Walking into a room full of women donning impeccable curls and natural styles is an indescribable feeling. Some wore articulate braided styles and twisted updos, whereas others let their curls lay and fall freely. Every woman confidently wore wavy, curly, kinky, curly, coily, and loced styles however they pleased. There was a celebratory atmosphere at the Texture on the Runway event in Atlanta hosted by NaturallyCurly in collaboration with Smooth 'n Shine. Texture on the Runway, which began in 1998, was dreamed up by Michelle Breyer and Gretchen Heber to celebrate natural hair.
Frustrated by the lack of representation on the runways, for nearly 20 years, Texture on the Runway has created a league of its own with a runway that showcases stunning natural styles in all of their glory. This year, celebrity stylist to the stars Larry Sims, who has worked with everyone from Gabrielle Union to Zendaya, SZA, and more, created gorgeous naturally curly styles at the show. Breyer hosted the event along with Smooth 'n Shine's brand ambassador, Nikia Phoenix. Texture on the Runway is about more than just hair—it's a nod to natural hair and how empowering life is when you embrace what you were born with.
Here's what the leaders of this movement have to say.
Why Texture on the Runway Is So Important
Can you tell me the story of how Texture on the Runway was dreamed up?
MICHELLE BREYER: When I began covering New York Fashion Week for NaturallyCurly a decade ago, I was blown away by the creativity I was seeing on the runway in terms of the fashions. But as I covered more shows, it became increasingly clear that there was a lack of diversity of the models on the runway. The models were almost exclusively white, and there was barely a curl or kink to be seen. The people on the runway didn't reflect the inclusivity of NaturallyCurly's community, or of society as a whole.
I remember talking backstage with one of my favorite hairstylists, and he said apologetically—because he knew how desperate I was to see some curls on a runway—"Michelle, I tried to get the designer to do something with texture, but she wasn't interested."
After returning from fashion week in February 2011, I thought, Why don't we create our own runway show and make it all about texture? Our vision was to create a top-notch fashion show that enabled brands and their hairstylists to put texture front and center—to let the hair dictate the fashion rather than the other way around. We wanted to give them full reign to create their looks—whether that be frohawks or long, beachy waves. We believed that if we were going to make a statement, we needed to do our runway show during New York Fashion Week, when all the biggest and best fashion shows were happening.
Over the past five years, texture and diversity have been steadily making their way onto the runway as designers work to better reflect society. We believe Texture on the Runway has played—and will continue to play—a role in ensuring that we view our curls and coils as something to celebrate rather than a problem to be solved.
At the show, it resonated with me when you mentioned you were disheartened by not seeing any representation on the runways. With important shows like Texture on the Runway, you're shifting the narrative. In terms of progress when it comes to diversity, what are your thoughts?
MB: I definitely think there's been progress. But if you look at the fall 2018 ready-to-wear collections, the models on the runway are still far from representative of society as a whole. It's still the exception rather than the rule to see a model who doesn't fit the straight-haired, Anglo look. It seems like a lot of designers are showcasing one or two token African American models with natural hair. Some of the best examples of inclusivity have been from some of the newer designers, like Threeasfour.
When it comes to the hair, the argument I still hear is that designers want the hair to complement the fashion and not to distract from it. I understand that. But with Texture on the Runway, I think we've been able to show how texture in all of its beautiful forms can truly enhance a collection and make it more exciting.
Was the process of getting Texture on the Runway at NYFW challenging?
MB: We definitely had a lot of naysayers the first year who doubted we could either get the brands to sponsor it, the editors to cover it, or the people to attend. In 2012, the first year of the show, it definitely was a challenge to get brands to sign on as sponsors. It was a totally new concept, and it was completely unproven. Many were taking budget away from other designers' shows they would have participated in during fashion week to be a part of Texture on the Runway, hoping they would get more publicity by being a part of an event where the hair—and their brand—was front and center.
As the event has gained recognition, and as fashion week has become less centralized, Texture on the Runway has gained stature.
Why the Styles Showcased at Texture on the Runway Are So Important
I absolutely loved the dynamic styles you conceptualized and created at Texture on the Runway. What was it like creating each style? And how did you go about picking specific styles to represent each woman so beautifully and accurately?
LARRY SIMS: Smooth 'n Shine designed a new collection of products for women with curly and straight hair, so I really wanted to make sure I created styles using products all different type of women can achieve no matter what their hair texture or length is. I also wanted each style to represent the story and persona of each model; the women in the show are real-life women who are moms, career women, and students, so I wanted to showcase looks that speak to them and their personalities. It was a fun time getting to know all of them and watch them embrace the looks I created.
During the panel, you mentioned how important it is to embrace your natural texture. What's your advice to women who are still struggling with loving their texture?
LS: I always tell people to find creative ways to embrace their natural textures. There are so many ways to discover what works for you, but first you need to accept what you're born with. There's always beauty in things that people find imperfect, but you just need to dive in and work with what you've got to create a look that makes you feel confident. If you're unsure about what style would look best on you, get a consultation from a professional who can give you recommendations. Also, don't be afraid to explore hair enhancements such as extensions in your natural texture.
It's an easy way to achieve an exaggerated version of yourself while still embracing and elevating your natural texture.
How important is it to you to use your platform to spread representation in the hair industry?
LS: It's really important to me to be authentic with everything that I create. When you look at women and see their level of confidence, whether it's on a red carpet or on TV/film, you can tell when a woman feels really beautiful and her best; it's my job to keep that authenticity intact. I really take pride in that. Whenever I work with a client, it's always collaborative—I work with my clients to develop styles and looks that complement their own personal style.
What are some go-to products you'd recommend for women who are transitioning to natural hair and why?
LS: The new Smooth 'n Shine collections are perfect for natural hair because of the combination of botanical oils that enhance and complement natural textures. The Curl Line utilizes camelia oil and shea butter to moisturize, add volume, and fight frizz while reducing breakage. The Straight Line is formulated with a blend of blackseed oil, which is known for strengthening hair, and coconut oil, which stimulates hair grown while adding shine, softness, and luster to any style. If you're transitioning to straight hair, it's important to use products that protect your hair and give you a flawless finish, such as the Smooth 'n Shine Straightening Polisher ($6).
With naturally curly styles, it's important to add nourishment and products that enhance your curl pattern, such as the Smooth 'n Shine Curl Quenching Co-Wash ($6).
Why Embracing Your Textured Hair Is So Important
What's your natural hair story?
NIKIA PHOENIX: I grew up with chemically straightened hair. I got a relaxer at such a young age that I don't even remember what my natural hair texture was like as a kid. I actually discovered my natural hair nearly a decade ago when I decided to let the relaxer go. Because I'd never known my texture, I had no idea what to expect. Would I have waves, ringlet curls, or super-kinky hair? I soon realized it would be the latter. Like my relationship with myself, I've had to get to know my hair and learn to love it.
Part of that process is accepting your hair for what it is. I accept it for its thickness and its tight coils, and I don't try to make it something that it's not. My hair does not thrive in straight styles, so I nurture it by embracing afros, two-strand twist-outs, and braids. We have fun together as long as I respect my hair where it's at.
What's it like being an ambassador for a brand that celebrates texture and diversity in its truest form?
NP: The brand has been around for over two decades, and it's evolving to fit the needs of black women today. We want versatility. We want fun. We want to style our hair the way we want to and not be boxed into what society expects of us. Smooth 'n Shine embraces the freedom of choice and self-expression, and I'm proud to be part of this family.
What are your thoughts on the recent push in the media to become more diverse and inclusive?
NP: It all comes down to intentions. Is this new push for diversity based on dollars, or are we genuinely seeing a change of heart? The educated, conscious consumer sees through the smoke and mirrors. The media, advertisers, and brands see that black women are trendsetters; they see our buying power, and they want to cash in. Women of color know when a company just wants to use black or brown face in advertising but is not invested in the human beings underneath that skin. True inclusivity is vertical.
It means that we are an integral part of the process from the executive level to creative to the consumer. We're not only the client; we’re the president.
What's your piece of advice to women who are still struggling to love their hair?
NP: Once upon a time, self-love and self-care were not priorities, but now it's okay to be unapologetically you. Your hair is more than an accessory. It is an extension of you. It is you. Embrace all of that. Loving your hair means loving you.