She’s walked the runway for Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg and Tracy Reese, done campaigns for Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Moschino and Target, and appeared as natural inspiration on the Tumblrs, Instagrams and blogs of countless naturals. We got a chance to talk with international model Wakeema Hollis (who goes by ‘Hollis’) about her natural hair journey and what it’s like to be a natural in the modeling industry.
We know you’ve traveled all over the world whilst modeling but where are you from, originally and where do you call home now?
WH: I was born and raised in Jackson, TN. I now live in NYC, although I am currently spending time in South Africa.
You’ve been in the fashion industry for years. How and when did you start modeling? Were you discovered Tyra Banks style?
WH: I was the kid in school that always had my hand raised with something to say. While most teachers quickly tired of it, my high school theater teacher saw something she thought was special. She introduced me to her talent agent in Memphis, TN and when they asked if I would consider modeling I jumped at the chance. I modeled during school breaks until I graduated high school. Then I moved to New York to follow my dream.
You’ve shared most of your hair story on your blog. Why did you feel it was important to document your change?
WH: I’ve never felt more beautiful and confident than I do with natural hair. Even my career took off when I went natural. Yet, black women are still made to feel as if there is something wrong, ugly or unacceptable about embracing our natural hair texture. As a model I’m aware that the fashion industry often sets the standard for how beauty is defined. Women and young girls look at fashion magazines and try to imitate what they see. If only rail thin models with long straight hair are shown, women internalize that and believe that their own natural beauty isn’t good enough. I started Hollistics.com as a way to fight against those stereotypes and give naturals an outlet to share, learn and be encouraged.
What inspired you to go natural?
WH: I was never good at keeping healthy relaxed hair. Modeling made it even worse. Constantly trying to blend my hairline with long wavy extensions was detrimental to my hair, but I kept it up because I thought that’s what beauty was. It wasn’t until I wanted to take my career to an international level that I figured out how silly that was. The director of a top modeling agency in Paris told me point-blank that I needed to lose the weave and accept my natural beauty or else I would never make it as an international model. It seemed harsh then, but now I see how right he was.
How did you master your transitioning phase?
WH: This was challenging for me. Transitioning is the most awkward phase of going natural. It’s hard for any woman to look great everyday while working with two totally different hair textures, but It is especially hard when you are being paid to look great! I transitioned with the help of an afro textured sew-in. It was the only way I could protect my natural hair from heat damage and keep my clients happy at the same time.
Is there anything that you have learned from the process?
WH: I learned that not all good things come easy. I didn’t know anything about taking care of my natural hair when I began transitioning. I had never even seen my natural hair texture before. So I was in for a surprise when I didn’t grow the corkscrew curls I prayed for but instead sprouted an Afro reminiscent of the pictures I’ve seen from the 1970’s. Still, I was determined to find my true beauty and take my career to a new level which gave me the drive to keep going even when I would wake up with helmet hair that made me feel temporarily defeated.
Did you find other areas of your lifestyle changing as you went natural?
WH: Yes and no. I didn’t become a vegan or a political activist or anything. However, I did learn to accept myself for who and what I am. I became more comfortable in the body God has given me. I think that was the best lesson of all because as a woman with natural hair you run into a lot of rejection and negativity. As a fashion model with naturally kinky hair I run into ten times as much rejection and negativity. All that matters at the end of the day is that I’m happy with myself and my decisions.
Do you follow any particular hair care regimen?
WH: My regimen is pretty simple. I co-wash my hair one or two times a week, taking time to carefully detangle while my hair is soaked with conditioner. After rinsing I seal with leave-in conditioner, coconut oil and sometimes castor oil. Then I do two-strand twist which keep my hair from re-tangling. It also elongates and helps my hair dry faster since air drying is my preferred method. I wash with no-suds shampoo once or twice per month and I do an ACV rinse once monthly to remove product buildup. My go-to hair style is twist outs.
Right now you’re in South Africa! What brings you there?
WH: What I love most about my job is that it has taken me all over the world. I didn’t understand how beautifully and wondrously made our earth is until I began to travel and see it for myself. Cape Town, South Africa is a busy fashion hub that models, clients, and photographers flock to when the winter gets unbearably cold in NY and Europe. I’ve always wanted to come to Africa. Why not start with South Africa? Although I’m shooting most of the time, I try to take the weekends to experience all the cool things I can: Horseback riding on the beach, swimming with penguins, mountain climbing, etc. It’s beautiful here and I’m loving it.
Are there any products that you can’t leave home without?
WH: I’m addicted to the Hair Rules line of products. I made sure to pack the Quench Conditioner, Moisturizing no-suds shampoo, Leave-in conditioner, and Curly Whip styling cream. At first I was reluctant to pay more money for hair products. Then I realized that as a model I have to show my hair everyday whether it looks good or not. So I might as well invest in products that keep it healthy, moisturized and looking great. After all, no one will pay much attention to the clothes I’m modeling if my hair looks all crazy and dried out.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
WH: I’ve been shooting almost non-stop here so I’m looking forward to seeing all of the magazine editorials get published. It’s rewarding for models to see our hard work put into print. Also, just before leaving the states I was honored to be chosen for a contract to launch the Au Naturale line of hair products by Dark and Lovely. Dark and Lovely is a historic brand that is known world wide and this is their first line of products for natural hair. I can’t wait to see the commercial hit TV because the fashion styling and hair styling were amazing! I hope you all love it and think as highly of it as I do. In addition, I enjoy my blog, Hollistics.com, and the opportunity it gives me to be in touch with so many naturals and hear their opinions. I guess I’m just living and loving life!
Do you have any words of advice for those who are contemplating going natural?
WH: Go for it! Find a way to go natural that works for you. Some women do the Big Chop and buzz off all the relaxer right away while others transition under wigs or weaves. There is no right or wrong way to rock your natural hair. Only you know what makes you feel most the comfortable and the most beautiful. While I’ve met plenty of women that regretted getting relaxers, I have never met a woman who regretted going natural. Even if they didn’t stay natural or decided to later go strait without the use of chemicals, they never regret embracing their natural texture. You will learn a big lesson in self-acceptance and how to keep healthy hair. That’s a win-win situation!