Monique Rodriguez, CEO of Mielle Organics, recalls having a passion for hair care from since she was a child. She loved playing with her baby dolls and experimenting with new styles, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that most of the dolls she played with had straight blond hair — the complete opposite of her curly tresses. She also recalls frequent conversations she heard about black hair around her and how all of the above taught her that hair is an extension of how we feel about ourselves, and that those feelings tend to be generational.
“I was born in ’83. Growing up, the conversation was, ‘You have good hair. You have nappy hair,’ and that just annoys me because I never felt like there was good hair vs. bad hair,” Rodriguez tells Hello Beautiful. “I saw it as people pitting girls against each other based on hair texture. I had to learn that it’s a deeply rooted issue that has gone back many centuries to slavery.”
Rodriguez’s mother began taking her to the salon at around 12-years-old to get her hair pressed. The goal was to make her thick hair as straight and manageable as possible because having straight hair was seen as the most desirable goal. Her hair was straightened so much that it took years to overcome heat damage. However, working to restore her tresses also shifted her mindset. She decided that she was going to change the narrative and made it a point not to pass on common negative practices and beliefs about black hair when she had her own children.
“My daughters don’t know the difference between good hair and bad hair. They don’t even talk like that. For us, good hair is healthy hair,” says Rodriguez. “If your hair is healthy, as long as you keep your hair moisturized, that is considered good hair. Healthy hair is good hair.”
Today, the mother of two girls embraces her curls, and is the owner of one of the fastest growing beauty brands in the world. Mielle Organics isn’t just about products, it’s about fostering confidence, empowerment (Rodriguez and her husband also use their company to help fledgling entrepreneurs develop their businesses) and faith among its consumer base. And with Mother’s Day on coming up on Sunday, Rodriquez is preparing to launch a global initiative titled #MoreThanAStrand. The goal of #MoreThanAStrand is to use hair as the backdrop for mother/daughter bonding and fostering conversations about breaking negative generational ideas around beauty.
“The #MoreThanAStrand Campaign is a global approach of bonding mothers and daughters over hair care and I think that we all have different experiences, getting our hair done or growing up with hair, and wanting to conform to what we saw on TV. I just want to bring moms and daughters together and encourage moms to teach their daughters to embrace their natural texture of hair no matter what their curl pattern it is,” says Rodriguez. “Let’s have a positive conversation so our girls can continue to grow up and embrace who they are, and who God created them to be. That’s so important because even now with my mom — I wear my hair natural and she made a comment like, “I prefer your hair to be straight,’ but how you feel about yourself is what changes the narrative. The conversation should always be, let’s embrace who we are, let’s not try to change what God created.”
#MoreThanAStrand entails Rodriguez hosting live chats about various related topics, connecting with influencers and having them share their stories, and when the coronavirus crisis is over, she will take her message on tour around the world. Each interaction will hopefully foster the same type of intimacy and vulnerability you feel at the beauty salon or when you’re sitting between your mother’s legs getting your scalp greased or hair braided.
Rodriguez admits that at times, she still gets pushback from her mother for embracing her natural curls. There’s an older generation of women — the women who birthed millennials — that sometimes still holds on to old school beliefs about natural hair being unkempt, but with the natural hair movement invigorated again due to the social media boom, more daughters who are becoming mothers themselves are taking the reigns of self-confidence and making a conscious effort not to pass down negative ideas of self to our children, while also showing our mothers that it’s not too late to adopt knew concepts.
“This is an ongoing battle. My mom’s generation is somewhat stubborn and they like stuff their way. But the way that I overcome that battle is to just be consistent, and being secure in who I am” says Rodriguez. “If you see me enough, and if I keep showing up and I keep having the same hair style, eventually one day you’re going to ask me what product I used to get my hair a certain way, because even my mom has asked me. It shows that her interest has peaked even if she’s not all the way there yet. So again, just be your authentic self and keep showing up every day consistent. The more and more they see you showing up with natural hair and embracing it and coming up with cool hairstyles, it’s going to pique their interest one day. It may take a while, but eventually they’ll come around and if they don’t then they don’t but that doesn’t mean that you change who you are just because someone doesn’t dig your style.”
*Monique is also launching a new line of rice water products on May 10.