Carol Thomas was a “relaxer girl” growing up until she volunteered to be a model for a color educational class and soon realized that her hair was breaking “very badly”. She then decided to do that chop and began to wear her hair in a natural style. Being a hairstylist, her clients got attracted to her style and started asking for natural hairstyles while recommending the same to their friends. In a short time, her salon became known as the “natural hair salon.”
With over 20 years of experience as a hairstylist and getting to know that it was difficult for clients to find the right product for their hair, she decided to create her product line, St. Charles, named after her father. Based in Brooklyn, St. Charles is “a regal salon-tested hair brand created to help repair and restore natural hair quality. All products are formulated to rejuvenate the scalp while reviving dull strands of natural hair,” Thomas, who is now a licensed cosmetologist, told Face2Face Africa via email message.
Natural hair advocate Thomas has over the years been catering to Black working professionals but her biggest challenge now is finding styles that her clients can feel comfortable wearing to the office. Though natural hair has become increasingly popular, Black workers continue to complain of discrimination against their natural hair in the workplace. Multiple states have passed laws to stop natural hair discrimination yet research shows that there is a lower chance for Black women with all sorts of natural hairstyles – curly afros, twists, or braids – to get job interviews than their White counterparts or Black women with straightened hair.
Thomas, who has been championing the natural hair cause for years now, is hoping to reverse the trend. She spoke with Face2Face Africa about her natural hair journey and business:
1.Kindly tell us more about yourself
I grew up with my Stepmom, who I call Mom, and my Dad along with my two brothers and sister. My Mom was a Teacher, and my Dad was a Police Officer. Our home was always open to a cousin or two who would come and live with us, as well as our friends too. I was not a very studious child, I was very shy, but my Mom was not having any of that. She got me involved in drama class, dancing, music, and even cooking classes. My childhood was filled with lots of fun and laughter, we are still a close knit family.
2.What inspired you to become a natural hair advocate?
I became a natural hair advocate, really by accident ….I was always a relaxer girl, I volunteered to be a model for a color educational class and after a few days I noticed my hair was breaking and was breaking very badly. I decided to do that chop and started to wear my hair in a natural style. Being a hairstylist my clients are attracted to the styles I wear, I am a walking billboard for my own clients; so they were then asking for natural hairstyles and recommending their friend for natural styles, and before I knew it we were now being called a natural hair salon.
3.Can you recall the most exciting moment of your natural hair journey?
The most exciting moment during my natural hair journey, was creating my natural haircare line called St. Charles. My first product was the Rebuilding Hair Mask, it strengthened my hair, making it look thicker and fuller. My clients wanted to know what I was using on my hair and started putting in orders for the product. This was how the product line was launched, the line has now grown to seven products!
4.What are some of the challenges as a natural hair advocate?
The challenges I face is finding styles that my clients can feel comfortable wearing to the office. Sadly, natural hair is still discriminated against. Yes, you can give a silk press and they can wear their hair blown out straight but it is not good for the hair to always be wearing it in that style.
5.What word of advice do you have for others who may want to pursue your career path?
Getting your cosmetology license is a very special feeling and you can learn so much from taking the course, as well as the credibility and understanding it gives you in the field. We need a hair stylist for almost everything that we do, for weddings, for movies, for theatre, for television; be inspired by everything that’s around you, continue to practice new techniques, learn and develop. When you start your career as a hairstylist all you need is that one client and that one client will help to start building your books.
6.Can you share with us some of the techniques you use to grow and maintain natural hair?
First, we have to have a consultation to determine what’s going on with the scalp…. if the scalp is dry, itchy, or flaky, this will let me know how to treat the scalp properly. Then I check the hair, from touching the hair I can tell a lot of what is happening, sometimes I have to check by wetting hair at the sink to see how much shedding is taking place when the hair is wet. At times I must treat the hair and scalp before shampooing just to soften the hair enough before I can even start to shampoo. Scalp message is a MUST during the shampoo process and after conditioner is applied too. I use lots of leave-in conditioner, applied to the ends of the hair especially. I actually recommend a daily leave-in conditioner to my clients and regular trims are a must.
7.What mistakes did you make when you first started and what lessons did you learn from them?
My mistakes were doing everything, I was the braider, the cutter, the weaver. I was just doing everything instead of specializing in my strongest areas. I am not saying you should not have knowledge of all the services but I am now finding out that you are more effective and efficient when you specialize in a particular area.
8. Are you working on any new projects at this moment?
Yes, I am! I am now redesigning the St Charles Product line which is exciting. I am making new labels and setting up an e-commerce shop to take the products further out to the world. It’s time to branch out and I could not be more ready for it!
9. One of the stories about Carol Thomas is the fact that she is paving the way for Black professionals in the beauty industry. Kindly share with us how you are doing that
I love to pass on what I know to other young black professionals in the beauty industry. The beauty schools would send me girls after their graduation and we would start the training at the back bar getting them to understand the different textures of hair, how to give a great shampoo, different product knowledge and then after a few weeks we were doing consultations. Now they can greet the client, consult with the client, and start servicing them. I am proud of the contribution I have made to the next generation. What I try to do is basically share with them every aspect of the business, by doing this I can see their strengths and I can start pushing them in that area. Some of the girls will stay with me for a while before they move on, but I am always very proud to see their growth.