Inhairitance salon owner embraces natural curly hair

As children, Daybreak's Shari Okeke and Inhairitance salon owner Abisara Machold both had white moms who wanted them to love their curly hair. They didn't. But as adults, they've come to appreciate the merits of natural hair styles.

Abisara Machold empowers clients by teaching them to love what they already have

Abisara Machold owns Inhairitance, which specializes in curly hair and promotes natural hairstyles. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The minute I heard Inhairitance owner Abisara Machold not only specializes in natural hair but is also the daughter of a white mother and black father,  I wanted to meet her.

She grew up in Austria. I grew up in Montreal's West Island. Her father is from Ivory Coast, mine from Nigeria.

As children, we both had white moms who wanted us to love our hair, but we didn't.

I figured there's a good chance she might understand the challenges I've faced over the years with my own hair.

But I never made my way over to her salon until it became an assignment for Daybreak.

CBC Radio producer Nathalie Walther decided to mark Black History Month with a Daybreak broadcast live from Inhairitance. She wondered if I would be willing to do a story about natural hair.

Um, yes!!

So I finally stepped into Inhairitance on Notre-Dame West, just west of Atwater.

As part of Daybreak's remote broadcast at Inhairitance salon, experts and clients share their hair stories - personal and political.

'My hair was always wrong'

Machold greeted me with a big warm smile and before I knew it she was telling me about her childhood.

"Being in a completely white environment, my hair was always wrong. It was not growing down as everybody else's hair, it was growing up and I literally asked my mom 'Why is my hair growing in the wrong direction?'"

Painfully familiar.

Then she told me about the physical pain she endured having her hair chemically straightened, against the wishes of her mother.

"[The stylist] simply forgot to put Vaseline, mineral oil, on my forehead and I had a scab that literally was [the width] of a headband over my forehead and it lasted for a couple of weeks. So, I left the hair salon with a severe injury...a lot of embarrassment and pain," 

That journey of becoming natural is really all about accepting your hair and starting to love your hair, starting to love yourself-  Inhairitance owner Abisara Machold

By now, I've almost forgotten that I am trying to conduct an interview. I am having flashbacks to my own adolescence and the times I left a salon with burns on my head.

All I could think was, 'This woman gets it, she has gorgeous hair now, I wonder how she got those perfect curls.'

"I never liked my hair for a very long time," she said. " It took me years and that journey of becoming natural is really all about accepting your hair and starting to love your hair, starting to love yourself."

Machold, who went natural 17 years ago, is on a mission to educate and empower others and help people with curly hair embrace their curls.

She moved to Montreal in 2009 and was frustrated by a lack of natural products for curly hair. That led her to launch her own natural hair salon in 2012.

"Every client believes their hair is extremely kinky when it's not. It's just that they have not used the right products to hydrate and define their curls," she said.

Abisara Machold and Shari Okeke at Daybreak's live broadcast from Inhairitance salon. (CBC)

Hair politics

Machold, who also holds a master's degree in political science, says whether people realize it or not, hair is political.

"For example in New Orleans in the 1800s...we were not allowed to wear our hair in its natural form," she said.

"It always [affected] our status in the diaspora, meaning the straighter [your hair], the better your chances to work...the more likely to work in the home and not in the field. Hair was a huge signifier, just as skin colour was and is."

In 2015, women still fear losing relationships and jobs if they go natural. Some clients have partners who prefer straight hair and at least one client lost her job in a Montreal restaurant after going natural. Her boss claimed the style was scary for customers, Machold said.

That's just more motivation for Machold to keep encouraging "curly girls" to go natural and do it proudly.

Inhairitance stylist Michal Harewood describes the 'Safe space' approach

8 years ago
Duration 1:07
Stylist and curl expert Michal Harewood explains the "safe space" approach at Inhairitance hair salon.

My own hair is not chemically treated but it is in braids. I must admit, I did start thinking about going completely natural, letting it loose, after hearing about Abisara's journey.

"[It's] a journey of becoming comfortable in my skin and within myself and claiming my blackness and claiming my hair and my heritage," she said.

"I think that's also where the name comes from 'Inhairitance' — it's really all about celebrating that inheritance we have."


Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, an award-winning CBC original podcast.