In Part-1 of “The Curls-Preneur”, stylist and salon owner, Arlene Rivera — a controversial natural curl entrepreneur, talked about her philosophy on natural curls and waves. Rivera says that regardless of nationality or ethnic heritage there are certain principles that apply to curly and wavy hair. Irish hair. German hair. Asian hair. African hair. Syrian hair. Multiethnic hair. The same principles apply regardless of heritage.
She also shared her experience working for a national chain hair salon. On the outside, it looked like a great opportunity to teach what she knew about cutting, coloring, and maintaining multiethnic and curly hair. But the managers and employees were not receptive to her knowledge.
“You’re the first stylist that didn’t shame me for my hair.” numerous clients told Rivera.
“This is the first time they are hearing, oh my God you have beautiful curls. Come on in. We’re gonna have fun,” Rivera said. Even the perception that she, as a stylist, does not have a problem with voluminous curls is priceless to clients because their hair is their identity.
Your hair is your identity
Rivera spoke passionately about the negative messages that many cultures send to people with curly hair, describing how families relate negatively to their own kin with curly hair. In one such incident a grandmother brought her 6-year-old multiethnic granddaughter into the salon. She told Rivera —
“I don’t know what you’re going to do with that crazy hair.”
“What crazy hair?” Rivera asked as she watched the little girl shrink with embarrassment and drop her head in shame at her grandmother’s words.
Rivera responded, “Grandma, who’s crazy hair? Are you talking about your granddaughter? That’s the most gorgeous hair. I bet you cannot do half the things that she can do (with her hair).”
Immediately the little 6-year-old sat up taller in the stylist’s chair having newly found pride in her curly mane.
“So to think that (hair) is irrelevant for the emotional state of any human it is ignorant. Your hair gives you energy. If you feel that you have bad hair it affects you in all areas of your life.”Arlene Rivera — Owner and founder of Maxine’s Shears and Wigs – Salon and Barbershop.
Curls are generally seen as something to tame rather than beautiful hair that gives the wearer choices naturally straight hair does not easily offer. The ability to be naturally curly or wavy or to be temporarily made straight is a unique gift.
An entrepreneur celebrating natural curls
Rivera wanted to celebrate natural curls. She desired to teach and empower her clients to grow and maintain healthy, naturally curly hair.
“My mother was a hairdresser. I always say that I’ve been doing hair since I was in her belly. So, the whole flavor of her love, I think I inherited it. She loved what she did and she did it well.”Arlene Rivera — Owner and founder of Maxine’s Shears and Wigs – Salon and Barbershop.
Rivera’s mother is now retired, but the legacy of her love for hair styling carries on in Rivera in a number of ways.
First, Puerto Rican culture would come to be one of the biggest influences in Rivera’s haircare philosophy.
Natural ingredients are best for curls
Next, a belief that natural ingredients with an aloe vera base make the best hair care products is the second greatest influence in her haircare philosophy.
Rivera only carries one line of products for all of her clients — Loma® Hair Care products.
Loma® Hair Care uses naturally derived products with aloe vera as its base ingredient, rather than water like so many other brands. Water is often the first item when you read the list of ingredients on a bottle of shampoo. At Loma® Hair Care, “aloe barbadensis leaf juice” or “aloe vera gel” is the first ingredient. These products are not marketed to people with curly, wavy or straight hair. They also do not target any particular ethnicity. Instead, Loma® Hair Care makes products for all people, using natural ingredients, that cover a range of hair types.
The rich multiethnic, colonial and political history of Puerto Rico caused Rivera to view people as just people. Not indigenous people, not immigrant people, not settlers — just people with a complex heritage. Rivera developed a controversial way of caring for all hair types from her complex multiethnic experience.
Hydrating natural curls
In the name of research, I tried Rivera’s philosophy on my own multiethnic natural curls.
The result was a gorgeously eye-opening experience. In my own hair journey, stylists focused on one of the multiple ethnicities that I outwardly presented. They then recommended products marketed for ethnically “black hair” with disastrous results. At Maxine’s Salon, I was told to “get out of the box.”
“You’re experiencing my philosophy,” Rivera said. “If you look good, I look good. What is it for me to hold you a prisoner of my chair? And that you only look good in my chair. My journey, from the marketing point of view, is that you’re my advertisement. I set every single client up for success at home by explaining what their hair is, not the type of curls, (because) it’s really irrelevant, the type of curls.
“It’s a little bit more complicated.
“That’s why marketing doesn’t go there. It’s about whether you have fine, medium, or coarse hair,” Rivera explained.
Curl coil tightness is irrelevant
“The tightness of the curl coil is not part of my philosophy.”Arlene Rivera — Owner and founder of Maxine’s Shears and Wigs – Salon and Barbershop.
“The tighter the curl the more I have to hydrate. That’s my aha moment,” Rivera said.
“Everybody asks, ‘What type of curl do I have?’ That’s the industry. That’s to put you in a box,” she added.
“The intensity of my hydration, of course, has to do with how tight your curl is, but fine, medium or coarse is what determines your elasticity and your porosity. So the finer the hair and the more curl the hair has, the more porosity it has,” Rivera explained.
“Fine hair, even if it is straight, has a lot of porosity, even though it could be mousy, it dries very fast. So if I concentrate only (on) who is wearing it or how tight my hair is, I miss what hair I have, what the hair is actually composed (of),” she continued.
“You go to the Jewish population and the Jewish population has very wiry curls. People think only black people have wiry hair. You have the wiry and the coarse texture within this population (also),” Rivera said.
Understanding wiry hair
Rivera makes this point to say that some Jewish and African people can both have wiry hair.
However, industry marketing would have you think all African people have wiry hair and that other ethnicities do not.
Rivera’s husband, Robert Gomez, is a barber and loctician at the family-owned salon. Gomez shared that some of his clients are from Uganda and Nigeria and have extremely fine hair that mats very easily, but there are different hair types from different regions of Africa which do not mat or loc at the same rate. This phenomenon plays a part in how he as a barber and loctician creates dreadlock hairstyles for his clients.
A loctician is someone who specializes in starting, maintaining and styling locs or dreadlocks, a popular hairstyle among all ethnicities.
Puerto Rican café con leche
Rivera shared her family’s recipe for Puerto Rican coffee — café con leche, consisting of Café Bustelo brand coffee with condensed milk and served with homemade guava pastries— pastelillos de guayaba.
“Curls are the reason why I’m here. Because at the end of the story, the knowledge that I didn’t think … meant much … ended up being the only thing that sets me apart. It’s very hard to be a Latina with her own business.”Arlene Rivera — Owner and founder of Maxine’s Shears and Wigs – Salon and Barbershop.
In North America a “Latina” is a girl or woman with Latin heritage.
After 30-plus-years of fighting for her passion Rivera has grown accostomed to the question, “Why are you going to identify yourself as a multiethnic salon? You could do everybody’s hair.”
Rivera said she wanted to help the people of her community in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, where the population is 80 percent Caucasian, avoid a one-hour road trip to the state’s capital in Denver, simply to find a stylist who is knowledgeable and compassionate about caring for curly and wavy hair.
We offer more on the importance of hydrating curly hair and why a “blunt cut” is all wrong for curly hair, in Part-3 of this series.
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