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Our crowns are vessels that harbor many tales. Wrapped in our coils and curls are stories that exude a deeply-rooted reverence for our ancestors, radical self-love, and the art of self-expression. In a society that has constantly tried to police Black hair, embracing this part of ourselves has become an act of liberation. Amongst the innovators at the forefront of the natural hair care movement is New York City-bred serial entrepreneur Taliah Waajid who has cultivated brands designed to inspire individuals to unabashedly step into the fullness of who they are.

Black hair has historically been politicized. The discriminatory stigma has run rampant in our places of work, schools, and other public spaces. A Dove CROWN research study indicated Black women were 1.5 times more likely to have been sent home—or know of a Black woman sent home—from work because of her hair. Further research revealed 86 percent of Black teenagers have endured hair discrimination by the age of 12. In the face of oppressive measures often experienced by Black and Brown communities, Waajid is using her beauty ventures as sources of empowerment and edification.

Waajid’s hair story starts in Harlem; the rich cultural community where Black women donned finger waved styles and coiffed textured updos during the Harlem Renaissance; the Black Panther Party walked the streets of the neighborhood proudly displaying their fros as a form of resistance during the 70s, and the vibrancy of 80s style and fashion spilled onto the sidewalks with beaded braids and asymmetric cuts adorned with door-knocker earrings for decoration. Waajid’s entrepreneurial journey is interwoven into the tapestry of the community that has served as the backdrop for Black beauty and fashion innovation.

Our childhoods often provide glimpses into the paths we may chart in adulthood. For Waajid, the principles of her family’s Muslim faith were present in her home. The values of Black pride and self-reliance—two defining factors that shaped her path—were instilled in her early on. “My parents were part of the Nation of Islam,” Waajid told NewsOne. “I believe it guided me through my life in a very positive way. When navigating challenges I’ve had, I can refer back to some of the things I’ve learned, especially about being proud of being Black.” Although she came from humble beginnings, Waajid credits her mother for teaching her that her circumstances wouldn’t determine the heights of her success.

Waajid discovered her passion for hair care at the age of six. Her first clients were her dolls and her earliest experiences with product development included creating concoctions using shampoos and lotions around the house. While coming of age, Waajid began to internalize the concept of beauty. She says she first saw herself reflected in the stunning Black women featured in the larger-than-life Virginia Slim subway ads north of 96th street, and in the pages of publications that celebrated Black beauty like Ebony and Jet.

As a pre-teen, she begged her mother to get a relaxer, but after the request was declined Waajid would embark on a unique journey that involved exploring the different facets of her natural hair. She learned how to style it for different weather conditions and would often recreate the hairstyles her friends walked out of Harlem’s storied Jerry’s Den barbershop with. “It forced me to have to learn how to develop a relationship with my hair,” she shared. “That’s really what started my journey and my love for natural hair. Those are my earliest memories of my hair journey.” When she was older, she got the long-desired relaxer, but that chapter was short-lived as she opted to return to the fullness of her natural texture.

After mastering the art of styling her crown, she started doing her younger sister’s hair. Then she began feeding her love of cosmetology by styling the manes of her neighbors. When folks caught wind of her innovative skills through word of mouth, Waajid was in-demand. By the age of 14, she turned her passion into a profitable business. It was in this stage of her life that she developed her entrepreneurial chops and began laying the foundation for what would become a fruitful path in the billion-dollar hair industry. After having her own booths at Harlem hair salons, she eventually opened her own spaces; one in her hometown and the other in Atlanta.

When Waajid launched her brand Black Earth Products in 1996, she revolutionized the space by becoming the first company to develop a collection of completely natural, chemical-free hair care products. The line encompasses an array of items created to meet the unique needs of consumers with natural and curly hair and protective styles. It also includes children’s hair products. In 2018, she founded a men’s brand with her uncle’s namesake, dubbed Uncle Jimmy Products, which sells oils, creams, and washes for beards, body, and hair. She also started the Taliah Waajid Natural Hair & Healthy Lifestyle Event—which has been in existence for 23 years—to foster crucial conversations surrounding the interconnection of health, beauty, and wellness. She uses the platform to give up-and-coming founders in these industries the opportunity to spread awareness about their businesses.

For decades, through her ventures, Waajid has been leading work centered on normalizing natural, free-forming hair; empowering individuals to set their own standards of beauty and reject conformity. She says she’s elated to see the CROWN Act—legislation created to ensure protection against hair discrimination—move through Congress and hopes it goes further. “I’m really happy that there is a CROWN Act,” she shared. “There’s still a lot of discrimination, but we should be able to show our hair and express the way we feel through our hair. When you don’t have to conform, you’re allowed to freely grow as a person.”

Waajid believes the definition of beauty is a personalized choice. At the core of her mission, she’s dedicated to encouraging individuals to tap into the power of their authenticity; whether it’s through providing them with cutting-edge hair products to embrace and nurture their natural tresses or equipping Black women founders with the capital and connections needed to thrive in the realm of entrepreneurship.

“I’m here to share my knowledge and help other people that want to be in business or that are in business already,” she shared. “For me, it’s been the best part of my journey.”

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