Fayola Agaja’s haircare products were created with women of colour in mind. (Picture by Reco Moore.)
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Fayola Agaja spent several years trying to figure out if her hair was beautiful. Her outlook on her self-image was mostly defined by European concepts.
She told Easy magazine she felt as though she was brainwashed into thinking
that her hair had to be straight for her to be considered as pretty. During an interview at her Christ Church home, she explained why she was so ashamed of her natural hair and dark complexion.
“Unconsciously, most black women become self-haters and weak-minded as they constantly get bombarded with images of what is supposed to be the ideal portrait of beauty on magazine covers and commercials,” she said.
“It runs deep into our minds and without thought we find all sorts of excuses for trying to embody an unreal image and spend thousands of dollars trying to embrace a trend.”
She shared her traumatising experience growing up which turned her mind against her naturalness.
“I was the black, tar baby girl; I was skinny and had a massive set of hair.
“My hair wouldn’t confirm to any kind of hairstyle and one day at school I gained a derogative nickname which I hate to this day. I saw a classmate with a nice hairstyle and I went home and told my aunt to do my hair like it but it did not turn out like hers. The children at school called me Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons cartoon and from that day I hated my hair and everything about it.
Fayola said her grandmother told her to accept herself for what she was.
“I remember telling my grandmother I wish my hair was different and that I hated my skin.
It took Fayola, from Trinidad, a long while to understand what her grandmother was teaching her and when she did she started a hair brand that challenges women of colour to love themselves for who they are.
“I know there is a dark-skinned girl with a mass of hair that society has deemed not pretty and I want her to use my product and feel bold and confident.”
Fayola wants her haircare products to be a movement and lifestyle. She said her products were made from natural and organic minerals and herbs. Although she felt inspired by her journey of loving herself, creating a product to represent that was a challenge.
“At first I did not want to do it; there is a lot of bureaucracy in setting up a business and as a young entrepreneur handling that is really difficult. Also, taking on a venture like this and being a non-national makes things more difficult.
“I got a lot of ‘You are a non-national. What is it you really doing here?’
“But had not for my boyfriend, his mum and my sister, I wouldn’t have gotten so far. I have realised you needed a network of people to support you during those periods when you feel like giving up. Those encouraging words helped me to push. I pushed so much that I enrolled in several business development programmes and gained tremendous experience.”
Fayola takes every opportunity she gets to improve her product. Although she has a bachelor’s degree in economic management and a master’s in financial management, she does not shy away from learning new things each day.
The 33-year-old entered theYouth Entrepreneurship Programme (YES), the Youth Agripreneurship programme devised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Caribbean Development Export Agency (CEDA), Bank On Me, Girlfriend Expo and Agrofest. Through these experiences she was able to learn new things to assist in the business part of her venture and hear feedback from people on what other haircare products girls with natural hair want and need.
Fayola said she feels as though she is building an empire and that each brick she lays represents a new hurdle women of colour have overcome.
“This is not only a hair journey . . . .When you love you, you love your hair, you have a glow and you feel great about yourself.”
“It is sad that we have reached a point where there is a concept of “being better black”; your hair needs to be curly and you need to fall within a particular shade of black. That being said, it is not my stance to say if you are too clear you cannot be black. People often mistake race for the colour of your skin. We are all descendants of Africans and we all have different skin tones.
“Black is a consciousness from within you; it is what you identify yourself with.”
In the future Fayola hopes to see better representation of women with natural hair.
“I want to see a black woman do a commercial and it be received the same way commercials are accepted now.
“The commercials now send subliminal messages that makes you feel inferior and that needs to be discarded.”
In her opinion, society is making progress in accepting its “blackness”. Fayola said that she has done work with schools across the island and the young ladies have proven to her that they know who they are.
“I think we are slowly moving out of imperialism. Christ Church Foundation has an Afro texture hair club and the Alleyne School has a natural hair show.
“I think the board at Harrison College has also realised that sending home young girls because they wear twist outs is not going to work. And some primary schools are allowing girls to wear hairstyles other than cornrows because my daughter can now wear to school a bun.”
Fayola’s line of Iyaaj hair products tells a story. Each product has a unique name in a different language which dignifies beauty. Amar is the Hindi name given to the condition detangler, Amari is the African name given to the hydrating mist, Amai is the Indian name given to the hair butter and Amala is the Indian name given to the moisturising hair lotion.
“This is a West Indian story for us and told by us. We import a lot of products when we have natural things we grow in our backyard that were designed for our type of hair. Some of the herbs grown here are blended within my products. These are things my grandmother told me she used to wash her hair with like hibiscus petals, pawpaw and guava leaves, neem, aloe vera, nettle, crunching needle [cochineal] and Susie close your door.”
Fayola is aspiring to do collaborations with hair dressers to make the Iyaaj collection the go-to products for haircare. (SB)