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Catching the Curly Wave

Alum’s Natural Hair Line Embraces Texture and Curls

By Karen Shih ’09

Titi Branch

Sleek and straight. Polished and controlled. Thatwas the kind of hair Titi Branch ’91, born of Japanese and African-American parents, had wanted as long as she could remember.

“I couldn’t wait to get a relaxer when I was 12 or 13 years old,” she recalls. “I had never experimented with wearing my hair out because it was just too unruly.”

For decades, she and millions of other African-American women smoothed their kinks and smothered their curls with harsh chemical relaxers. These products permeated their culture, ingraining in even the youngest girls the need to alter their hair to be pretty and accepted.

But today, Titi embraces her natural hair—and she’s helping other women to do the same, using the natural hair-care products she and her sister Miko launched a decade ago. Today, the Miss Jessie’s line is available at stores nationwide, including Target, CVS and Walgreens.

“I think the conventional outlook on what’s normal has changed,” Titi says. “In the 1970s and ’80s, it was uncommon for a woman to come into work with an Afro and be taken seriously. But with globalization, people can see other cultures more readily and be more accepting.”

As latchkey kids with a Japanese mom who had very different hair, she and Miko were mostly left to their own devices when it came to managing their hair, using braids, ponytails, grease or Vaseline.

When the girls complained about their wild hair, their grandmother, Miss Jessie, prepared a treatment made of eggs and mayonnaise. She was also the first person to send them to a hairdresser.

Titi and Miko opened their own hair salon in New York City in 1997, offering a natural alternative to chemicals.

“I realized there were really no products for this new burgeoning market,” Titi says. She’d always been entrepreneurial, creating a cleaning business with her sister and father right out of college, as well as opening an artist representation agency, so she started mixing up concoctions at her kitchen table. In 2004, she packaged and sold her first product, Curly Pudding, at the salon.

“When we came out, it was very much a fringe type of underground, cult-favorite product,” she says.

ProductsAdjuana Crawford, owner of Twist it Sista Salon in Washington, D.C., uses several of Miss Jessie’s products on her clients.

“I’m really happy that women are on board about educating themselves about their natural hair,” she says. “I’ve been in business for 13 years, and I’ve seen the change. It’s enormous.”

Until recently, the only option for women looking to transition to natural hair was the “Big Chop”: They had to cut off all the relaxed hair to their scalp in order to avoid having two textures of hair at the same time.

For those trying to gradually go natural, "we find that Miss Jessie's puddings and butter work really well," she says.

Titi hopes the multimillion-dollar company’s wide range of products—about 15, with two more launching later this year—can help women of any ethnicity who want to embrace their curly or textured hair.

“I wasn’t in the hair industry initially, but for me, solving problems for women and sharing with them ways and methods to make their lives easier, that was something I was very attracted to,” she says. “If you have a good idea, you have to be fearless in your pursuit of that idea.”

 

Want to get the Miss Jessie’s experience in person? You can visit Miss Jessie’s Salon & Store:

441 Broadway, Suite 2
New York, NY 10013
Between Grand & Howard streets

Or shop online at missjessies.com.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.