When it comes to natural hair, Vernon Francois is in a unique position. Having had dreadlocks and braids and spent Sunday afternoons as a kid getting his hair pulled by his mother, he comes to the job understanding a lot of the challenges that black women have fought with when it comes to their hair. That’s part of what made him such a hit with his Oscar winner client, Lupita Nyong'o.
Using that knowledge and his self-taught hair styling skills, he’s on a one-man mission to educate and inspire women to take care of and flaunt their best asset. When he’s not at his salon in Soho, or on location with Lupita, he’s on Instagram dishing out natural hair tips to a slew of followers. Ahead of a top-secret product launch in the New Year (he won’t say any more about it just yet, but we can’t wait) and an even heavier commitment to supporting women on their hair journey, he reveals his natural hair tips to ELLE UK:
1. Think outside the box
I used the water from an iron to moisturise Lupita’s hair while on a shoot in Kenya and the Instagram video of that went viral. We were in the middle of nowhere and my apartment was further down the campus. It had been a 5am call time and I was not going back to get my spray bottle. So I just used the iron on the shoot, and sprayed the water on her hair. It was hysterical but also so effective. I gave myself no boundaries, so I was able to create something great.
2. Having the right combs is essential
On my Instagram, you’ll see a picture of all the combs that I use when working with Lupita. I use nearly all of those combs at some point when working with her hair. As a stylist I’ve got to work with the hair on the edges, the hair in the roots, and the back and I might want to slick it a bit too, so I need an extensive kit.
3. Education is key
I love that so many women are going back to their natural hair texture, but the problem is that many of them don’t know why they are doing it or how to manage their natural texture. So the first step is education, creating a relationship with this new texture, and learning how to look after your natural genetic gift.
4. Ignore misconceptions about Afro hair
One of the biggest myths out there is that Afro hair needs oil and that our hair is dry, but in reality there is a difference between oil, moisture and hydration, so just saying that our hair is dry and needs oil is not accurate.
5. Know your products
A conditioner is different to oil and when people put conditioner on their textured curly hair they like the way it looks and feels. That’s because the moisture has worked differently to oil. Oil doesn’t activate a curl, it goes in and hydrates the scalp, it will help penetrate growth and help some of the split ends sit down but it doesn’t make your hair ultimately soft and curly.
6. Trial your products for 3 to 4 months
You have to play with products and try out different combinations to find out what works for you. Give yourself 3 to 4 months to play with it, work out how to apply it most effectively to get the best result with what you are using. Is a spray better, or a bottle of conditioner? And all of those products come in different formulations, which is best for you? I’m currently working on a platform to demystify these ingredients and help consumers figure out which will work best for them.
7. Natural hair is not one size fits all.
It’s not as simple as using coconut oil or Shea butter because you’ve heard that those products work on Afro hair. When you use the Shea butter, how are you applying it? You might need to sleep with it in, whereas your friend’s hair might be softer and so it will penetrate quickly. If the oils are too heavy, maybe you need to mix some water with the oils so they separate a bit and distribute more evenly. So getting a consultation is key to seeing what works for you, because it will have a huge impact on the end result.
8. Be flexible when styling
How you approach doing your hair matters, you need to be in the right frame of mind to acknowledge that it might not look today how it looked yesterday. So if you are angry, don’t style your hair and if you are tired don’t style your hair. You need to be flexible too. Sometimes that means holding the hairdryer in your left hand rather than your right hand if you are not getting a good result.
9. Learn to work with your hair at home
I have an academy that I run from Smith’s salon in London and its focus is teaching people how to manage their hair outside of the salon. Simple things that can make all the difference: like how to wash, blowdry, section the hair and twist it. As a stylist I know it’s not about saying I think you have 4a hair so you should use a wide toothed comb, that’s not information that’s an instruction. Instead what’s needed is demonstration, encouraging women to learn and play with their hair.
10. Ask the experts
Social media has made it even more accessible to talk about natural hair on a bigger scale, and I constantly respond to questions every day on my Instagram. I’ll talk about everything from The Big Chop, to the importance of cutting natural hair dry rather than wet so that the consumer isn’t shocked by shrinkage. I like to be accessible.