By Angela Carstarphen Watford
Anu Prestonia is the owner and founder of Khamit Kinks, a famed natural hair-care salon in New York City. She has been THE natural hair-care pioneer and expert since 1978. She’s been featured in top magazines (from Essence to Elle) embraced television (from Queer Eye For the Straight Guy to Extreme Makeover, Hair & Makeup) and has won several beauty awards and recognitions. Plus she’s done the locks of some of America’s biggest celebrities: Not only has she styled Lisa Price’s hair—but she’s done Stevie Wonder’s braids—yep!—Stevie! Here, in her own words, Prestonia gives us all a natural hair master class…
Q: You are truly an inspiration to the natural hair movement—long before people were really talking about it. How and why did you start Khamit Kinks?
A: I started Khamit Kinks out of a natural progression that was occurring in my personal and professional life. I had been braiding hair for a living and had been wearing my own hair natural since childhood. When I realized that this was a viable career path, I went forward in making my love of this art form a real business venture.
Q: You’ve only relaxed once in your life, right? How was that first experience, and why did you decide to transition immediately after?
A: I did have a perm once as a 10-year-old child. As I child, I wanted to have long and straight hair. I wanted hair that was not like my hair. When I did have my first and only perm, my hair fell out, and I ended up with sores in my head and had to have most of my hair cut off into a TWA before anyone used the term ‘Teeny Weeny Afro.” I was the only person I knew with this style because this was back in 1967 when the only people wearing Afros were a few celebrities. I was devastated to have a hairstyle that, in my mind, made me look like a boy, and I decided then that I would never have a chemical straightener in my hair ever again in life.
Q: You have done hair for some of the most celebrated stars (Oprah, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Brandy and more), how did you reach such high clientele? Do you have any advice for other hairstylists who look up to you?
A: Many people are very impressed by the idea of having celebrity clients, but that was never my goal, it is just something that occurred as I did what I loved. I do believe that the best way to acquire celebrity clients is to treat every client with respect, appreciation and care. Do what you love, and do it with belief and passion.
I would say being featured in Essence magazine certainly accelerated the process of having celebrity clientele. As my business grew, Essence called on me and later hired me to do a number of celebrities for their covers. Other celebrities came to me via word of mouth, such as Stevie Wonder, who was referred by another client, ImHotep Gary Byrd. So do what you love with passion, and if it’s your goal to do celebrities, it will happen.
Q: Most people don’t know that your salon has named some very popular styles—like Senegalese Twist, Trini Braids, Goddess Braids, Baby Curl Twists and more, can you tell us how you came up with some of these names?
A: Most of the names came from the inspiration that created the style. For instance, for the Senegalese Twist, I had seen these “twist styles” on a few women, and when I would ask them where they had it done, they would say Senegal, W. Africa. So I boarded a plane and went to Senegal (in 1984) to learn to do this style, and the name seemed fitting. With Trini Braids, the stylist in our salon who created that form of braiding is from Trinidad. So I try to have names for our styles that reflect the source of the style or is reminiscent of what the style looks like to me or what the style represents to the stylist who created the style.
Q: Khamit Kinks is a very popular NYC salon, how do you and your team keep it new and innovative?
A: I do believe that one thing that has helped us stay in business all these years is our focus on not only beautiful styles, but the continued focus on the importance of healthy hair. Because of my early experience of losing my hair as a child, I was always very keen on the importance of putting an emphasis on the health of the hair. If a style is fabulous but it compromises the health and strength of your hair in any way, pulls out your hairline, etc., then that’s not a good style, it doesn’t matter how good it looks. Health first! In addition, we have always been serious about customer care, treating clients with respect and consideration.
In terms of innovation, that is a natural process that comes from interacting with clients, seeing the shape of their faces, the hue of their complexion, the lifestyle that they lead. If you take these things into consideration and mix them with your own creativity, innovation is bound to occur.
Q: Do you have many clients who are transitioning from relaxed to natural? What advice do you give them?
A: We have had clients who are transitioning from relaxed to natural hair for more than 30 years now—97% of clients who walk through our doors initially had relaxed hair. From the beginning, that was what everyone had, chemically processed hair. Transitioning is not new, but a term for the process was coined and has become popular. It’s what we’ve always done, and we continue to do what we have done from the beginning, which is consult with our clients about their hair, guide them on how to best care for and manage their hair, and we meet them where they are in terms of how they want the process to go.
We consult with clients to find out what styles would be best for them, based on a number of variables like the condition of their hair, the length, thickness, health of their hair and their lifestyle choices. We do what we know would be sustainable and best for them long term.
Q: Do you think women are relaxing their real hair less than a few years ago? If so, why?
A: I do believe that women are relaxing their hair less. Some women are relaxing their hair less because they are older and they have noticed how over the years, their hair has thinned out tremendously from the use of chemical relaxers. Other women are no longer relaxing (stressing out) their hair with chemical straighteners because they’ve had relaxers since they were children, and as young adults they are curious to discover what their true texture is. They want to get to know something about themselves that they’ve never had the opportunity to experience. They have no idea what their natural hair looks like, feels like, or how to manage and style it.
Q: Do you have any advice for transitioners who are choosing to wear weaves, braids and other protective styles?
A: My advice for those transitioning is that they should make an appointment to meet with a professional regarding the transitioning process of their hair after they have at least an inch or two of new growth. Everyone’s hair is as unique as his or her fingerprints. Many women believe that once they go natural, they no longer need professional advice or services. While I am happy to know that many women are seeking to learn their own hair, I still believe they should check in with a professional at least twice a year.
Also, protective styles are only protective if they are done correctly. Braids, weaves, twists and all styles are able to assist in your hair growing strong and healthy, or they can be detrimental if they are not done properly, so check in with a professional first. And last, but not least, love your hair for what it is, and know that your hair is your journey, and you should not wish to have the hair of anyone else.
Q: Seems like you’ve done so much for the natural hair community already, what are your next endeavors?
A: My next endeavors are to increase our product line and maintain our philosophy, which is, natural is best for your hair and the planet. In keeping with that, I have been developing a line of natural perfumes. While many women have gone natural with their hair, their diet and even their lifestyle, many have no idea of the carcinogenic ingredients that are in the perfumes they wear. Perfumery is an ancient art form that began in ancient Khamit (Egypt) using botanical ingredients. I am just humbled by the beauty and majesty of the essences that come from nature. I will be launching my perfumes this spring, and I am looking forward to sharing the art of natural perfumery with others.
Visit Carol’s Daughter website to original interview.