Issa Rae Shares How She Learned to Love Her Hair, From College to Co-Owning Sienna Naturals

Issa Rae Shares How She Learned to Love Her Hair, From College to Co-Owning Sienna Naturals
Photo: Courtesy of Issa Rae

Texture Diaries is a space for Black women across industries to reflect on their journeys to self-love, and how accepting their hair, in all its glory, played a pivotal role in this process. Each week, these women share their favorite hair rituals, products, and the biggest lessons they’ve learned when it comes to affirming their beauty and owning their unique hair texture.

What can’t Issa Rae do? The YouTube sensation turned actor, screenwriter, and director recently became the co-owner of Sienna Naturals, a textured hair care brand, alongside her friend Hannah Diop. The new venture is no surprise, as Rae is always offering inspiration in the hair department, from the red carpet to SNL and the scenes of Insecure..

Has the multi-faceted star always loved her hair? “Absolutely not,” Rae tells Vogue over the phone. Growing up, she recalls that the popular styles were permed and pressed looks. “But my hair couldn’t really handle that,” she remembers. Wearing her hair natural came with its own complications. “To be referenced as having nappy hair most of my life didn’t really sit well with me,” she says. When she got to college, at Stanford University, Rae was surrounded by Black women with all different hair types. “I saw Black women trying different styles and embracing their hair,” she says. She was still figuring out how to take care of her own hair, but now she had more inspiration. “Loving and learning to take care of my hair is a journey that I’m continuously on,” Rae notes.

Today, Rae draws inspiration from her hairstylist, Felicia Leatherwood, and her mother. “I’ve seen her rock every single hairstyle imaginable,” Rae says about her mother, her first hair muse. “Her hair texture is different than mine but there’s just nothing like seeing a Black woman who switches her hair like the days of the week.” These days, Rae’s go-to products include her Sienna Naturals Anti-Breakage Oil. “I use that religiously just because my hair can be so brittle at times,” she says. The Plant Power Conditioner is also a staple in her routine “just because I have very dry hair. The more I can retain moisture, the better.”

Salon in a Box. This is my full wash day ritual. 
Photo: Courtesy of Issa Rae

Next month, Rae will be appearing on American Express’s new video podcast, “Built to Last,”— hosted by Elaine Welteroth and centered on the stories of Black-owned small businesses—where she’ll discuss Sienna Naturals with Diop. “I think it’s especially important to celebrate and promote Black businesses, because they are severely under-represented, under-appreciated, and under-funded,” Rae says. “As a Black business owner myself and a Black business consumer, I jumped at the opportunity to be able to be a part of a podcast that’s showcasing the history and influence of Black businesses throughout our American time,” she says. Each episode features a past Black business owner that paved the way for the guest; Rae and Diop’s chosen inspiration is Annie Malone, a philanthropist who created her own line of hair straighteners, oils, and the “Wonderful Hair Grower” in the early 1900s. “There are so many parallels between her and Hannah. They both saw a need within the Black community and aimed to fulfill it, all while working through a pandemic,” Rae explains, as Malone was running her business during the Spanish Flu, which is when she established her cosmetology school, Poro College.

No matter how busy Rae gets amid her ever-growing list of responsibilities—be it podcasting or working on the next season of Insecure—Rae continues to live by her biggest hair and self-love lesson yet: “You’ve got to love the hair that grows out of your scalp,” she says. “For a long time, I was trying to make my hair fit what everybody else thought was beautiful and it was damaging to my hair,” she says. “It just didn’t make any sense. At the end of the day, you’ve got to ask yourself who you’re doing it for. I’ve learned, you’ve got to make it work with what you’ve got.”

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