, and realize the luxury of “going home” meaning going back to NYC, but had developed a sort of ambivalence to that, as though I were resting on my laurels. As I mentioned in previous blog posts, I craved a challenge. As I spoke with my dear friend and confidante Jen about whether NYC was the right place for us, I decided I have to give living in London a shot. I chose London because of the community I had built there, loose family ties (the West Indian diaspora) as well as a romantic interest. My crystal healer has always told me about my intense intuition and as I reflect about how much I thought my life would change from this trip, I realized I didn’t know how right I was.
But, I started in France as that happened to be where we were heading in August. I figured, I’d make it to London eventually but what’s more romantic than living in France? Americans have a love affair with the country and it’s very much a two-way street. One of the country’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin was a full on Francophile. BTW, I had no intention of finding a romantic interest while there because rarely had I been on a date with a Frenchman where World War II didn’t get brought up, but I digress. Those four weeks that fall, flew by.
At nearly 60-years-old in 1984, during an interview for the Paris Review James Baldwin was asked why he had chosen to live in France. “It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France — it was a matter of getting out of America.”
Like hundreds of black American artists before me, I imagined days spent working on my blog, with wine and a baguette. The charm of Josephine Baker, the prose and finesse of Baldwin. This is Paris after all, the city where black American creatives escaped and were revered. In the era of Trump, Paris would welcome me. Macron welcomes those shunned by this administration! I had a few introductions of family friends: one woman in Paris who along with her sisters (black Americans) had made a life in France, with husbands and children for decades.
First and foremost, Paris is a great place to be alone. I can work a room and party like no other but I’m a bookish only child at heart and in Paris, I could go for days without having a real conversation with someone. A woman, alone at a restaurant is part of the city’s fabric. There was a week when I went on 3 Bumble dates, I was so starved for conversation. I also joined Bumble BFF. I devoured the beauty that was Paris, walked along its boulevards, ate, ate and ate some more. Went to a farmer’s market every other day. It was during these walks where I saw the other side of Paris. The Syrian refugees who made their home in the parks and under buildings along the canal, washing up in the fountains in the morning. It was at one of these markets where I realized the strange and precarious place I occupied as a Black American in Paris.
I’ve been on wonderful press trips with the French tourism board — my favorite among those being to the islands of Martinique & Guadeloupe and the city of Bordeaux. On these trips (separate) I really began to piece together and understand the complexities of colonization from all angles, tracing the triangle trade as I munched on my favorite Bordeaux dessert, cannelés. I felt my face flush as an unassuming “French food expert” discussed how the desert’s creation represented 1700s France and Bordeaux’s richness with the new commodities of rum and sugar being introduced into the economy and funding Bordeaux families. No mention of the slave trade. Martinique and Guadeloupe were indeed a wonderful blend of all things French, Caribbean and West African, but you look hard enough you can see the cynicism in a Guadeloupeans eyes as they tell you this — this was the island that rebelled the most between the two. The French West Indies are just another, albeit further, department of France. No different than Nouvelle-Acquitaine or Brittany. In Paris you see it, with many of the young hotspots filled with young people from the French West Indies studying in Paris, or newly living there. They too occupied a strange place in the French racial hierarchy vs. my black American otherness or someone from Sierra Leone say.
With French President François Hollande playing Jay-Z & Kanye West’s Niggas in Paris during his 2012 election campaign, it’s no surprise to note that black American culture is still revered in France, dating from the post war GIs bringing Jazz, food and well, that black American je ne sais quois. And being from New York City put me on a whole other pedestal, but my skin color is indeed my skin color and makes it super difficult for racists! How can they tell?! Back to the market. As I’m standing in line, waiting to ask the farmer how much for the melons in my broken french. I haven’t said anything yet, but I’m repeatedly ignored. Three white French women come and get served before me. Finally, I interrupted and asked “c’est combien…” I lost my nerve. But weirdly, the look of disinterest, maybe even disgust, soon turned into a smile as he corrected my French and asked where I was from. “belle New York!” As he rattled off his dreams of his New York cliche, I walked away. I didn’t need melons from that stall.
As I spoke with my mom’s friend’s daughter, the youngest of the sisters, Desiree about her experiences living in France and raising a mixed race son, she wasn’t surprised. I picked Desiree’s brain about her life in Paris, she took me to her favorite haunts from her days as a student. Cool places where she went with her son and we got into real talk about what it’s like being black in Paris. It wasn’t exactly the “relief” I felt in London, being American first, where my skin color wasn’t the overarching part of my identity. Sure, I could capitalize on the exotification of black American culture but this was a strange time in the era of Brexit, Windrush backlash, immigration a hot button and the raise of those figures like Marine Le Pen. Desiree while fluent, doesn’t speak perfectly pronounced French and that has shielding her from that specific colonization racism. Much like what I felt from the fruit vendor. Queen Oprah underwent a similar situation in Hermes in Paris.
“Egalité, Liberté” I jokingly screamed with French friends while watching fireworks in the harbor of Bordeaux, and later, again with a large French crowd while watching the World Cup last summer 2019. As declared by King Louis X in the fourteenth century, “France signifies freedom” and declared that slavery was not authorized on the French mainland and any slaves setting foot on French soil would be free. During the revolution of the 1790s this freedom was extended to the French colonies as well, though in some places, it was ignored. America, too has freedom in its DNA, and yet we have kids in cages. No place is perfect. Did I feel the freedom that Baldwin, Baker, Wright, Kanye West and so many black creatives, American creatives before me felt? Yes. Did I take it with a dash of hypocrisy knowing it was no readily extended to brethren that looked just like me? Absolutely.
In 1986, a psychiatrist coined the term “Paris syndrome” to describe the stress that some Japanese tourists experience when they discover that Paris isn’t the charming paradise often depicted in films and magazines. While I still love Paris, my rose colored glasses for the city have certainly gotten a little clearer. That fall, I underwent my own Paris syndrome. As I present to you romanticized versions of Paris in future blog posts, please keep this in mind, and the luxury I had in experiencing this.
1986, a psychiatrist coined the term “Paris syndrome” to describe the stress that some Japanese tourists experience when they discover that Paris isn’t the charming paradise often depicted in films and magazines. While I still love Paris, my rose colored glasses for the city have certainly gotten a little clearer. That fall, I underwent my own Paris syndrome. As I present to you romanticized versions of Paris in future blog posts, please keep this in mind, and the luxury I had in experiencing this.
From the Obamas to Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, seems like I’m in good company in Italy this summer and with the Fourth of July in the rear view mirror and Italian tourist season it’s peak, you might be packing for a trip to this beautiful country as well. Summer is actually my favorite time of the year to pack for a trip because with lighter weight fabrics, I get more bang for my buck — yet, I’m still always overweight in luggage!
After an unusually long and cold spring, Italy is in the midst of a heatwave with the temperatures climbing in the forseeable future for August. If you’re not sure what to pack for where you’re going and what you’re doing, I’ve got you covered. Here’s my dolce vita packing guide, featuring me in my new favorite skirt of the summer, my Tanya Taylor silk Flavia. One my my many favorite things about Tanya Taylor’s line is that it includes plus sizes as well. Her clothes make all women feel good!
Overall on ‘N A Perfect World, I’m trying to take you off the beaten path. Sometimes our favorite tried and true destinations, just a different way of looking at them, at other times it’s going left when everyone else is going right and discovering something truly beautiful. Hey, I fell in love with the city of Bratislava because it was way cheaper than going to Prague for the weekend as a lot of people in my study abroad program were doing.
Exploring Northern Italy with Michele, I’ve been eager to share all the spots he’s introducing me to BUT there’s that age old travel journalist dilemma. How many times can you write about a “secret” spot, before it becomes not, so secret. I saw it happen to my beloved Sayulita, Mexico. So, I’m going to toe the line… I’ll show you these places but won’t let you in on exactly where they are, unless you really want to know. The discovery is half the fun!
I’m taking you into the hidden peaks and valleys just beyond your favorite tourist destinations to escape the crowds and have a travel experience all your own. This weekend, escaping the heatwave in Milan & Bergamo, Michele and I hopped on his Vespa and found the perfect private swimming hole somewhere in Lombardia. Want to know where we are? Let me know below and I send you a special directions message from Michele and I!
Going natural has been an incredible hair journey for me, though I’ll have to be honest, more often than not, fraught with frustrations. After relaxing my hair for most of my life, I’ve gone creamy crack free for a little under 4 years now. One of my favorite things about my natural hair journey is the discovery of black women taking their share of the black haircare industry, something that was considered unthinkable before. One of these boss women is True Indian Hair founder, Karen Mitchell. I’ve been following Karen and her brand since it’s early days; I first remember seeing the advertisement for it on a bus in Brooklyn in around 2008. I loved a long straight weave back then and started to hear rumblings in the hair industry about “indian hair” that you could reuse and would still stay full. Karen’s hair was my first foray into luxury hair extensions and I haven’t turned back.
As she’ll tell you later, Karen Mitchell’s True Indian hair wefts are behind some of your favorite celebrity looks, from Taraji P. Henson to Rihanna to Lizzo and on the runways of New York Fashion Week. I can personally attest to the intense quality control that the company provides. I first told my ‘N A Perfect audience of my love affair with True Indian Hair back in 2015, when I wrote about embracing the idea of curls for the summer. Right before this weave was the last time I permed my hair and in an effort to straighten my hair less and take care of it despite my rigorous travel schedule, I decided to try curly extensions for the first time in a texture that would match closer to my own. I hoped to be able to “sweat it out,” go swimming etc. without worrying my roots and hair didn’t match. Flash forward a few years later and those curls have become my signature look and have only gotten kinkier and closer to my natural texture. The wildest thing to me is I still have a few pieces of those bundles. They have lasted through INSTALLATIONS.
But here’s the problem that I’ve found throughout the years in my curly hair search, SHEDDING!
The curlier the hair I seek out is, the more maintenance it requires (think costs) and the more it sheds. So, despite trying a few other luxury hair companies, and even AliExpress, I’m back to True Indian Hair for this summer because I still haven’t found a product that matches the brand in quality. This summer, I’m trying the 20 inch (when pulled) variety of one of their newer textures, super Indian kinky and despite some slight shedding, I can say I am extremely pleased.
If I can support a black business woman, I’m there for it, all day, every day and Karen’s story and hustle is truly inspiring to me. Before Instagram marketing, she was the first black women entrepreneur I saw holding their own in the black hair trade. At the time she started in the early 2000s, packaged hair was the norm; maybe you went to an Asian-owned beauty supply store and if you were lucky, the shop assistant was someone of color. This is why I was particularly interested in Karen’s story and wanted to share some of her experience and sage advice with you! Enjoy!
‘N: I’ve been a fan of True Indian Hair since it’s first store in Brooklyn. In fact, it was the first luxury hair weave company I ever purchased from. Some of my “fill in” pieces are still from one of my first batches! Karen, I’m sure you’re an inspiration to a lot of young women entrepreneurs. This is an industry that seems to be ripe for opportunity, but so few black women selling products to fellow black women at the time you started (and still now). Did you face roadblocks and obstacles in launching True Indian Hair? What was the biggest lesson learned from them?
Karen: I started at a time when there were very few black women hair bosses. I started in 2004 selling out of a showcase in a barber shop I owned while still working my 9-5. Two years later after getting laid off from my job, I opened my first flagship store in Brooklyn. The obstacles I initially faced was being based on not having any real business knowledge, plan or enough seed money. I was naïve about what it took to start a business. I had the drive to do it but very little else. This lack of planning made it very difficult to get the brand off the ground and I almost closed the store the first year.
‘N: Black Americans have revolutionized and democratized the hair industry. Making weaves trendy for all races, upping the stakes in the quality we demand, etc. The closest I’ve seen it in all of my travels (even to black countries) has been in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they were selling bundles in an airport stand! If you could open a TIH boutique anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Karen: Yes, black women have certainly taken hair extensions and wigs to new heights globally. I would love to open a TIH store in Europe (London, Paris, Germany) and in my country, the beautiful island of Jamaica. I have clients in many European countries and they constantly complain of the lack of readily available quality hair extension and wig stores. These international stores are on my to do list.
*And her background is Jamaican, so maybe I am a bit partial!
‘N: It used to be almost “taboo” to talk about your weave. Now people wear them loud and proud, switching it up. What do you attribute to this change?
Karen:As a hair retailer it makes me so happy to see the taboo subject of weaves and wigs are no more. “This aint your mama’s wig” is a line I jokingly use with my clients all the time. This change is largely attributed to social media. Black social media influencers, celebrity stylists and celebrity themselves have pushed the envelope in showing weave and wigs as an acceptable and fun beauty regime. Now you have the Kardashians proudly saying they wear weaves and wigs. Celebrities are proudly tagging and promoting wig and weave companies. This has taken the shame out of it and now it’s cool to proudly claim it. Now many celebs themselves are starting hair lines. We are actually partnering with Marlo Hampton of House Wives of Atlanta to launch a line of wigs this summer.
*take that to all the people questioning Marlo’s hustle!
‘N: I remember going to the shop years ago, maybe 2009ish or 2010, and Karen was on a trip to India. I was in India at the end of last year and it was hard being a black woman there. I’ve read a lot of accounts, enough to know it wasn’t just me. From what I experienced, there is a strong overarching racism towards black people there. This could be very different in the business world as your money is just as green as everyone else’s. What were your experiences in India as a black entrepreneur? Do you go often for work trips?
Karen: Yes, in the early days of the business I traveled to India to visit the factories making my hair and wigs. I do know of the racism black people and darker Indians face in India based on my research before I went. I did not encounter that while I was there and it may have been because I was there on business. What I got more of was a bit of sexism. It was always a surprise to the vendors that I was doing this as a woman alone. I was often asked, so is your husband running the business at home? or is your husband coming? or is your husband a silent partner? It was always a surprise that I was doing it alone as a woman.
‘N:Who would be the most iconic “get” wearing TIH?
Karen: I have had some iconic OMG’s like Rihanna. We love Rihanna and her stylist Yusef who keeps her fab in our hair. Adding to her: Beyoncé and First lady Michelle Obama would be the most iconic gets for me right now.
‘N: Advice time! If you think a friend’s hair, could benefit from a little umphf! A nice weave… how would you suggest it to her?
Karen: A friend friend or just a friend lol.. I would say in a diplomatic way, hey, I think you would look amazing in this texture. A change would look amazing on you.
‘N: I’m loving my TIH super kinky curly for a wet and go summer style. What are your 5 favorite summer hair and beauty products?
Karen: Yes, the super kinky curly is a new texture we added this year. It’s kinkier than our normal kinky curl but it’s still soft and manageable with a daily leave in conditioner. I recently created a line of paraben-free hair care products called TRUE HAIR CARE Moisture Rich system. My goal was to create a product that works equally great on natural hair and weaves and wigs.
In our video on Traveling As An Interracial couple in honor of Loving Day, Michele and I mainly discuss our experiences and social commentary as a whole, mentioning very few places so I wanted to make a list and share with you from BOTH of our experiences.
Monaco and the French Riviera. Michele and I just watched Netflix’s new movie, Murder Mystery that takes place in a lot of our stomping grounds, from Brooklyn to Northern Italy. Michele didn’t notice but I notice in the scenes through Monaco, markets to Grand Prix, a lot of the extras were interracial couples of black women and white men. This is something I noticed in my travels in the area as well with wealth, superseding, race and even background as means to enter.
Paris, France. Along the same lines, Paris is a city where I saw an abundance of interracial couples as well as mixed race people reflecting the country’s history from the West Indies to Asia and Africa. It’s where black artists and intellectuals sought freedom post-War: James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Josephine Baker, to name a few. It’s oddly enough where I ended up for a brief stint after the last presidential election. Not even an oogle, being an interracial couple in Paris seems to cause no pause. France is not exempt from intense race issues though and being a black American there is a strange space.
Maybe I’m on a Francophile kick because the isle of Martinique, a French department is a great island for interracial families to travel to as it embodies the histories past and present, seen in the people and culture. As I mentioned in a my Vogue.com article on Martinique, the island is “decidedly French, very Caribbean, with a strong tie to its African roots.” – Nneya Richards ;). This intersectionality of cultures is why Martinique makes the list.
Allow me one more Francophile moment, Geneva, Switzerland. I was reminded of describing Geneva as a “rainbow coalition” to one of my best friends in New York in 2009, recently during a conversation with a friend in Milan last week (in 2019). When I first visited the city (and Lausanne!) I was taken aback by the amount of interracial couples and mixed raced children I saw. Here was Switzerland, often depicted as this very pristine, very white and very wealthy place and I was seeing people of all colors enjoying that idyllic Swiss life. During an aperitivo with a black American friend in Milan recently she too mentioned Geneva being a place where she too noticed an abundance of interracial couples. About one in four residents of Switzerland is an immigrant so that certainly sheds some light. Also, remember, Tina Turner has been living her best life there for the last few decades.
The culture of Singapore is a true melting pot with four official languages, English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. With the concept of foodgasm being a centuries old thing, seen by the old malay word shiok, it seems like these cultures live in harmony through food! The Eastern cultures as well as the Eurasian Dutch side is reflected in the food, architecture and looks of the population. Peranakans are an ethnic group descended from Chinese settlers from the southern provinces who came to the Malay archipelago mixing with the Brits and the Dutch between the 15th and 17th centuries. Peranakan food is one of my favorite in the world, almost only found in Singapore. With Singapore being one of the wealthiest countries in the world and a place with a lot of wealthy expats, I found Asian-white interracial couples were relatively common in most of the establishments I went to.
As I mentioned in my previous post regarding Brazil, there is a strong black population there was an strong influence on arts, science and culture, the the Brazilian culture exported around the world despite what the bigot in power there may lead you to believe. Hey, I’m American, and yes, Donald Trump is the president of the US, so…. Brazil is considered a “color-blind” society with a full one-third and growing of the marriages there being interracial. Good right? Well yes and know, because there is darkness behind this colorblindness. Is it an attempt to create a true mixed race society or an attempt to erase blackness from the country’s origins. The process was called blanqueamiento (a social process of “improving” the race through interracial marriages) and the most well known commentary on this is the 1895 painting, The Redemption of Ham by Modesto Brocos. Brazil even used this photo as an example of their eugenics theory in a conference in Europe! I could go on for days about this painting and really want to go to Brazil to explore the social ramifications of this process and mentality as shown in this painting, but that’s a whole other story. Here’s a great YouTube on this which discusses this.
Due to colonization, the UK has a long history of non-white identifying people identifying as English. In the country’s larger cities like London, you most clearly see a blending of cultures — I’d dare say even more than NYC. Something that Michele noticed about interracial black-white couples there was curious: on council states / in lower socioeconomic classes, the mixed race couples tended to be more black men with white women, and in the upper classes, it was the other way around, white men with black or mixed race women? Curious, huh? The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are almost poster children of interracial marriage for the country and despite Brexit and what is seemingly a wave of alt-right views (Prince Harry had to release an official statement expressing his dismay at the racist tones of the criticism for his then-girlfriend, Megan Markle) the couple is ushering in a new wave of the monarchy and in turn, what the country looks like.
Sure, NYC is a melting pot but it is still very ethnically and racially divided, especially when considering socioeconomic status. What makes it a unique melting-pot is that despite neighborhood divides, 100s of cultures have to intersect and cross paths daily. Brooklyn and it’s diversity could be a city of it’s own and with a younger generation leading the way (the Mayor lived in Brooklyn with his mixed-race family) you’re more likely to see all types of interracial couples (racially and sexual orientation wise) in Brooklyn. Spend a first Saturday in Brooklyn Museum and tell me what you think.
Speaking of melting pots, Miami is one of the most international cities in the US. Long been known as a gateway to Latin American, you also can hear French, Russian, Italian, Patois, Creole, etc being spoken in public spaces there. All of these elements come together in a flavor that is unique to the city and you can see it in the romantic pairings.
I must admit, I didn’t see many interracial couples in South Africa. The few I saw were in Johannesburg, and whether romantic or friendships, they were a beacon of hope in the new South Africa they speak of. If you’re in an interracial couple or family, South Africa is a great trip (as is reading Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime); I’m a staunch believer in confronting our past to make a new and brighter future and with apartheid in our lifetimes, South Africa forces you to do that, count your blessings and see hope for the future.