DETROIT — At 31, Espy Thomas continues to be a trendsetter. In 1999, after graduating from high school, she decided she would no longer use chemicals to straighten her hair.
“I was just done with relaxers,” says Thomas, who had been using either chemicals or a hot comb to make her curly hair straight since she was a child. “I was just tired of looking like somebody I wasn’t. I wanted to look like who I was supposed to look like.”
Thus began her journey to express her appreciation and love for the texture of her hair and to encourage others to do the same. In 2010, Thomas and her sister, Jennifer Thomas, 29, also a naturalista, began holding meetups for people who wear or are interested in wearing their hair naturally.
Today, the Thomas sisters of Detroit are among women across the country organizing meetups in 53 cities as part of the first National Natural Hair Meetup Day.
Espy Thomas, an artist known as EttaFlyy, answered some questions for the Free Press:
Q: What is a Natural Hair Meetup?
A: This one is a place where people come together who wear their hair natural or who want to learn more about it. It’s a place where people can find support and information and products. It’s like a hug for natural hair.
Q: Why do people need support for going natural?
A: We’ve been taught that our hair, in its natural state, is not beautiful. That it has to be straightened to look good, to get a job, to get married, to live your life. So when you make a decision that you want to do something different, you do need support. And this is a rally of women and some men who support each other on this journey. It’s a place where people can feel comfortable coming and asking, “How’d you get your hair like that?”
Q: Why the growing interest in going natural?
A: It has so many positive attributes. It’s healthy. You can exercise without worrying about sweating out your hair. There are now so many options in terms of style and so many products to choose from. When I first started, there were maybe three products. Now every major manufacturer has a natural hair line. It’s popular so more women feel comfortable trying it. You see women everywhere, of all ages, rocking natural hair.
For info on national meetups, go to www.facebook.com/nnhmd