Everyone has a story.
I love doing interviews. It’s an opportunity to find out more about people’s lives, what motivates them and what their passions are.
Paula has accomplished in a few years what most don’t in a lifetime. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her – I had a hard time narrowing them down.
Here is a bit of her story and the impact she has had on our community.
Owner, Educator and Stylist, Curly Hair Designs
You took an interest in hair from a very young age, what was it that drew you to the beauty industry?
Growing up, I was always drawn to hair whether it be on barbie’s or on the head’s of friends and family. There was a Family friend who did our hair and I would always watch her intensely as she would braid our hair up and style my Mom’s hair in various ways. I always loved the ideal of being able to transform someone’s whole mood with a new hairstyle! I am forever grateful that this industry chose me. I don’t think the choice was ever mine. It was universal guidance that brought me to the industry and still keeps me elevating within it today.
You have been a salon owner for a decade now. In 2010 you opened Hair Designs by Paula then in 2014 you rebranded your salon to Curly Hair Designs. Can you share with us what inspired the change?
I was working with a business coach at the time, Angela Sutcliffe. We were working on establishing a stronger brand and started to really dig in to what made, then known as Hair Designs by Paula, different from any other salon. I did not even realize that curls had become our specialty at the time. She worked with me for months until I finally agreed that this would be a move in the right direction. I had no clue of the impact this name change would have on my business and the curly haired clients in the city. Thank you Angela! I am extremely proud of how the business has been able to cater to a large group of people who needed some more focused TLC.
In 2015 you were honoured by the Natural Hair Congress Canada with an award for Best Natural Hairstylist in Canada. What did that moment mean to you?
In that moment, it was a reminder of what can happen when you just do it! This was the best reward for investing in the vision my models helped me execute on stage. I had been unsure of going to Montreal to make this happen, probably because of that false story we can sometimes create in our mind. This moment was a reminder of you are who you believe you are.
It was not the title of Best Natural Hairstylist in Canada that did it for me. It was seeing how my shy model Kyana rocked that runway from head to toe! It was the pre-show that re-affirmed the powers my hands and words of encouragement hold. Kyana , who is no longer with us, felt confident enough to do something she had never done before.
That was the prize for me.
Solange Ashoori, founder of Ziba Style Bar in Toronto, is petitioning to mandate Black and textured hair education in Ontario beauty schools. It is evident the industry has a long way to go, when it comes to diversity.
I think it is absolutely crucial that all textures of hair be included in the curriculum. Salons and hair stylists need to be able to service anyone who comes through the doors and provide a sense of comfort and trust.
You have made education a pinnacle part of your brand. Do you believe providing education gives a sense of empowerment, self-love and self-worth?
I feel that the way we love curls and welcome them so intensely is the validation our clients need to move forward in their own personal journey of fully embracing their curls as they come. The stories of bad salon experiences never cease to amaze me. We often are the first salon choice after years of scarcity, so it is very important the client feels like they and their hair belong, are welcomed and feel safe in this space.
For so many who grow up with naturally curly, kinky or coily hair, it is like an unknown world for most parents, whether or not they have a similar hair type. Society has in the past and at present still deem curls to be unruly and unprofessional. As more people in the world come to acknowledge the system of oppression we are facing, I recognized overnight that the last thing that is certain âtre the minds of those who choose not to hear the necessity for change.
I was no longer willing to wait on the ministry to formulate the plan towards change, so I developed Curls Understood The Academy. It hurts to have to petition for basic acknowledgment of hair types that are not straight or the rhetoric of black women only relaxing their hair straight or wearing wigs as opposed to encouraging stylists to get comfortable being uncomfortable servicing the wide range of demographics that comes with these hair types.
We remind our clients that they are worth the time they need to invest in their hair to gain similar results. The education during the service empowers them to love their hair as it comes in it most hydrated form. Finding this resolution with our client is life changing and a big joy all around.
Stylists should be open to working with different hair types while recognizing the stories that come with their client. Taking the time to understand the needs of each individual client allows for us to focus in on their natural attributes.
We remind clients that they are worth the investment of learning about their hair’s needs with the guidance of a Stylist who understands.
What types of educational services do you provide for curly, coily and kinky hair?
In salon, both myself and Rhea teach our clients how to work with their hair beyond their salon visit. It is so key that clients remain consistent in their hair regimen. Every appointment is filled with discovering what our clients are currently doing and how to improve moving forward.
I also offer 1 on 1 education that can range anywhere from a 6 hour day to a 12 week program for hairstylists already working in the Industry or as an apprenticeship opportunity. I offer look and learn as well as hands-on options through the Curls Understood Academy.
We also offer 1-on-1 education for parent(s) and child. There are many mixed cultures born into this world and parents do not always anticipate or understand the needs of their child. We help to bridge that gap from misunderstanding to ease.
Whether it be a seasoned, aspiring hair stylist or an individual seeking to better understand how to work with what they’ve got, I can help you grow your knowledge of curly hair types as well as the understanding of what they need to thrive.
The history of hair.
I find it fascinating that hairstyles can clearly show cultural shifts in society.
In the 1960s Vidal Sassoon’s “wash-and-wear” cuts liberated women from the roller sets and hair dryers. Women were going back to work, assuming power. These haircuts, with their movement, reflected that – it was revolutionary.
In the past, Black women would often use relaxers to prevent their natural curls from showing, today there seems to be a shift to embracing their natural hair. What do you think are some of the reasons behind this shift?
Black Women, Men, and gender diverse folks are walking in their true chosen excellence. For some, this means embracing their hair as it naturally grows and for others, a lace front or relaxer may be the choice.
There are so many more options for people to choose from when it comes to hair. The change though has been the focus on scalp and hair care rather than solely the esthetic of having straight looking hair.
While some continue to relax their hair regularly and safely with a licensed professional, other’s are on a different journey that allows them to embrace their given curl pattern.
The CROWN Act was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.
Although The CROWN Act was created for America, it is an issue of prejudice based off of any ones given bias. This is an International challenge for many who have experienced being told to change their hairstyle or even put up with someone’s hand’s in their hair out of curiosity.
These micro-aggressions most definitely need to be brought to light so that it can be addressed, moved to change and soon become a thing of past legislation as well as judgment towards other human beings.
People with different hair types can often find curly hair types fascinating and this can steer people towards choosing a hairstyle that is seen in the majority of the work environment. This is amongst one of the reasons some have opted to relax more so in the past. It all started with assimilating to euro-centric beauty standards. These days are no longer as prominent, but can still be a reality some face in their chosen way.
At Curly Hair Designs we continue to work with our clients to believe that their work place is to get used to the person they hired as they so choose to present themselves.
You were honoured by the government of Ontario at the 2016 Leading Women/Leading Girls Building Communities awards for your volunteer work and community engagement. I know you were involved with Hair Donation Ottawa for several years. But can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with Equal Chance and Project Beautiful?
Equal Chance has so many amazing programs within the Foundation. From mentorship programs linking our youth with community driven Black men, or Meals for Hope which was birthed during the pandemic to ensure that elders, disabled individuals and people from diverse cultural backgrounds were given food boxes or a hot cooked meal. There are so many ways in which we can assist our community and Equal Chance has been able to focus on the needs of the Black community in and around Ottawa. I was apart of food deliveries as well as multiple donation coordination for Families in need whom may have been displaced from a fire, or single Mom’s who needed some assistance with food and clothes for their children. We want everyone to feel as there is assistance available if they ask for it.
Project Beautiful was launched by Empowered Ladies Union (ELU) and Rhema Christian Ministries Canada, which is a non-profit organization. We were given the opportunity have a chance to meet these brave and surviving group of women from a local shelter and treat them from head to toe. I started working with them in 2016 and look forward to the next time we are permitted to host this type of day again as it has so much impact on the morale of these individuals. It is a reminder that no matter what you have been through, you are the light at the end of the tunnel that you have been searching for.
When clients come to the salon for an appointment, do you find sometimes there are unrealistic expectations of what they want their hair to look like versus what it actually can do?
I always encourage clients to let us see what curl pattern they have rather than focusing on the curl patterns of others. It is apart of the work we do to help our client see their beauty, not only from the outside and know that there were no mistakes made in their creation! Media can be helpful, but also harmful if given too much focus.
Looking good is part of feeling good.
Hair is one of the first things we see on someone, which is why many people have such a deep and emotional connection to their hair. Although finding the right products has always been a struggle – once I got the styling technique and hair cocktail nailed down – embracing my curls became much easier.
What are some of your favorite products and brands for curly, coily and kinky hair?
It is extremely important to understand how to use the product properly as opposed to just having the right product.
When you apply something the wrong way, you will ask yourself why did I add another product to my shelf?!
Be sure to see what visuals the company offers in respect to product application or check out my IGTV Channel via @curlyhairdesigns to see some product application references.
Frizé Frizé : This company was created right here in Ottawa. We love their Make Me Smile Hair Gel and Feeling Lush Leave-In Conditioner. Hand crafted with plant based ingredients, this product leaves the curls well defined and thoroughly hydrated.
Ottawa Hair Loss Clinic : Also created in Ottawa, The Scalp Exfoliator has changed the game for our client experience. Our scalp is skin and just like our visible skin needs to be exfoliated from time to time, so does our scalp. Product build up happens and this is a great solution to relieve the scalp of what it does not need.
Earthtones Naturals : This creator is based in Ajax and we fell in love about 6 years ago. The Curl Enhancing Gelly is definitely our go to product. Their sulfate free Moisturizing & Conditioning Cleanse and Curl Replenish Hair Mask are a favorite combination for our clients.
One of the cardinal rules of curly hair is – don’t touch it. I find sometimes people are overcome by the temptation to play with my curls to see them bounce back.
What are a few dos and don’ts you can share for curly hair types?
- Do not sleep with wet hair.
- Unless it is in protective style like braids or twists, your hair can dry up into a matte or leave you with more work in the morning than planned as it takes on whatever shape comes from tossing and turning. Recognize how long it takes your hair to dry and wash it as early in the day as needed to allow for a more solid and long lasting curl set.
- Do not use raw oils to moisturize.
- On a science level, the molecular weight and size differ from our hair. They are much larger than that of hair and can end up sitting on top of the cuticle layer blocking true hydration (H2O) from really penetrating through the hair shaft. I prefer products that contain oils like the brands I mentioned above.
- Do get regular trims.
- The hair starts to loose it’s shape after anywhere from 6-12-16 weeks. Split ends are going to happen no matter what, so it is important to cut them off before they get the chance to split away at the healthy growth that can be retained with regular trims.
- Don’t treat curly hair like a mystical creator.
- If the curls chose you, you were meant to understand them. Just find a stylist that can help you with your journey.
- Do use patience as the number one tool.
- Give yourself enough time to go through the full instructed process during wash day and the days in between. When you rush through the process, the results can really show.
I have been using silk pillowcases for several years now – it’s made a huge difference. Can you share the benefits of using them for curly hair?
Cotton like materials can remove, rather than help retain moisture in the hair and our skin. Silks and Satins have been known to help with moisture retention and I’m glad that you have already experienced this! From satin scrunchies, to bonnets and pillowcases, you will definitely experience benefits from using these materials.
All of these items will soon be made available at Curly Hair Designs in support of Ottawa based entrepreneurs.
You have been published in Efe magazine, Amah magazine and Press The Fashion magazine. Are having editorial opportunities important to you as an artist?
It is an honour to find your work printed in a magazine, up on a billboard, featured in a video, walking down the runway AND leaving the salon.
Editorial work is a way for a mass to enjoy your art and I truly appreciate the opportunity to showcase beauty through my lens. It creates a feeling of inclusion as your work is appreciated by those who would have never known if it weren’t for the chance to be published. This exposure will always remain and important part of the entertainment and beauty industries relationship. It is a way to network and create future opportunities to shine!
Many stylists have other artistic outlets other than hair. Do you find your music career is an extension of who you are as a hair stylist?
I think that there has never been much that separates the pieces of me. They just range in level of focus as the year’s go on. In this moment, I am so grateful to get to share gifts I love so much with many people in so many ways! I definitely love the stage whether teaching a class or singing , it all feels like a living dream. Paula C. & Paula Whitelocke have different ways of celebrating their strengths, but they both love being at the root of a good time as much as possible.