CURLFEST 2019: An Afro-Wonderland Celebration


Curlfest, this weekend, hosted their festival for the first time on Randall’s Island, expanding the scale, the quantity, and the celebration of the black dollar. From swag surfing with a crowd of beautiful people of color to sitting down and listening closely to black female panelists explore their entrepreneurship and activism amidst intersectional quarrel, I felt a sense of belonging with those embracing their coiled 4c type hair.

My experience started with Jamila Woods’ “Black Girl Soldier” blasting in my headphones, walking out the 125th Street train station. Waiting patiently by the bus that escorts festival-goers to the well-anticipated event were a swarm- a pilgrimage- of women, men, and children representing the African Diaspora through their skin, their clothing, their accessories, and their hair. 

Photo by Louric Rankine.

Entering the Afro-centric event felt like a euphoric immersion into a utopian Afro-wonderland. My coiled hair conditioned by the sound of authentic Afrobeats, my skin moisturized by the integrity of private black businesses setting up their vendors under their tents, and my eyes navigating me to the different aspects that made this festival beautiful.

Before embarking on this journey, I had a mission:

To try some products out; interview owners of black businesses specializing in hair care, skincare, apparel, and art; interview at least one of the founders of Curlfest; sit-in for the panels filled with entrepreneurs, social influencers and important black lawmakers.

I first gravitated towards a vendor tent that struck my eye when on display, there were personal hand mirrors with animated designs of black hair above and stylish, multi-colored star bursts-like earrings. Kelley Wilford, co-founder and designer of Two Light Creations, a super-light earring manufacturing business, offered her testimony about black businesses and journey to Curlfest:

“Our business is celebrating ten years today,” Wilford reflects alongside twin sister and co-founder, Tracey. “My sister started when she took a jewelry course at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she made her first pair of earrings. I started wearing them around and a lot of people really liked them. Then, I told my sister ‘I think we have a business here’”. 

Kelley and Tracy Wilford of 2 Light Creations. Photo by Louric Rankine.

Wilford’s business initiated when both sisters decided to go bald and tried to find fashionable earrings to complement. The earrings are made from aluminum stainless steel and with each purchase, a compliment was granted.

“The next step for us is to enjoy helping women enjoy. The skin they have and the hair they wear is theirs”.

After making a trip to the water station, I came across a small, yet brand new vendor decorated with three tropical colors, blue, peach, and green. Bryan Taylor, founder of Taylor Beauty, attended Curlfest last year with youth Madison (last name not revealed) and felt inspired to launch their own business. The genesis to their brand started in a vacation at St. Martin, finding appreciation in the peach fruit. Taylor Beauty specializes in moisturizing care, selling three different lotions flavored peach, blue raspberry, and coconut kiwi. 

“It’s really important to find a moisturizer for black skin because if you know (and I knew), our skin get ashy in the winter,” Taylor joked. “It feels good to have flavor driven lotions with nice scent because people really like the smell”.

Taylor and Madison are currently working on the website. Alongside their lotion, they sold $2 cups of lemonade with flavors corresponding to the lotions.

I had the kiwi and blue raspberry lemonade (as well as the blue raspberry lotion) and boy, was my thirst quenched and my skin moisturized.

Finally, with my semi-high top haircut not moisturized and falling prey to the scorching heat, I glanced across a colorful, floral-themed vendor stand that filled its displays with different conditioners, shampoos, and moisturizers.

I got to speak with a licensed cosmetologist and natural hair connoisseur Shantel Kelly, who represented Beleza Natural, an international natural hair cosmetics company that started in Brazil and since has expanded 26 years later. 

Shantel Kelly, who represented Beleza Natural. Photo by Louric Rankine.

“Growing up, for me, textured hair was tortured with chemical damage or dry combing and most women did not get to see their curls thrive in style,” Kelly reflected. “(Beleza Natural) stands out because it gives full service to women of color of all curly hair types, have a licensed lab and chemist to approve natural hair ingredients, and we listen very closely to clients’ personal experience with hair products”.

Beleza Natural, according to their website, was the first salon developed in Rio De Janeiro in 1993 and has since served monthly to 130 thousand clients through beauty institutes, kiosks, and product stores. One of their famous product, Mix It Up, allows clients to customize their 

Curlfest continued to be rich with a spiritually-enhancing drum selection and Homecoming-inspired pep rally dance, delicious diasporic cuisines such as Jamaican jerk chicken, and insightful 45-minute panels.

The founders of CURLFEST. Photo by Louric Rankine.

The panels focused on listening to black women confronting colorism, black female businesses, black female CEO’s and CFO’s, laws protecting black beauty, the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a social influencer, and black male perspectives on night beauty rituals in the bedroom. Although I had to revisit Taylor Beauty for their $2 lemonade in between breaks and refill my water bottle to stay hydrated, I paid attention to the tips to build your brand by Love & Hip-Hop’s Yandy Smith; the self-realization in dark skin beauty by Listen to Black Women: Take to the Streets’ ambassador Bianca Lominy, tips to building businesses without trust funds or “small loans” by Tori Soudan; the love for our sisters in any headwear by Insecure’s Saronas J. Jackson.

“This event is made by us and made for us,” Simone Mair, co-founder of CurlFest, reflects. “This is made with intention”.