Hello, my name is Vinna Best. I am the founder of the CURLYTREATS Festival, the most prominent natural hair event in the UK. Here's my story!
I was seven years old when my afro hair was permanently straightened using chemicals (also known as a relaxer) for the first time. It was a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. Why? The relaxer was kept on my hair for longer than required. As a result, my scalp was sore and scabby, clumps of hair fell out, and I was traumatised.
Growing up, it was part of Black British culture for most Black women and girls to relax their hair. Relaxing afro hair meant changing the curl pattern to straight – permanently. Growing up, I remember hearing that black hair was “more manageable” and “less coarse” when relaxed; these statements were a form of self-hate, although I did not realise it as a child.
Instead, I thought relaxing my hair every six to eight weeks was just another awkward thing that girls had to experience, such as our monthly menstrual cycle and shopping for bras.
Relaxing my hair was not a one time experience; as the new hair grew out of my scalp, a relaxer used to force those new curls straight.
From my first relaxer until my last relaxer, I suffered from scalp issues. Over time, my Mother learnt to apply vaseline to my scalp before applying the cream.
As a teenager, my friends would relax my hair, and I would relax their hair, no one in my friendship group wanted “two-textured hair.” – referring to black hair that was straight and thin at the ends but afro-textured and thick at the roots.
Although I liked the look of my straight hair at times, I was not too fond of the experience of relaxing my hair and the frequent scalp issues. I suffered from dry scalp, flaky scalp, itchy scalp – my scalp was “tender”.
As a teenager, I tried to resolve my scalp issues. Other than the medication prescribed by the Doctor, I used Sulfur 8 Medicated Anti Dandruff Conditioner and Virgin hair Fertiliser. All were unsuccessful.
At age 14, I decided to stop chemically straightening my hair – for the first time. I began to dislike having thin hair and a tender scalp and wondered what my natural hair would look like. That was the start of my natural hair journey.
One day, after school, I had a conversation with Sara Benjamin while watching a TV show called Hangin’ with Mr Cooper. My friend Sara mentioned, “You can blowdry your hair and wear it curly like hers if you don’t want to relax it”. It made sense to me. That Black actress was Holly Robinson Peete.
At age 15, I loved my afro hair; it was full, thick and lush. As I transitioned from relaxed to natural hair, my scalp began to heal. Growing up in the ’90s, a variety of natural hair care products did not exist in the UK. So I used generic products created for all black hair. My favourite hair care products were Lusters Pink Moisturiser Hair Lotion, Lets Jam Hair Gel and Men’s Lusters S Curl Activator.
My Mother’s friend, Claudette Paul, taught me how to detangle and blowdry my hair from tips to roots. Plus, I enjoyed switching up hairstyles, but the afro puff was my favourite style.
In the late ’90s, Lusters changed the formulation of the Pink Moisturiser Hair Lotion. It made my hair greasy; I searched for a replacement product with no success at the time.
More and more black hair salons were opening, so at aged 17, I decided to visit a black hair salon for the first time. I wanted to cut my hair short; in my mind, “short meant shoulder-length since my hair was long.”
Fully trusting the hairdresser, I was excited about the new style, but the results were not what I expected. Not only did the hairdresser chemically straighten my hair, but he also kept on cutting my hair when I asked him to stop. He said: “I know what I am doing, trust me”.
I left the salon feeling vulnerable. The hairdresser relaxed my hair and then shaved it off – leaving an inch of hair at the front. I was disappointed and decided to start my natural hair journey again.
At the time, I recognised that I loved her afro hair, but I did find it challenging to take care of, as there were few hair products available for my hair texture, most hairdressers did not know how to care for natural hair, and I felt the lack of support from friends and family.
I experimented with different hairstyles between eighteen to twenty-four years old, including weaves, wigs, extensions, and hair colours. Also, I relaxed my hair again, transitioned to natural hair, and then relaxed my hair once more before deciding to “big chop” at the age of twenty-five.
Being a Black woman with straight hair was seen as “acceptable”, but having natural hair in the corporate workplace revealed more issues. I experienced hair discrimination at work, hearing comments describing my natural hair as “dirty”, “messy”, “wild”, and “Vinna needs a comb for Christmas.”
In 2007, when I decided to keep my hair natural, with no intention of chemically straightening my hair again, many changes had happened in the world and the UK – since I first went “natural” at fourteen.
The creation of social networks, forums and video blogging allowed me to connect online with like-minded people, I felt heard, seen and understood.
It was the first time that I had experienced connecting with Black women locally and internationally who enjoyed having afro hair, discussed afro hair issues, shared tips and advice, and spoke about new products dedicated to natural hair.
Finally, I felt as if my haircare needs were somewhat catered for. With the decline of relaxers, existing and new brands launched products to cater exclusively for natural hair. Products from American brands Miss Jessies and Kinky-Curly worked wonderfully but could only be found in Asian-owned beauty shops, just like most black hair products. There was a lack of variety in mainstream shops – Black women’s hair care needs were not considered.
I enjoyed watching hairstyling videos, reading how-to haircare articles and connecting with the online natural hair community. But connecting in real life with Black women who share the same interest in natural hair was missing!
Excited about connecting with like-minded Black women, I visited black beauty events across the UK to learn more about natural hair. But these events focused on selling weaves, wigs and extensions – so I was left wanting and needing to still connect with the natural hair community in real life.
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” – Angela Davis.
Over time, I mustered up the courage to create the CURLYTREATS Festival – a female-led, social impact-driven organisation committed to building a platform where Black women and young girls can feel safe and empowered celebrated.
Since 2013, my team and I have organised over twenty natural hair events. We’ve helped tens of thousands of Black women and young girls to be confident wearing their natural hair with pride and recognising the beauty of their melanin skin in a world where racism and hair discrimination still exists.
Now, in our 9th year, CURLYTREATS Festival introduces Dear Black Women – a series of curated panel talks, interactive workshops, solution-oriented seminars, performances, awards and the marketplace.
To celebrate Women’s History Month this March 2022 and International Women’s Day – please join us on Saturday 5 March for an exciting programme of activities at this festival designed to celebrate everyday Black Women.