Michelle Breyer started NaturallyCurly 20 years ago, and has steadily built an enormous community of support for people with all kinds of curly and textured hair. Her empire has even influenced the development of products made for those with textured hair, which includes AG’s very own Re:coil Curl Activator! We were very fortunate and honoured to catch up with Michelle to learn the deeper message behind NaturallyCurly, her new book Curl Revolution, and her very own #CurlStory.

Interview: Michelle Breyer

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am the co-founder of NaturallyCurly. I live and work in Austin, Texas with my husband, Jody, and my curly 17-year-old daughter, Emma. I am a former newspaper reporter.

I regularly consult with brands and retailers to help shape their textured-hair initiatives, whether it be developing the right products or creating communication strategies to most effectively connect with this valuable consumer.

I regularly speak at media, beauty, entrepreneurship and leadership conferences, and am considered an expert on the curly consumer. I was named one of the “50 Most Influential People in the Multicultural Market” by Women’s Wear Daily in 2015 and received curlBOX’s “Lifetime curlCHIEVEMENT Award” in 2015.

My personal passion is entrepreneurship, and I love giving back to help others who are starting their own businesses. I serve as a mentor for organizations that help women and minorities with their ventures.

In my free time, I love practicing yoga and spending time with friends.

This year (2018) is the 20th Anniversary of NaturallyCurly and this past fall you launched a new book, Curl Revolution! What a momentous year! What does this year mean to you and what can we expect from NaturallyCurly this coming year?

Reaching 20 years has been an amazing accomplishment, and it’s an opportunity to look at how far we’ve come since we launched NaturallyCurly in 1998. In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday. In others, it feels like the world has totally changed.

For NaturallyCurly, our goal is to partner with influencers, brands and retailers as we continue to make the world a better place for people with curls, coils and waves. Even though we’ve come so far, there are still those who think it’s a trend. Cosmetology schools still don’t teach students about how to work with textured hair. Many people are still discriminated against if they choose to wear their hair in its natural texture. I recently listened to a webinar in which human resource managers talked about whether they should encourage job candidates to straighten their hair before going to an interview, and they were asked whether they have a bias against those with curls and coils. Many said they did.

There is still so much work left to do!

Take us through how NaturallyCurly was born.

When I was growing up, it was if curly hair didn’t exist. There were a handful of hair products for curly hair, and most stylists knew nothing about how to work with texture, Curlies felt ignored and unattractive.

When I moved to Austin to work for the newspaper, I had two curly co-workers who shared my curl frustrations. We would often commiserate about our hair.

One Sunday, we were at a friend’s brunch complaining about our hair, and a friend overheard our conversation. He couldn’t believe that we could spend so much time talking about curly hair and encouraged us to start a magazine or web site. We had a few mimosas and jumped on the computer at the party, finding the name NaturallyCurly.

Over the next few months, the idea for NaturallyCurly began to take shape, and our neighbor’s 14-year-old son was our web designer. A few months later, we launched the site.

Our reason for starting NaturallyCurly was totally altruistic. We wanted to create a place for people like us – where they would get education, inspiration and support. Maybe we’d sell a few t-shirts. We never suspected that we would be at the epicenter of a revolution in terms of how the world viewed curly hair.

NaturallyCurly now reaches 16 million influencers a month, and is considered the top authority for textured hair. Our umbrella company, TextureMedia, now includes NaturallyCurly, Shop NaturallyCurly (an ecommerce site), TextureTrends (consumer insights division) and Curly Nikki, the largest natural hair blog.

We love that Curl Revolution is inspired by feedback from the NaturallyCurly community. When you started NaturallyCurly, how did you set out to build such a strong and engaged community? Is there something special about having a community specifically for Curlies?

Like everything about NaturallyCurly, it happened organically. The discussion board – CurlTalk – was the core of the original site. We always talked in terms of texture, so we attracted an inclusive, diverse community. Because it was one of the first discussion boards devoted to curls, we grew quickly through word of mouth.

We worked hard to make CurlTalk a positive community where people would feel supported. If somebody went on the attack, we were quick to jump in. Troublemakers were banned. We really listened to what people said, adding new features to the site based on feedback from CurlTalk. Because of that, people really felt a sense of ownership of NaturallyCurly. It was their community.

Many people came to CurlTalk, and for the first time in their lives, found people who could relate to what they had gone through with their hair. There is a bond among Curlies that is hard to explain to people. I can walk up to a curly on the street, and soon we’re having a deep conversation about the haircuts we’ve had, the products we’ve used, the bad hair days, etc. You can feel that bond on NaturallyCurly, whether it’s on our Facebook page, CurlTalk or the engagement with our videos and articles. Texture is something that has shaped the lives of our community members in one way or another.

How was the process of writing Curl Revolution? Do you see yourself writing another book in the future?

Initially, I was completely intimidated by the thought of writing a book. Although I had been a newspaper reporter for many years, writing a book seemed much more daunting. It was so hard to start.

But once I started writing, it flowed. Because so much of the book is drawn from our community, I found myself reaching out and asking questions as well as going through years of our CurlTalk discussions and social media posts. It made me realize how much incredible information has been created by our community, as well as the experts that we’ve worked with over the years.

I would love to write more books, and already have some ideas for other books. There are so many stories left to be told!

In Curl Revolution you talk about the history of how attitudes towards curly hair have developed over the years. What’s the most fascinating development you’ve observed over the years regarding curly hair and people’s perceptions about it?

It’s amazing to me that despite the fact that more than half the population has curls, coils or waves, the beauty industry has been focused on straight hair. It was really the community – and social media – that turned what was a monologue into a dialogue. The curly world was tired of waiting for products to be developed for them, so they began creating their own. This grass-roots movement forced the beauty industry to take notice. I’m surprised it took so long!

Is there a key message you wanted to convey through Curl Revolution?

I wanted to show the inclusiveness of texture. It’s not about one texture, one ethnicity, one sex, one age or one standard of beauty. Texture comes in all forms, and each is beautiful and unique. And behind each curl is an incredible story.

We can’t help but ask, what is/are your favorite AG Hair product(s)?

I love Fast Food Leave On Conditioner (It’s a Holy Grail for my mother and curly father as well), Cleansing Cream, Moisture Mask, Details and Mousse Gel. I can’t wait to try the Natural line.

We heard that AG’s Re:coil is one of your go to products. Tell us why you love it and your favorite way to use it.

Re:coil Curl Activator will always have a very special place in my heart since it was developed using feedback from our community.

In 2004, AG went onto CurlTalk to ask our community what they were looking for in a curl product. The company listened, and the result was Re:coil. Because of Re:coil, Curlmart (Now SHOP) was born because the product wasn’t readily available, and our community wanted to know where they could buy product that had been developed using their input. We launched our ecommerce platform to sell it.

I love to use Re:coil over Fast Food. I apply it when my hair is soaking wet, in sections. Then I diffuse. It gives me beautiful defined curls.

There’s been a wave of people on social media sharing their hair journeys and embracing their natural curls and texture. You have gorgeous curls! How did you experience your own Curl Journey?

I am a native Californian and grew up in a time when the world ignored curly hair. You never saw models or celebrities with curly hair. I grew up wanting hair like Farrah Fawcett.

I spent most of my teens and 20s straightening my hair, living in fear that people would know I had curly hair. It wasn’t considered the standard of beauty. I would sleep in rollers, spend hours blowing it dry and plastered it with hair spray. I once got a “chemical haircut” when a relaxer caused my hair to break off.

When I moved to Austin in the 1990s, the heat and humidity made it nearly impossible to straighten my hair, and I had to learn how to embrace it.

What’s the best curl advice you have ever given and/or been given?

Embrace the imperfections. Curly hair is going to have a mind of its own. Stop trying to fight it! Find products and haircuts that help you work with your hair’s texture.

What makes you feel #CurlConfident?

When my hair is big, wild and curly! The bigger the better! It’s hard to believe that I wasted so much of my life trying to tame it!

THANK YOU, Michelle, for sharing your #CurlStory with us!


Image Credits: Brio Yiapan