Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Rumbie Mutsiwa moved to Australia at the age of 17 to study psychology. But when she saw a distinct lack of Afro hair expertise in the market, she decided to make it her mission to change that. She started a weave and braiding salon in her living room, and was soon overrun by the demand. Fast forward to now, and Rumbie is one of Australia's leading curl experts, with a salon in Sydney's Chippendale, a training institute for hairdressers and her own eponymous curl line.
Refinery29 Australia spoke to Rumbie about curl myths, how to find the right hairdresser for curly hair, transitioning to your natural hair and her thoughts on the ubiquitous Curly Girl Method. She also shares some epic tips and advice about learning to embrace your curly hair. Here's what she had to say.
Have you seen more people in Australia embracing their curls? What do you think has caused this?
I’ve seen more women in general, not just WOC, and some men too, embracing their curls in Australia. We’re seeing people start to accept themselves for who they are, and this is partly thanks to social media and decentralised media in general, allowing for people to see a representation of themselves online that sparks curiosity in discovering and loving their own curls.
This is also due to the COVID lockdowns. Downtime has unveiled to many that they have curly hair, not frizzy! Subsequently, they figure that they don’t know much about basic curl care, so they go out seeking that on the internet or social media.
We’ve also acquired many clients following the lockdowns who couldn’t go to the hairdresser for weekly blow-dries, chemical straightening, keratin or protective styles like braids/cornrows.
What advice do you have for someone who is transitioning back to their curly hair?
Firstly, don’t stress, it’s easier than you think — I promise! There is no need for laborious and difficult techniques or at-home concoctions unless the research is just a hobby.
At Rumbie & Co, we believe in a simple four-step process: cleanse (shampoo), condition (leave-in conditioner), style (definition) and treat (immense hydration).
Hydration is key. It’s all about using the techniques that lock in moisture and choosing the right products that will give you this — hydrated hair feels soft, defined, and looks shiny.
What are some myths you've heard about curly hair?
Myth #1. “My hair is coarse, frizzy or wild… it’s not curly”.
Coarse, frizzy or wild hair is due to not giving your hair enough hydration. Curly hair will develop from using the right products and techniques that will cause your hair to be soft, hydrated and most of all — bouncy.
Myth #2. “The combination of a cold wash and not using shampoo is a great way to take care of curls”.
Cold washing is like washing your body with lotion... you’ll never really get clean. Also, shampoo does not do what a conditioner does chemistry-wise, so it’s important to have both a shampoo and a conditioner.
The trick is to get the right type of shampoo that will cleanse your hair rather than stripping it. The result you’re looking for is soft, clean hair with excess oils and product residue removed. This will give you a clean canvas ready to receive hydration from your conditioner.
Myth #3. “Curly hair doesn’t grow long”.
Curly hair length is usually lost in the curl, but when you pull the hair down — you’ll get a great reflection of just how long the actual hair length is. This is called shrinkage, and with wavy/curly hair textures to a certain degree, they’re able to grow hair down and long.
With tighter curls like coily/afro hair textures, the hair only grows big and out (i.e. breadth, not length!). The challenge of people wearing their hair that way, is coming to terms with the nature of your hair and saving themselves the grief and stress over expecting your hair to perform in a way that it doesn’t.
Myth #4. “Curly hair isn’t professional”.
Who is born with professional hair? It's more that people don’t know how to style curly hair, so they have not felt their best, or perhaps they just haven’t seen curly hair in a great way. Curls can be and are professional!
What's your best advice for taking care of curly hair?
The best thing to remember overall is to keep your curls hydrated, as generally, those with tighter curls need more moisture!
Brushing hair correctly is also an important step to really looking after your hair. Brush your hair when it’s dry, because if you do it while it’s wet, you're most susceptible to breaking the bonds in your hair. Using the correct products will mean your dry-hair brushing should be snag-free and painless.
What tips do you have for styling curly hair?
One of my favourite tips: Don’t towel dry, micro-fibre towel dry, or t-shirt dry your hair.
It's controversial, I know, but you don’t want to take away the hydration your hair needs. You might think that your hair will take a long time to dry, but the more you regularly hydrate your hair, the less moisture it will need to absorb, meaning it will dry quicker over time.
How you should dry it instead: After shampooing (which will fully open your cuticles), squeeze out the excess moisture and don’t plop! Then, apply a suitable leave-in conditioner, then gel, then define and naturally dry. Where possible, try to naturally dry as opposed to diffusing.
What tips do you have for people looking for a hairdresser to cut their curls?
Ask the stylist how long they have worked with curly hair. Some people do short courses and end up being referred to as ‘curl specialists’, however, they don’t fully understand curly hair.
You should also ask what curl types are they familiar working with (wavy, curly, afro), as well as whether they cut curls dry (before shampooing). You need to have your curls cut dry — in its natural state, curly hair presents differently from when it’s wet. Finally, save some pictures to show your hairstylist!
What do you think of the Curly Girl Method?
I really like the fact that the Curly Girl Method has made people embrace their curls and natural texture. However, I struggle with these aspects:
It is quite regimented in its process, with the feeling that if you steer away from the rules, you will fail. This is quite harsh and may be difficult for people who struggle already with their self-image
It encourages very laborious and anecdotal ways to manage curly hair. Sometimes, people promote learning something second-hand (e.g., through influencers, on what you should and shouldn’t do). I think it’s better to rely on evidence-based education.
Given the difficult processes, results can be a hit-and-miss — which might make you think that curly hair is difficult to deal with.
From a socio-political perspective, I feel that most of the techniques/tips are borrowed from afro culture but haven’t been attributed to it, e.g. the silk cap/bonnet/scarves to sleep in. As a young Zimbabwe girl, my initiation into womanhood was a silk scarf that I was given when I was 8. Many other cultures wear different versions of a similar nature to protect our hairstyles as we wore them for a lot longer, to keep the longevity of the style.
Rumbie says that curly hair should be "freeing, amazing, easy", and your journey towards embracing your curly hair can start just by choosing not to be intimidated by it. Hear, hear.