Like many Latinas, Sherly Tavarez grew up in an environment where smooth blowouts were ideal, and anything else — especially curly hair — was considered "pelo malo" (which translates to "bad hair" in English). When Tavarez turned seven, her mom started taking her to weekly salon appointments. "I used to wonder, 'Am I ever going to know what it's like to have good hair?'," she tells Refinery29. "I was relaxing my hair until I was 23; I had no idea what my natural hair even looked like."
Now 29, the New York-based stylist is fully embracing her curls, and using her social media platform to spread a message of positivity. So, when she wanted to wear a graphic T-shirt highlighting her journey to a natural hair event in August, she was surprised when she couldn't find a top she related to as curly-haired Latina. The Dominican stylist decided to create one for herself, and immediately knew what she wanted it to say: "Pelo malo where?" (Bad hair where?).
"For me, 'Pelo Malo Where?' means that if I want to wear my natural curly hair, that doesn’t make it any less beautiful than when it’s straight," says Tavarez. "I can wear [my hair] whichever way I want, whenever I want. The slogan resonates with me and I knew that it would resonate with so many other women."
And she was right. Tavarez created three samples at her friend's local print shop and shared a photo of herself wearing one to a natural hair Facebook group and to her personal Instagram page, which has 11K followers. The reaction was immediate. "When I put them out, people went crazy," Tavarez says. "Women were sharing their stories on how they're able to relate."
The bilingual message isn't the only reason Latinas are connecting with the design; Tavarez worked with Nigeria-based artist Princess Karibo to illustrate women of three different skin tones (light, tan/medium, and deep) on the shirt so that everyone could identify with it and feel represented.
Since expanding her business, including shipping to Canada and Puerto Rico and getting her shirt into the hands of actress Jeimy Osorio and bloggers like Kay-Lani Martinez, the entrepreneur has heard inspiring stories from women, men, and children all over the world. "One of the most exciting things that I've witnessed with these shirts is that I've gotten women who are not Latina reaching out to say, 'Hey, I totally relate to this shirt,'" Tavarez says. "I had someone reach out from Egypt telling me that she grew up hearing the same thing."
The stylist hopes to keep growing her business, which now includes hoodies, T-shirts for adults and children, and soon, hats that work for natural hair. Tavarez feels that although the conversation has shifted and curly hair is becoming more accepted, there's still a need for a continued dialogue until it feel like it's less of a "trend" and more like the norm.
"I'm still hearing women say that their daughters have 'bad hair' at the salon," she says. "We need to continue to have this conversation until it's mainstream — where people understand that it's OK to rock your natural hair, whether it's professionally or to an event."
Tavarez hopes to send that message loud and clear with her designs: "My mission is to inspire women across all the industries to be who they want to be in the hair they want to be in, despite what anyone has to say."