Kwena Baloyi hair photography series titled “Afrikan Krowns”

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Kwena Baloyi . Picture by Trevor Stuurman

For a long time the controversial issue of black women’s hair has been debated on mainstream media. Even though arguments continue as to whether it is correct or not to have relaxed hair and wear weaves and wigs, I am excited to see a shift in the narrative. The internet and social media are at the forefront in driving the story of “my hair, my crown”. I spoke to fashion stylist Kwena Baloyi, whose Instagram photography series of beautiful hairstyles celebrating black hair caught my eye.

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Kween Kwena. Picture by Nonzunzo Gxekwa 

Tell us about yourself? My friends and industry peers fondly call me “Kween Kwena”. I’m a vivacious, high-spirited and fun person (or so I’m told). I’m from Moletjie Ga-Makibelo in Limpopo. I’m a professional, on-demand TV, magazine and personal stylist. I’m also a fashion adventurist, who explores different clothes to come up with unique styles. I consider myself a fashion therapist because I help people find their fashion identity. I’m low-key obsessed with hair too.

Tell us about your interest in hair? Like every young woman I have come a long way with my hair.

Most of us, as black women, have had a contentious relationship with the kink in our coily hair and it’s been influenced by what society tells us is “acceptable”

I’ve been through that phase where my hair needed to be straight because I thought that was “appropriate”. My natural hair was called “untidy” or was not appreciated by those around me, so I thought it would be better to straighten or shave it. The older I got, the more I appreciated what my hair meant to me and what it represented to me as a woman in a society with so many negative connotations about African people’s hair. Now I wear my hair how I like because it’s an extension of who I am. It expresses my personality more than any item of clothing could.

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What inspired your social media hair photo series? Being a stylist affords me the opportunity to travel to different parts of the country and to meet many different characters. Each person I have met has always had an interesting aspect of their hair. Some stand out for being unique, while some simply intrigue me because they choose to be “regular” for the sake of fitting in. Experiencing this variety of people sparked the notion of how people relate to their “crown” – which is what your hair is essentially. You can choose to have it bold and in your face, or like other hairstyles considered “generic” or “normal”.

 

I’ve also been attracted to how different tribes around the continent wear their hair – particularly in West Africa.

There is a lot of documentation by history scholars and international artists about black people and their hair. The natives of Ugogo, whose hair traditions are exceptional, are one of a few. There are also the Fante women of Elmina (Edina) in Ghana, who had beautiful thick hair and their hairstyles were always so intricate and crafted to perfection. In fact, my current coiffure hairstyle is inspired by women in West Africa. The hairstyle was later made popular by our beloved mama Miriam Makeba. South Africa also has threading and plaiting techniques that are unique and allow us to express our personalities.

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Who is responsible for creating the beautiful hairstyles? My go-to stylist is Ncumisa “Mimi” Duma. She’s a talented hair magician and understands the importance of treating natural hair with care. Can you believe my hair has not seen a hair dryer or endured any artificial heat since I started growing it? It’s the healthiest my natural hair has been in ages!

Does your series have a title? Yes. It’s called “Afrikan Krowns”. We are each Afrikan and each have a Krown. Your Krown is an extension of who you are and an expression of your personality/character. The series looks at how each person chooses to wear their Krown with pride.

 

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Can you tell us what triggered your hair interest? This will sound so clichéd, but do you know the song I am not my hair, by India Arie? It’s always been one of my favourites jams, but it wasn’t until years after I heard it that I began to understand what she was really saying. Often as young girls we sing along to a song without really understanding what its purpose or message is. The way India describes her “hair story” in the first verse is how my hair chronicles kinda went. You start with whatever hair your parents decide you need to have. Then you become a little girl who does certain hairstyles because that’s what the school deems acceptable. From there you become a teenager, get influenced by pop culture and base your hairstyles on what’s “trending”. Then you become an adult and still get peer pressured into doing what your circle finds palatable. Eventually, your hair starts to fall out because you’ve either put way too many chemicals in it or braided it for too long or sewn on too many weaves.

How do you see natural hair empowering women? For me it says you’re slowly, but surely, getting to a point where society’s standards of beauty don’t define who you are. You no longer feel forced to relax your hair or wear a weave just because the expectation to have straight hair weighs you down.

You are ready to celebrate your hair and turn it into whichever shape of krown you desire because it’s an extension of who you are, but by no means defines who you are. In many ways, I hope black women feel free to be whoever they choose to be through their krowns.

Any last words? Women need to understand that the type of hair they choose to wear is not linked to who they are or who other people assume them to be. Whether you’re into braids, weave, wigs, fades, cheese kop, dreadlocks, afro, or anything else you find appealing, remember your hair is your krown.

No one can dictate what it should look like nor what it should mean to you. What matters is that you love it, nurture it and make the most of it.

 

*Connect with Kwena on Instagram: @kwenasays

Connect with me on Instagram @Nontando58 https://www.instagram.com/nontando58/?hl=en and find more of my work here: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style

This piece was first published in the Top of The Times on June 9 2017

The Simon and Mary brand is a story of heritage and history

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WHEN World War II came to Poland in the late 1930s, the young milliner Mordechai Pozniak was forced to flee his home, leaving a successful cap manufacturing business behind. Mordechai and his family found a new home in Joburg where he set up shop again, producing what he knew best – hats.

When he died in the early 1950s, one of his sons, Simon, took over the family business, growing it into one of the largest wool felt hat suppliers in Africa at the
time.

This is how the story of Simon and Mary: The New “Old Hat” began. Today, these funky hats have become a staple item among the fashion-conscious elite. In bold colours and slick shapes, and worn by fashion influencers, they are now a familiar sight at fashion weeks across the country. Continuing the family legacy is a fourth generation Pozniak, Dean, who is now at the helm of the business. He describes his grandfather as a “good and honest man who had high business morals and lived his life as he preached it”.
Dean has breathed new life into the family factory, based in the suburb of Heriotdale in Joburg. He rejuvenated the brand last year and named it after his grandparents Simon and Mary.
“I based the brand on the heritage and history of the factory and business, naming the brand after my grandparents. Without them we wouldn’t be here today,” he says.

brand ambassador Trevor Stuurman

brand ambassador Trevor Stuurman

The business manufactures 100 percent wool felt, straw and leather hats. “We import the raw materials from Bolivia and China. In the ’70s to ’90s, we were exporting the raw materials to Europe, the US and even China at that time. With China coming along and making these materials at a much cheaper price we had to go with the flow and adapt with the times,” says Dean.

Dean says the type hats that were being made 20 to 40 years ago are still being made by the same people at the factory, and by the same machinery. “This is why when you buy a Simon and Mary hat you are not just buying a fashion item, but also a piece of history,”
he says.

“The people that have been working with us in the factory have been here
for decades. We have some people who have been working with us for over 40 years, Alfred Manyoni has been with us for 60 years.

“He (Manyoni) will give you a lecture on how young people today wear their hats wrong. The old-school way (his way) is wearing the hat on top of your head,straight on. The new generation, as he calls them, like to wear hats as they please, whether it be on the side, on the back of the head, or straight on top. In my mind there is no wrong way.”

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Simon and Mary was recently selected by Vogue Italia, alongside 10 other African brands, for their latest instalment of V Talents – Scouting For Africa. The company joins two other South African creatives – accessories designer Katherine- Mary Pichulik of Pichulik, and knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa by Laduma on the list.
“We are honoured and very happy with the nomination. Being nominated with such talented individuals and brands from Africa shows the progress we are making and gives us an indication that we are going in the right direction,” says

Dean. “Hats have always been cool. It was just a matter of bringing the old-school
elements and mixing them with the young fresh ideas that we bring to the table.”
Last year, Simon and Mary showcased at the International tradeshow for Modern
Urban Lifestyle, Bread and Butter in Berlin.

Simon and Mary’s brand ambassadors include Elle magazine South Africa’s first
local style reporter Trevor Stuurman and model and TV presenter Masego “Maps”
Maponyane.

“These two gentleman first caught my eye when they were posting images wearing
some of our hats. The best part was that they had gone out and purchased the
hats from one of our retailers and they were punting them online as if we had
sponsored them. This showed me that they genuinely cared for the brand and in turn would care for the image that they give off,” says Dean.

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Although the brand is more popular in Joburg, it is gaining popularity in Cape
Town. “We had a pop up shop at the end of 2014 in Cape Town, called Updog. It
was a great success and helped in spreading the brand and story in Cape Town,” he says.

Each Simon and Mary hat has a special name, and their customers “could be a 16-
year-old high school girl or a 70-year-old dapper gentleman”, says Dean. “Most of
the hats are named after people in our family, as well as the people that work with us in the factory. I also named some of them after common Polish names to honour my grandfather’s Polish heritage.”

Dean finds that there are more benefits to owning the factory than challenges.
“We have freedom of the factory for sampling etc. Whereas if you are trying to
build a brand and are using other factories you have to rely on other people,”

“Inspiration for our designs are 70 percent of the time born in the factory. Using old
imagery, old trimmings lying around, and all the wonderful discoveries we make
daily here at the factory add to the process.”

Their latest range will include bright summer hues and retail for between
R500 and R1 100, depending on style.

“We decided to break the classic mould of Simon and Mary by bringing in the brighter colours for summer. The range consists of Mounty, Bowler and the RAW Roberto hat, along with the Pith Helmet. We also released a Vintage Paisley Panama collection.”

Dean has a large collection of hats. “I’m very weird about hats, you will
catch me staring at people from across the room just so I can assess their piece of headwear.

Growing up knowing that my family owned a hat factory has always
helped with my growing love for hats. It’s a part of my family, in my blood and an
item that holds more value to me than most. I funnily enough don’t wear hats –
it’s a combination of not wearing my own product as well as having a large head,
with lots of hair,” he adds.
● Simon and Mary hats are sold across South Africa. To find a retailer, visit
http://www.simonandmary.co.za.

[This feature was first published in the Cape Argus, March 30 2015]

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