‘I try to make sure I don’t allow anyone to pigeonhole me and to make sure that as a black woman I’m seen as equal’
Welcome to Rooted, a campaign celebrating the power of black hair and the launch of ‘Tallawah’ – an exhibition by photographer Nadine Ijewere and hairstylist Jawara Wauchope. Here, we explore what the beauty of black hair is all over the globe, from Jamaica to London and New York to the screens of Nollywood films.
Lacy Redway has a plan. “I made a decision with myself that I’m going to use my platform in the best way that I can,” the hairstylist says. “Which, for me, means making sure that before I leave this industry, women of colour are perceived differently than we have been in the past and that we’re given equal opportunities.” If there’s anyone who can do it, it’s her.
Originally from Jamaica, Redway moved to the US with her family when she was eight years old and started doing hair not long after. After assisting some of the best names in the industry – think Guido, Eugene, Didier, Odile – Redway established herself as an authority in her own right and one that is highly in demand.
From the most intricate braids and pin curls, to being trusted with Megan Rapinoe’s famous pink hair to every single one of these incredible Tessa Thompson hairdos, Redway’s talent runs the gamut from creative and wildly experimental to classic Hollywood, equally at ease with all hair textures. When Tracee Ellis Ross needed someone to do her hair for her Pattern campaign, she called on Redway. As have Lupita Nyong'o, Amandla Stenberg, Anne Hathaway, Zoë Kravitz, FKA twigs, Florence Pugh, Yara Shahidi, Maya Hawke, Jourdan Dunn, Alicia Keys, Naomi Campbell… the list goes on and on because, when it comes to hair, she can do it all.
When she was coming up through the industry, however, Redway quickly learned that the same couldn’t be said for the other assistants or indeed the stylists. When assisting on her first Guido show, Redway says, she drew a crowd around her to watch her braiding. “I didn’t realise that what I was doing was anything different because it was something I was used to doing growing up. I didn’t realise my braiding was faster than most assistants at the time or that the technique was different,” she says. “That for me was my big ‘wow a-ha’ moment like I have something that might be a little bit different or special.”
Here we speak to Redway about being an 11-year-old entrepreneur, how social media has changed the industry, and why designers are still sending white models down the runway in cornrows.
Do you remember when were you first conscious of your appearance?
Lacy Redway: Growing up, until coming to America, I didn’t really realise anything about my appearance because I was still very young. But I did have something very traumatic happen to me that made me more aware and conscious of it. When I first came to the country, my mum had a friend of hers give me a relaxer – a relaxer is a chemical service done to make your hair go from curly to straight – it wasn’t a professional, it was just a friend and my hair fell off. I ended up losing the majority of my hair and that was devastating for me not only being an immigrant girl having to adapt to American culture but now I also didn’t have a lot of hair. It made me very insecure and I was forced to get creative about my hair. It was probably a blessing in disguise now that I’m thinking about it because maybe it sharpened my skills earlier on.
Do you think that’s maybe when you first became interested in hair?
Lacy Redway: I think that subconsciously I was exposed to hair and techniques from my sister, she used to do my hair every Sunday in Jamaica. It was like a routine, every Sunday she’d wash my hair and then she would twist it and give me Bantu Knots and that was the first stage of my hair journey. Maybe I became interested in that way but also from coming to America and having that sort of traumatic experience where my hair falls off, yeah, I think that also helped me really tap into my hair skills.
Where did you first start doing hair?
Lacy Redway: Being a family of immigrants you sometimes get creative about jobs and how to make money. I didn’t grow up with a lot so I found the way that I could make money was by doing hair. There was this famous basketball player called Allen Iverson and a lot of people really liked the braid work that he used to wear on the court. So I became the girl in school that braided everyone’s hair, I would charge them like $10 - $15 to do really intricate braid design. I became a little entrepreneur – before I really knew what an entrepreneur was – around the age of 11.
Lacy Redway: Yeah! By the age of 15, I started working in a salon but not doing any kind of chemical service. I was still just the girl that braided everyone’s hair and I also became a shampoo girl. But I never thought hair would be something that I would do professionally because I always wanted to work in fashion, but at the time I didn’t realise hair could take me there. So I thought I was going to be a publicist and go into fashion PR, that’s what I went to college to try to pursue.
But during my time in college, I still continued doing hair. I worked in a hair salon assisting this lovely woman, her name is Angie Phipps and she did photoshoots for hair package companies. Through doing that with her I discovered I loved being a part of the creative process, I loved going from start to finish, doing the hair on set, learning how to style it in a one-dimensional way. In real life, things have to look good three dimensional but for photos, you are just looking at it from a certain angle.
How did you then start doing hair professionally?
Lacy Redway: I decided to create my own portfolio. This was also during the time that MySpace started and there was another website called Model Mayhem. I started testing with different photographers and creatives I met on the website. It was the beginning of what we know today as social media, which I didn’t realise that I was part of the beginning stages of it.
That’s how I started and then through doing that my name just started getting passed around to start assisting. I started assisting the greats: Guido (Palau), Eugene (Souleiman), Didier (Malige), Odile (Gilbert), Luigi (Murenu) when he did shows in New York. The reason I was able to assist so many amazing people all at the same time was because I had techniques that a lot of the assistants at the time didn’t possess. I was able to do things like specialise in textured hair and also braid and at the time there weren't a lot of assistants backstage that knew how to do those techniques.
When you’re creating a hairstyle is beauty something you think about. Are you trying to make it look beautiful or is that an idea that you reject?
Lacy Redway: Not necessarily. The thing I try to gather when doing a shoot or red carpet is ‘what we are we shooting’, or ‘what is the pose like?’ Because that really helps me tell the story I’m trying to translate. I also really love to bring the talent’s personality into the look, I try to personalise it in that way. I don’t approach models on shoots like hangers or a blank canvas, I really try to understand the girl or boy that’s sitting in my chair and emulate some part of their personality into the look. I like collaborating with other artists and I think that’s where my best work comes, when there’s a really strong collaboration with the other creatives on the team.
It’s not necessarily always traditional beauty but there’s always beauty within the look, there are always elements that you will find beautiful, even if it’s quirky or weird.
How has the industry evolved since you first started out?
Lacy Redway: I’m in a very unique position because I feel like I’m in the last generation of artists that came up really having to assist in the old school way, whereas the newcomers launch their career just on social media. There’s something special to me about making sure you have the proper foundation and for me, that meant assisting and really working my way from the bottom up. I really believe that you should have the proper foundations to really understand the industry and how to navigate it because being an artist at a certain level requires a lot more than being a hairstylist. You really have to know how to be a team player, use your voice to articulate your creativity but also make sure everyone is on board with what you’re trying to create.
I find it hard to find good assistants these days because they didn’t have that proper training, they might not possess the little common-sense things you know from being backstage and assisting someone so closely in a high-pressure environment. You’ll know when to be seen, when to not be seen and there’s an art to that, there’s an art to being a good assistant or being a great artist and I love that I was able to do that but marry it with the new school way that was very important.
How has social media changed things?
Lacy Redway: Because of social media, we now have to be more responsible in the fashion space, whereas before there were a lot of things that were taking place behind the scenes that weren’t being called out. I love that now models have been voicing their opinions about being backstage and no one knowing how to do their hair or designers having to reconsider what they send down the runway because it might be offensive. I love that that platform does exist because also for me I’m able to touch people all around the world. I have people that contact me from so many different continents and through my work, it has inspired them to be more themselves, to wear their hair natural or it has taught them how to do their children’s hair so that’s the beauty I find in social media.
And even so, designers are still sending white models down the runway with, for example, cornrows. But do you think overall there’s been an improvement in knowledge of black hair in the industry?
Lacy Redway: There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in fashion, there’s still a lot of old-school players that are very dominant in the industry who are not ready to conform to a new-school standard and I think that’s challenging for them to collaborate with newer people and new perspectives.
A lot of the issues we’re finding with fashion is that the top five people that have been able to key a majority of the largest fashion shows for over several decades have been white men. So you’re only hearing the story told from one point of view. We’re not seeing enough diversity at that level. Part of the change that needs to happen is we all need to have more open and honest conversations. Now, it’s just irresponsible to just be sending things down the runway, regardless of what the intentions were, that are completely disrespectful to other cultures or people’s beliefs.
It’s crazy to me that no one at Comme flagged the hair.
Lacy Redway: Well, if the people that are in the room don’t identify with anything that could be problematic then chances are they don’t even know they’re being offensive. There just needs to be more diversity and people who can voice their opinion which is a tough thing because there’s so much politics involved with our jobs. I made a decision with myself that I’m going to be authentic to me and use my platform in the best way that I can, which for me means making sure that before I leave this industry that women of colour are perceived differently than we have been in the past and that we’re given equal opportunities.
I try to make sure I don’t allow anyone to pigeonhole me, to think that I only do black hair or I only do braids and to make sure that as a black woman I’m seen as equal, that I can do all hair. Honestly, being able to do all hair is where you can truly call yourself an expert. If you can’t do everybody’s hair that sits in your chair then I don’t know if you can call yourself an expert, specialist or icon.
You were a young entrepreneur age eleven, is that something that you are thinking about doing now maybe doing your own products or brand?
Lacy Redway: There’s a lot of people waiting to see what’s next for me. I feel like there’s still a lot of work to be done in haircare in terms of finding things that actually work on textured hair and 4C hair. I think naturally maybe down the line that’s something that will happen for me, I don’t know when. But I’d love to be a part of something that could help women make their life easier. Part of my bigger picture of what I want to do beyond products is I want to give back, I really want to make sure that again – not just women but children and immigrants – I want to get into more charitable things and give back myself.
I’m working on things that can help promote education and really help artists feel like they have a safe space to learn without feeling judged. Not just artists, people. I want to give back whatever knowledge I’ve acquired over the years back to the people so that we don’t keep repeating the same cycle of a level ignorance.
You said the aspiring hairstylists don’t get the same training that they did in the past, is there any advice you’d give to young people wanting to get into the industry today?
Lacy Redway: Take your time, it doesn’t happen overnight. I feel like with this Instagram culture most of the hairstylists that come through that channel want instant gratification, they don’t want to work to get to the top they just want to be an overnight success. The quicker you come through the door, you could come right out the door even quicker because there’s no patience and no respect. Because regardless of whether I agree or disagree with what the previous generation have done in terms of hair and styling, I think there’s a level of respect that we should still have for those who’ve come before us. Because they’ve helped lay down the foundation and pave the way to make it easier and that’s part of what I’m trying to do. Making sure I’m paving the way for other black girls everywhere to feel like ‘I can do it all, I don’t have to do just black hair I can do all hair’. I hope for them to just be patient, take their time and just assist, don’t be afraid to assist. Just wait for your turn.