Neon-green waves, inches down to the floor, an Afro reaching toward the sky — that’s the magic of wigs. Snatched is a week-long celebration of wigs, the people who wear them, and their role in Black beauty culture.
Our first subject, Gina Knight, worked in the hair industry for over a decade as a salon manager, but she never predicted opening her own wig business. Yet, when her thick, natural hair began to fall out, leaving her with bald patches, she began a new journey of entrepreneurship — and never looked back. Today, Gina Knight Wig Design creates gorgeous Afro-texture units for women across the globe, with the ultimate goal of removing the stigma from hair loss in the Black community. This story was told to Jessica Cruel and edited for length and clarity.
I was in foster care, and my foster parents were white, so my hair was a major bone of contention in the family. I was always the girl who broke the comb with her hair. Growing up, it was never seen as a good thing to have all that hair and to have it be so thick and “unmanageable.”
I had to learn how to do my own hair because no one else in the house was going to be able to, so I used to go around and have my hair plaited by my neighbors. I got people to teach me how to braid. But in learning about my hair and talking to other Black women, it gave me a link into a culture that I didn’t really have at home and taught me to embrace it.
Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood
My hair was always thick, so when I started losing it when I was 29, I was really upset. At first, I thought it was because I had my first baby, and you shed hair after you have a baby. But the shedding just didn’t stop. I had bald spots that were really, really noticeable, and it was quite depressing. I’ve had short hair before, but this time the control was taken away from me and I didn’t feel like my usual confident self.
It took a really long time for me to find out it was alopecia. When it comes to hair loss and Black women, we are often misdiagnosed. It’s seen as something we are doing to our hair instead of it being done to us. Sometimes the doctors’ stereotypes of Black women get in the way of a proper diagnosis. As soon as I went to the doctor, it was, "Oh, stop braiding your hair." But I haven’t braided or relaxed my hair in years.
I was really let down by the health-care practitioners, even specialists like trichologists and dermatologists, who are often not knowledgeable about our hair type and the things that could be wrong with our health that causes that. There’s not enough research being done on Black women’s hair loss. I’ve gone from fungal infection to traction alopecia to CCCA [central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia], and now they’re going with stress-induced alopecia from my post-traumatic stress and post-natal depression.
Embracing The Bald
After I was diagnosed, I didn’t cut my hair because I thought it would grow back. And, at some stages, it did grow back. But then when I had a bout of stress or a flare-up, my hair would fall out again. It became quite deflating. I hung onto my hair for longer than I would have because I was one of the first bloggers in the UK to talk about going natural. But how can you be a natural hair blogger with no hair?
Then, a couple of months ago, I came to the conclusion that it will never grow back to the way it was. So, I’m going to embrace being bald and stop being so obsessed with masking it. I didn’t want to be one of those women holding onto three strands of hair just because they are mine. There comes a point where you just have to let it go and feel truly confident in your natural beauty.
The Wig Witch
In 2015, I was sponsored by a hair brand to make a wig and do some content for them through my blog. It looked good on the outside, but the construction was horrendous. The more I got into it, the more I studied theater wigs and how they can help you grow back your hair. I was still trying to grow back my hair, so I needed a truly protective style.
I wasn’t really happy with the textures and types of wigs I saw in shops or online at that time — the hair was very Eurocentric, very white. So, I decided to start making my own and it grew from there. I didn’t know how to set up a hair business, so I started selling the wigs on Depop, where bloggers share their clothes. It’s been trial-and-error. I’ve made so many mistakes and had so many triumphs.
It takes me about 2.5 hours to complete the construction of a wig from wefts and a closure. That being said, if you add on styling and color, it can take two whole days to do one wig. Everything is made to order, so I don’t have any stock lying around. My wigs start at £210 (about $274 in U.S. dollars). It goes up from there depends on how bougie you want to be. I make wigs for a TV presenter in South Africa, and hers are the biggest wigs I’ve ever made. If you wanted something like that, you are looking at £1,000 pounds (about $1303).
I’ve done a lot of research and asked a lot of questions about where the hair I use comes from to make sure that it’s 100% human and sourced ethically. There’s a lot of mislabeling. The majority of the hair that says it’s Brazilian, Cambodian, Russian, Malaysian is not; it’s Chinese and Indian hair. If there is one thing I hope happens in the next few years, it’s that the hair industry becomes more transparent.
A lot of my customers are trend-driven, but I’m trying to bring it back to the focus of hair and scalp health as well as hair loss. For a long time, I was using a wig as a crutch. I just want people to embrace their hair loss and to use wigs to enhance their look and protect their hair and not be a trend or a fad. I’m trying to get back in touch with the people I started this company for: people who suffer from hair loss. Even though I sell wigs, I do workshops where I teach people how to create wigs as well. It’s all about giving back to the women who have supported me.
I feel like people need to be honest about how hard it is to get started as an entrepreneur. I want to quit every other day, but then I have great days that make it all so worth it. You feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. I don’t feel a sense of richness, because I ain’t rich, but there is nothing better than being your own boss. It’s going to take a lot from you, and if you want to leave a lasting impression on an industry, you have to put your all into it. It can’t just be about how much money you make, it has to be the legacy you want to leave.
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Source: Refinery29 – Jessica Cruel