I was sitting in on a class at the International Beauty Show this past weekend when a woman raised her hand to ask a question. Because the educators were male, she prefaced her question with "I understand where you're coming from, but I feel it's much harder for a woman to do what you're saying..."
Some class attendees disagreed with her, but I watched others silently nod in agreement. Though I wasn't blind to the fact that women face struggles in the hair industry just as much as any other industry, it hadn't really come to the forefront until that moment.
Here was a woman who was unsure of how to approach a situation in the salon simply because she was a woman. Meanwhile, I was left thinking how can we change the mindset that women aren't just as able as men?
Like other professions, hair dressing has long been dominated by males, but that doesn't mean women aren't tirelessly leaving their mark. One of the industry's current leading ladies, Naeemah LaFond, is breaking race barriers while simultaneously proving that women can do just as much men, and still look fabulous while doing it.
LaFond first joined Amika in January 2013 as the brand’s National Education Manager, Professional Division.
As a 38-year-old African American woman and the Global Artistic Director for Amika Haircare, LaFond is already making leaps and bounds within the hair industry, and there's no slowing down anytime soon.
AS: How do you plan to change the game for women in the hair industry?
NL: As a black woman in this industry, I think the game is already changed. Representation matters so much, and it's no secret that being a black woman at the helm of a mainstream beauty brand is a foreign concept to most. I'm reminded of that every time another young black woman sees me and tells me how inspiring and refreshing it is to see someone like her on a large platform.
I'm not going to lie, there have been some moments where I want to crawl back into my shell and throw it all away, but I know that I have a bigger purpose. I'm here to show all stylists that no matter your skin tone, gender or background, there's a place for you in this industry. I may not be what you're used to, but I'm just as good as everyone else.
AS: What does it mean to you to be a woman in a male-dominated industry?
NL: It unfortunately means that I have to work twice as hard to earn my place. At the same time, it makes me extremely proud to know that I'm breaking barriers and making a space for women who come after me that would have otherwise been overlooked.
AS: Your hair is one of your most recognizable features. How can more women use their texture to their advantage?
NL: Truthfully, I think everyone should be able to wear their hair in whatever way makes them feel confident. I look forward to the day where wearing natural hair isn't a conversation.
AS: If you could give any piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
NL: I'd tell that young girl to stop being so shy and take more risks. The woman that you see today is the product of many self-help books and YouTube motivational speakers.
AS: What kind of mark do you hope to leave on the industry as a woman?
NL: I want to leave my mark as an artist and have the fact that I'm a woman be the cherry on top. When it's all said and done, I'd love to leave behind a trail of boss women that aren't afraid to go after what they deserve, and to do so with kindness and passion.