More of you have commented about my first Miss Jessie’s post than any other thing I’ve written. As of today, the original post has 75 comments since I first wrote it in August, and my recent review of the products has gotten 45 comments so far. Few other products have produced so much debate within the natural hair community.
There are those who swear by Miss Jessie’s, and those who swear AT Miss Jessie’s, because of the price, the product’s ingredients, or what people view as unnecessary hype. Ever since I started this site, I’ve wanted to get to the bottom of the Miss Jessie’s controversy and learn what the sister/owners themselves, Miko and Titi Branch, had to say about their wildly successful products.
I got lucky.
Following her fantastic interview with Organic Beauty Radio, I got in touch with Titi Branch. And we had a long conversation that was enlightening on many levels. I learned a LOT more about Miss Jessie’s, and more still about attitudes towards natural hair within the community itself. Titi was a real eye-opener and she willingly put herself on the line and did her best to answer the controversial questions as well as the softballs.
First things first, the price point. I was initially afraid to contact Titi, as I had no idea how she’d respond to my first criticism of Miss Jessie’s. I don’t want to generalize the natural hair community, but I’m a bella on a budget. $38 to $58 on a tub of hair product just isn’t reasonable for many afrobellas, particularly for those who have never tried Miss Jessie’s before. But Titi surprised me by agreeing with me completely. And now, Miss Jessie’s has just released some new, smaller sizes made for bellas like you and me!
“The products were 16 oz, professional size, really big tubs. And that’s where the product started, in the salon. I think a lot of people didn’t understand that. They need to know we give a LOT of product, and it was originally done that way because people with natural and curly hair use a lot of product. But these [smaller sizes] are for the people who have never tried our product and just wanna try it,” says Titi.
I predict that those 8 oz and 2 oz sizes are going to fly off the shelves. The hype around Miss Jessie’s ensures a steady flow of curious customers, wondering if they should go for the Baby Buttercream or the Curly Meringue. Titi broke it down for me.
“The Buttercream series isn’t really for definition, they’re for moisture. The Curly Pudding and Meringue are for definition, and they have a little bit of hold to them. They’re best applied to wet hair,” she explains.
Using Miss Jessie’s products calls for an interactive hairstyling experience. Users are encouraged to bend over when styling, and to scrunch or stretch the hair. The site offers step-by-step instructions on most of their in-salon methods, like fingerstyling and shingling. A typical Miss Jessie’s in-salon treatment can last two weeks if carefully maintained, and they’re expensive. But still, there’s a misconception by women like myself, who just want to purchase a product, slather it on, and like Tim Gunn from Project Runway would say, “make it work!” And that ain’t gonna necessarily happen with Miss Jessie’s.
“The product is effective for different hair types, all dependent on the technique. So what someone with curly hair would do with curly pudding might be different that someone with a kinkier texture. What you have to realize is, everyone can get a curly result. But different people have to do different things in order to get that result, all depending on their hair texture. Someone with kinky, kinky hair can get a curly result by using Curly Pudding in a twist-out. Whereas someone with a curlier texture can just wet their hair, put Curly Pudding or Meringue, air dry, and go. You’ve got to take texture into account. I think a lot of people go to our site and they see the before and after pictures. We give a lot of explanation to reveal what we had to do to get the hair to look a certain way. You have to read all of that information to get it. We’ve got a couple of methods that we do in the salon, and they’re in-salon methods. When I talk to hairstylists, they get it. But sometimes people… they want to just put the product in their hair and they have a very kinky texture and they want to look like Tracee Ross. You can achieve the curl that you want, but you may have to do something different. You may have to get a silkener if you want your curl to look that particular way. You need to consider what you want to achieve, and that will determine how you get there,” Titi explained patiently. And this brings us to an important discussion in the natural hair community.
What defines natural? Are you less natural if you choose to fingerstyle your fro into ringlets? Or elongate your curls with weighty moisturizing products? Or get highlights to emphasize the kinkiness of your lush hair? What if you wear a protective wig or braids during the cold weather months? If you’re a 3B does that make you less natural than someone who’s 4B? And who the heck am I to judge you and how you choose to wear your hair anyway?
Titi was very forthright about their processes, including the controversial silkener, results of which can be seen in the before and after photos.
“The silkener is a chemical process. We use sodium hydroxide, which is commonly known as lye, and we put it in typically natural hair in order to stretch it out. There has been a lot of controversy about silkeners and chemical processing in the natural hair community. But I think the reason it remains such a popular service is because it really helps people to get what they want, that curly hair sass,” Titi explained.
I’ll be real honest with y’all. When Titi said the word “lye,” I could practically hear a menacing “dun dun dunnnnnnnn” in my head. If there’s any chemical that is universally loathed in the natural hair community, it’s lye. Just the way it rolls off the tongue. Ick. I was surprised at her admission, but I really appreciated her honesty. And Titi’s revelation made me consider some gentle criticism that’s been leveled against me by some of my readers that I’ll take this opportunity to address.
This site is called “Afrobella” for a reason. I want to highlight that natural, afro hair is beautiful. Black beauty is beautiful. I don’t think enough of us believe that. And so, I will always strive to primarily uphold the beauty of natural women, because I still believe that there’s a disparity in how we are viewed by society, and within our own community. There are many women out there who struggle to embrace their natural beauty, and my mission is to encourage that as much as possible. But at the same time, I don’t want to be a “nappy nazi.” I don’t need to put down someone else’s beauty to celebrate my own, I see too much of that as it is. I think there’s too much divisiveness among us already, and I don’t want to be part of that kind of pointless negativity.
So I might not always have product advice for your chosen hairstyle, but if using chemicals and/or wearing a weave makes you feel beautiful and looks right on you, then more power to you. But if your hair is unhealthy and thin because of the processes you’re doing to it, or you’re relaxing for the wrong reasons and you feel conflicted, I’m here with transitioning tips for ya. Either way, it’s all love, bellas. I want this to be a site about sisterhood, solidarity, and strength without judgment.
Titi had more to say about silkeners in the natural age.
“Hair and our relationship with our hair runs really deep. There’s a variety of reasons why people go natural. Some people go natural just because they like the look of it, and they aren’t thinking of making a political or ideological statement. Some people get silkeners just because they want the look of curly hair and they don’t want to spend the time doing it. And some people with natural hair — depending on their texture — spend a lot of time trying to create a certain look. And few of us have that kind of time,” she says.
I’d never considered natural hair like that before, just a “style.” But some people really do feel that way — and I immediately started thinking of all the “Adidas rastas” I knew back home, who grew locks to be fashionable, not to make a political or religious statement. I mean, it IS just hair. But hair means so much in the black community, can we ever just say, “it’s just hair?” The recent Don Imus controversy tells me, not just yet.
So if you’re still curious about silkeners, Titi explained it all. An average silkener costs $300 and lasts for four months. “It liberates some women in a sense, because they can just wet their hair, use the product, and just air dry. Whereas before they might have needed to spend the time shingling their hair to achieve the same look. I mean, I understand what people are saying. They have a legitimate issue with it. But for many women, natural hair is very labor intensive. Most of our clients, when they come to the salon, they’re here three to four hours. It’s not just shake and go. You see with the coiling, what needs to be done to get it to look that way. That’s minimum three hours. It looks great, and it can last two weeks… but it takes time to make it look that way,” she says.
For those of you who have gazed at Titi’s mane and instantly want that for themselves, she’s got news for you. “My texture is kinky too. I have a silkener. I do. If you see pictures of me in some of the press articles, I do have a silkener. Why do I have a silkener? Because I don’t have time to do my hair, to spend the time that it would take to do it natural. It’s just a personal decision. I want to just be able to wash it, condition it, rinse it out, put product in it, and let it dry and get curly. That’s how I like to do my hair,” she said.
I had to ask Titi — have you ever gotten attitude from irate napptural activists who are anti-chemicals? “Yeah!” she said readily. “My answer to them is, it’s a personal decision. Why are you getting mad at me because of what I’ve done to my hair? I don’t understand natural nazis. I think everyone has the right to make that decision about their hair that’s on their own head themselves. On our website, we show women before and after and we tell you who’s got a silkener. We do. We don’t lie about it — straight up, here’s a silkener, here’s the hair before and after. Many women who get silkeners are very happy with them. But it’s funny though, because some of them have to be closet silkener people. Because they don’t want to be outed in the natural community. I think it’s unfair,” Titi said. “It’s funny, some of these people believe in their minds, hey, I’m still natural. My hair isn’t straight, it’s been tweaked a little bit, but so what? I only get it done four times a year. It’s just a matter of opinion, really,” she added.
That really got me thinking. Is that me? Am I that girl who makes my family, friends, or readers feel bad about not being 100% natural? That isn’t my goal. I do want to see more women embrace their natural beauty, to lay the chemicals down and embrace themselves as they are. I do want to see black women steer away from the 2 pounds of weave look that I see all over television and in magazines, and I think far too many of us want shiny, long locks at whatever cost. But If I say this site is for all shades of beautiful, I shouldn’t bash the ones who don’t fit into my definition of beauty, right? If I have done that, then I’m no better than the people who have looked me up and down and said I should “do something” with my hair.
How many of the women I’ve named Afrobella of the Week have been closet silkeners, or public curly weave-wearers? Does that make them any less admirable? Maybe these women’s decision to NOT relax your hair to dead straightness is as close to natural as they’re willing to get, and that’s OK. You tell me what you think about this, bellas. It’s a lot to unravel on a Monday morning.
Titi’s expecting the comments, she’s gotten it all. And she’s read the controversial posts on this site before, where readers come out to disparage one product or styling method over another. And she says bring it on, she’s willing to read it all, and learn from your views with grace.
“It’s not easy. When you put something out on the market, there’s gonna be criticism, good and bad. We hear it all the time. We try to address it as best as we can, and you have to understand not everyone’s gonna love you. But we remain focused on the people who love what we do, and what we’re bringing to them. And there’s a lot of them,” Titi said.
I found her approach to be positive and refreshing. Miss Jessie’s has been celebrated by many mainstream magazines and has a celebrity cult following, but Titi demurred from listing the who’s who of natural haired women who come to their salon and use their products. Instead, she wanted to tell me about the latest additions to the Miss Jessie’s line, and to talk about the salon, which has been the source of many rumors since it closed.
“We’re relocating the salon. What’s happened is, we were located in BedStuy, and we’re moving to Prospect Heights. We’re renovating and looking forward to the new place. I didn’t anticipate that it would take as long as it took — almost four months! But we hope to be open by late June, early July,” she says eagerly. “Our old place was located in a brownstone, a very private, cosy setup which was very nice. But I think we need to be a little more accessible to people. The objective was to open in a better neighborhood, and it is a storefront situation so people can come in to pick up products. We didn’t have the opportunity to do that in the old place. But we will also maintain the personal feel of the salon. It’s just a matter of how we decorate it,” says Titi.
Customers have even more to look forward to than just new sizes of already existing products, too. “We’re coming out with three new products. Well, a total of four. Curly Pudding unscented, I think it’ll be a big seller. Some people love the smell, some people just can’t get with it. We’re also coming out with Quick Curl, a great, quick styling product you can put in when your hair is wet. It isn’t as thick as Curly Pudding, it dries quicker, it’s gonna be in a tube, and it just gives you a quick curly look. The other product is the Rapid Recovery Treatment, a deep treatment that we use in the salon. It’s great. It really helps to repair dry and split ends, and to bring moisture to your curly hair. Curly hair really looks best when it’s moisturized, conditioned, plump, and happy. The last product is Stretch Silkening Cream. That’s a styling product, not to be confused with the silkener. It’s in the family of Curly Pudding, but it’s weightier. It’s for women who want the weight with less hold,” she says.
I cannot WAIT to try the new products, which will be hitting the shelves in a variety of sizes. All of the products have been personally tested by the Branch sisters, and they believe so much in the products they sell. After all, they are named after their late grandmother, who passed in 2001.
“Her spirit remains with us. I think she’s looking down, and I think she’s really proud. She knew we had the hair salon, but she passed before we came out with the product line. But it’s all her,” says Titi. I think Miss Jessie is smiling down at Titi and Miko, and she’s pleased as punch about their success. “You know, the Miss Jessie’s brand it’s heartwarming, it’s authentic, it’s solution oriented. It’s the stuff that works. And that’s how we will continue,” Titi promises. Sounds good to me.
My interview with Titi Branch was a really good one. She was very thoughtful in her responses, and I really appreciated her consideration and honesty. And that’s why I named her Afrobella of the Week. Congratulations, Titi!
Sites That Link to this Post
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- Ask Afrobella — Growing Up Afrobella | afrobella | May 5, 2008
- When is a “Silkener” Not a “Silkener?” | afrobella | October 23, 2008