Here’s How These Women Are Celebrating Their Heritage Through Hair

The colours we choose for our hair speak volumes about how we want the world to view us. Whether it’s dipping into rainbow hues whenever the mood strikes, or amping up subtler shades, the world of hair colour has never been more expressive and expansive than right now, more so thanks to all the amazing options on offer by leading colour brand Schwarzkopf LIVE. And for Black and brown women, it’s an especially pivotal moment. We have been policed by society on the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to wear our hair for so long that when we do decide to experiment, something truly momentous occurs. 
We’ve arrived at the point where a leisurely scroll through social media harvests endless colour inspo, whether it’s pastel pink Afros or silvery front bits. And that’s not to mention rainbow wigs: from slime green to tomato red, it’s been proven that we can pull off any shade. Today’s colour palettes are strikingly unconventional yet there are always ties to the influences and generations that have come before (and will come after) us. 
To explore the dynamics between identity and hair colour, we shot and spoke to two London locals, delving into who and what from their origins and upbringing has fed into their current aesthetic. “I’ve always been given the freedom to express myself,” says Nylo, whose Pakistani and Mauritian heritage has cocktailed with her native north London upbringing. “Whenever I’ve wanted to change my hair, my mum’s always encouraged me, saying ‘Go for it – you can pull it off!’ She’s very experimental herself – she’s dyed the tips of her long black hair, and born in north London, she’s gone through so many ranges of styles, which I’ve definitely mirrored in my own way.”
Borrowing from her surroundings to create her own unique style harks back to Nylo’s grandmother’s generation. “When my nani came from Mauritius to London at the age of 19, she came into her style having already been influenced by Bollywood’s take on the decade, like beehives and little flicks on the ends of the hair. The photos I have show her wearing these ‘60s hairstyles and mini skirts, going out all the time and really coming into her own style. She was so young and she wanted to experiment in her own way, pulling from popular culture around her, which took on something different here in the UK than what she was used to.” Looking back at these old photos of her grandmother helped inspire Nylo’s blonde beehive, coupled with growing up in the ‘90s with icons wearing their blonde hair piled up on their heads alongside lashings of bold brown lip liner. 
For Jasmine, her Congolese roots have heavily impacted how she expresses herself today. “My parents arrived in London in 1991 but I’ve always been surrounded by Congolese culture and people,” she reflects. “We’re naturally very warm and vibrant people, and have always brought something new and built upon that when settling in London. I was brought up on Congolese films and music videos by female and male artists from the ‘70s, as well as back-up dancers with their custom wigs and dyed eyebrows. I remember my dad getting my mum’s name and a loveheart shaved into his hair – he was always finding new ways to express himself creatively, and seeing both the women and men in my family switch up their style constantly showed me how essential it is to celebrate your culture with confidence. My culture made me.”
Like in many African households, hair has always been a strong bond weaving people together: “a sisterhood,” Jasmine says. “My mum and aunts were always doing our hair, it was like a second nature to them because back home they had been braiding and styling as a second nature. Whether it was ‘Souki ya milayi ya Singa’ (Lingala for hair threading) or beaded cornrows, their creativity knew no limits.”
Taking hair threading – traditionally used in Congolese villages to communicate what tribe you belong to, with the addition of shells and hair jewellery – and adding a ‘90s spin was Jasmine’s vision for her look. Also inspired by the intricate braid styles of the 90s, Jasmine’s bleached blonde roots, golden threading and fiery curls bring together all the elements of her identity. “Growing up, I wasn’t allowed bold hair colours at my Catholic school, so it wasn’t until after college that I really started experimenting,” says Jasmine. “I first coloured my hair back in 2015 – I was so nervous about people’s reactions but nevertheless I went and bought a Schwarzkopf Live kit in a navy blue colour. All my friends used the same brand for their hair and wigs so I knew it would turn out great and after enlisting my sister for help, it absolutely did. It was the most amazing ombre bob wig, and that feeling of emerging as the girl with blue hair was incredible. Now, I change my hair colour maybe every two weeks depending on how much I love a colour, whether it’s a wig or my natural hair or braids, and it’s usually inspired by my friends, family, cool people I see on the street or online. I love having options to explore, it completes me but also isn’t something I take too seriously.” When it comes to styling, both women keep it pretty simple. “I feed my natural hair with oils and use the got2b Glued gel for my edges,” says Jasmine. “Because I do so much with the colour, I’m quite streamlined with my styling products: just leave-in conditioners and a strong gel if I’m slicking it back into a bun,” explains Nylo. got2b’s Glued gel is the go-to for so many, with its super strong-hold formula that doesn’t flake up once dry.
Like Jasmine, Nylo’s experimented a lot with her hair colour. “I first dyed my hair some years ago – at the time everyone had bright red hair, so I picked a crimson Schwarzkopf Live colour which I applied myself. Since then I’ve been pink, orange and forest green, especially during the fun summer months. After stripping the green out, I was left accidentally blonde and realised it was actually such a look. Blonde looks amazing on Black and brown women, period. I’ve never seen it not look incredible. In contrast with my skin, my dark circles, eyes and eyebrows, it harmonises all my features – especially when paired with a strong brown lip. We’re becoming our own inspiration instead of comparing ourselves to Eurocentric standards.” Jasmine agrees, having recently dyed her natural hair a creamy blonde. “Nobody has ownership over blonde hair; it can be found on truly native Black Africans and Aboriginal people. Me being blonde as a Black woman is another way to express my culture and creativity, which really is the blueprint for so many trends we see today.”
Inspired by Nylo and Jasmine's hair looks? We recommend Schwarzkopf LIVE Max Blonde for a striking blonde colour, and the vibrant Schwarzkopf LIVE Mango Twist.
*Remember to always ensure you do an allergy alert test with any colour 48 hours in advance, even if you’ve never had a reaction in the past.
*Retail price is the sole domain of the retailer

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series