Diane C. Bailey (291084)
Credit: Contributed

Natural hair has a deep-rooted history within the Black community. Its complexities make it bigger than a buzzword; it is a science that has the right to be understood.

Diane C. Bailey, the CEO of EMERGE: Natural Beauty Industry Alliance is empowering the natural beauty industry through the promotion of self-love, hair love, and well-being. Dedicating over 35 years as a salon entrepreneur (president and art director of Tendrils Hair Spa), Bailey is combing through the levels of natural hair as an entity, where natural hair is not just an aesthetic but it is political, cultural, and a lifestyle.

“Natural hair found me,” said Bailey. Describing it as a synergy, the focus of natural hair was not always at the forefront. With 21 credits remaining to graduate, Bailey decided to drop out of Hunter College and follow her passion of beauty, hair, and wellness. Natural hair was reintroduced to Bailey through extensions. “I met a woman, Cynthia Green is her name, she’s an awesome sister––very talented. She showed me how to braid with extensions,” Bailey said. From the age of 10, Bailey already knew how to braid, but with the added element of braiding with extensions, a new world opened up for her. “Once I realized there was hair I could add on to extend the length and volume, I was in love,” said Bailey. Leaving cosmetology school, Bailey started doing her own hair and that set the foundation for her brand.

From meeting clients in club bathrooms in the ’80s to being a traveling stylist for 4 to 5 years, Bailey set up a salon in her Brooklyn apartment. “I worked in my salon for 6 years until I saved my money and I opened my first salon in 1987,” said Bailey. Tendrils Hair Spa was a first of its kind, serving as a comprehensive natural hair-braiding salon offering chemical free services for natural hair in the state. “It talked about beauty and wellness and how they integrate together,” Bailey explained.

In 2017 the company EMERGE: Natural Beauty Industry Alliance was born. EMERGE stands for the empowerment, multicultural, economics, and legacy of the natural hair care industry. “I always was an advocate for women of color to wear their own hair, besides that, being an advocate we had to go political,” said Bailey. Bailey’s company connects the dots to the natural hair conversation being about more than beauty. New York is the second state to ban discrimination against natural hair. California’s CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act “prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture by extending protection for both categories under the FEHA and the California Education Code” making it the first legislation passed at the state level in America. “This whole piece is a continuum of growth and I am so proud to be a part of the Crown Coalition and to be able to present to my community and to the industry the language and the expectations that we now have around hair bias and hair discrimination,” said Bailey.

Natural hair was given a voice and it is demanding of respect. With the Crown Act and movements like it, laws are created and there is a new expectation and standard surrounding Black hair, hair discrimination, and hair bias in the country. EMERGE works to maintain the momentum of the natural hair movement within the political space as much as it does in the spaces of beauty and self-love. Bailey was able to present EMERGE in Manhattan with the co-sponsorship of the Human Rights Commission as well as doing talks at Medgar Evers College.

On May 23 Bailey and EMERGE will be hosting an event, “My Hair is Beautiful” at Bedford Academy, presenting a conversation on hair discrimination as well as how to navigate society with natural hair.

Bailey’s work pushes to break the mold of one standard of beauty. With breaking that mold comes education. Bailey, with the Commission, designated a white hair salon on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to do 35 hours of community service. “I was the consultant on helping them develop the programming around and the conversation around hair discrimination. So those 35 hours I actually used middle school girls and high school girls to come in to those environments and we actually talked to the girls and were teaching the people in the salon about natural hair. We talked about hair discrimination, we talked about self-care, and we talked about Jim Crow laws,” said Bailey. For Bailey, knowing the history of America in correlation to natural hair is extremely important. There is a “good hair, bad hair” trope that leads to self-hate, misunderstanding, and Black women specifically conforming to a standard of beauty that is not their own.

Education extends beyond the history books but into mental well-being and finances. Bailey wants consumers of natural hair products to be aware of where their money is going and who has their best interest. “We have a right to be healthy,” said Bailey. Mentally, the subject of natural hair starts at the root. Black women specifically fall victim to feeling unworthy and abandoned due to their natural hair not being valued (by their community and media), some struggle to let go of relaxers in fear of not being seen as attractive. “I’ve held women in my arms shaking with fear because they didn’t know what their mother would say or what their husband would say, just intimidated and fearful. But once you let them know that this is more than a style this is your life, and that your life is so much more than trying to please someone else. Because this journey is your own journey,” Bailey said.

Black hair is multifaceted. Bailey’s mission as a hairstylist and CEO of EMERGE is to highlight this beauty through health and confidence. “Nappy is not derogatory,” she said. Black hair, like its various textures, has many definitions. “I’m a hairstylist but I am not just a hairstylist that’s going to do anything to your hair. I want you to be healthy. I want you to be beautiful but I want you to be healthy,” said Bailey.