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Solange: spring/summer 2018
This spread: strapless dress A.W.A.K.E., leather gloves GmbH × SpidiPhotography Jackie Nickerson, Styling Katie Shillingford

The Solange-approved hair stylist bringing diverse looks to fashion

Jamaican-born Jawara describes his aesthetic as ‘bougetto’, a mix of bougie and ghetto styles

While diversity on the runway seems to be (very slowly) getting better, when models of colour are backstage at shows, embarrassingly there often aren’t any hair stylists who know how to work with their hair. At the end of last year, J.Crew issued an apology after featuring a black model on its site with ungroomed hair and elsewhere, models like Leomie Anderson have called out brands for not being able to do anything to her hair in prepping for the runway.

Among the hair stylists trying to bring change to the industry is Jamaican-born Jawara. First learning how to work with hair in his aunt’s salon from the age of seven, his style – that mixes both styles from his background and more traditional looks – has seen him tapped by brands like Off-White, Vivienne Westwood, Section 8, and Ivy Park, as well as for shoots in Dazed and AnOther. Solange too is a fan, with the hair stylist creating the heavenly braided halo for her look at the recent Met Gala.

“There are all these people who are now in the industry who don’t have the right people taking care of their needs as a model or talent,” Jawara tells us. More than just creating looks that are aesthetically captivating, he has one goal with his work. “To celebrate styles that we were told aren’t beautiful, or are poor taste,” he says.

Here, we speak with the hair stylist on bringing more diverse styles to fashion and collaborating with Solange.

How did you first get into hair?

Jawara: As a child, I lived in Jamaica and my aunt owned a beauty salon. It was a very interesting point in my life because it was the height of the dancehall culture in Jamaica in the 90s and my aunt catered to the clients. So that was my first experience of seeing hair, colour, and elaborate styles.

I started working with her when I was about seven or eight years old, I just practised and mimicked everything I saw and learned at the salon. When I went back to New York as a teenager, I was doing everyone’s hair in the community. Basically anything I saw in videos, on TV, and in movies I tried on different people and then did that up until I was older and started working in salons apprenticing and assisting. Later on in life, I assisted Guido Palau’s team and then Sam McKnight later on, and now I’m here!

How would kind of describe your aesthetic?

Jawara: I like dewy hair, I like groomed hair, I like hair to behave, then I also like hair to be crazy, so it’s a bit of both. I have a friend that likes to say I have a bougie way of doing hair, and a ghetto way of doing hair. A ‘bougetto’ way of doing hair really, so it’s mixing different worlds together, which I haven’t really seen in fashion. That’s interesting for me.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Jawara: I just collect, collect, collect. I’m a reference freak. I’m a reference fanatic. On days when I’m not doing anything, I’m probably in the library doing referencing, drawing and sketching, looking at old pictures, old issues of Vogue and art pieces. Anywhere I travel I take pictures of people, sometimes people go crazy.

“I have a bougie way of doing hair, and a ghetto way of doing hair. A ‘bougetto’ way of doing hair really, so it’s mixing different worlds together” – Jawara 

What is your approach when collaborating with a brand or magazine to create hair looks?

Jawara: For me, it’s talking with the team, or the designer for a brand, whoever I’m working with. I like to see where their mind is at and feel them out, so I’ve got their vibe. I have a good vibe radar of what someone’s feeling or what the client needs, then I come up with the mood of that.

I also like to present people with things they don’t know they can have – mostly techniques I learned earlier in life because I haven’t really seen them replicated. I think people are so shocked, like ‘oh that can be done with hair?’. So I like to also let people know what is possible. ‘I know we said we were only going to do this slick ponytail, but we can also have this texture going into the ponytail’ for example. That’s what I bring to the table for work and what I’m trying to do.

Models of colour are often outspoken about hair stylists not being able to work with their hair. Is that something you’ve come across?

Jawara: In my assisting days, I witnessed a lot of hair stylists that were accoladed and have been working on the scene forever, and when they came to doing hair other than hair that looked like theirs it was shocking. I’m backstage with some of the models and they wouldn’t know how to do their hair and they would go, ‘I don’t do that type of hair!’ Like, what do you mean you don’t do that type of hair? They pride themselves on being amazing hair stylists and then something shows up that they don’t know, and they automatically put it down because it makes them look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

Why do you think people don’t try to expand their repertoire?

Jawara: I feel like people are afraid, and instead of going into something that is not familiar and wanting to know more about it, they do the opposite. Of course, it makes me feel incompetent sometimes (not knowing something) but I’ve tried to learn all different types of hair, wiry hair, curly hair, coarse hair, shaved hair, all different ethnicities. I would love to see fashion, entertainment, and music hairstylists go more in depth of working with hair that they don’t understand or aren’t familiar with.

I think it’s a matter of a lot of different factors, but I think it would be really cool, if you don’t know how to do something, you ask someone and learn. We have all these tools now, we have YouTube, we have this and that. Also just experiment! There are people out there willing to let you experiment.

What have been some of your career highlights?

Jawara: I think the most rewarding thing for me is to get feedback from people who did not know this is a possibility for them to be represented and for their hair to be celebrated in fashion. That to me is a career highlight, as opposed to receiving an actual accolade or shoot or award. The most rewarding thing is knowing young people from other parts of the world find out I am who I am, that I look the way I look, and that I look like them. It’s also rewarding because it’s representation and representation matters as well.

I think I’m still working towards something, I’m not really sure if I had a career highlight yet. But definitely the things I’ve been doing with Solange. She allows me to grow and allows me to experiment in ways and collaborate with her as I really love. I’ve done so many Dazed covers, and covers for AnOther – I’m very happy about that!

“I’m constantly working towards a better representation of myself and everyone like me. Eventually creating a whole hair aesthetic that we haven’t had before” – Jawara

How did you first start working with Solange?

Jawara: We met on a job. She requested me and then we just hit it off. Solange shares her ideas and tells you what she’s feeling. Then I bring new stuff in that she picks and we decide together as we’re doing it. If something doesn’t work, we adapt it until it does. She’s a true artist and so cultivated and educated. Every time I work with her I get excited because it pushes me as a hairstylist, and now I’ve almost become a sculptor and a milliner since I’ve been working with her.

What are you working towards in the future?

Jawara: I’m constantly working towards a better representation of myself and everyone like me. I would love to really work on how different types of hair are viewed – it’s still a continuous work for me – in fashion. I’ve been thinking about maybe starting a forum or a class on working with textures that a lot of hairstylists don’t know and possibly having a ‘how to’ or ‘the basics of’.

Sometimes I think that fashion is saturated with the same ideas because usually people are from similar backgrounds. It’s interesting to see people from different places emerging and how they view beauty and how we can intertwine it with what’s going on. Eventually creating a whole hair aesthetic that we haven’t had before.

What would you say to somebody, like you, who didn’t think they could work as a hairstylist because of the lack of representation?

Jawara: You can show someone a way that they haven’t lived with the things we normally do and that we take for granted, and it draws us closer together. I think that’s the road to us all being on the same page or even just understanding each other. Whatever you do that you think is not celebrated, maybe it’s up to you to celebrate it. It’s up to you and your friends to make it a thing. The way things are moving so fast, I just think it’s time for people to show other ways of beauty and life.