Tessa Kagbala
Afroista Tessa Kagbala

It’s was a very different kind of day, one particular Saturday this past October.  I decided along with two BFFs to go see the movie ’12 Years A Slave’.  Needless to say, I left the theater feeling like my brain and spirit had been tasered.  I felt numb.  I arrived home a hour later and prepared to go to a party that I was no longer in the mood for… Just as I was about to leave the house I received a phone call from my sister saying my uncle had died.  I’m standing in my hallway truly stunned now,  in a state of shock… But I keep to my promise of attending a neighbor’s party along with my friend Shay.   I felt I was in a daze but this party was beautiful.  It was rather cool outside but the host Hatshepsut & her hubby had a beautiful fire burning in their backyard.   I sat with uber cool acupuncturist Deena Collins receiving some complimentary reading of my pulse.

Friends around the fire
My friend Shay and others around the fire

A number of guests were sitting around the fire chatting, nibbling, starring into the fire, when this amazing young sister arrived in a very dramatic coat, a magical coat, she looked like a butterfly, a fairy or some type of enchantress.  And she carried on her face a knowingness and a sweet smile. After a bit, she gets up from her seat, comes over to me (of all people) and asks if I will take a few pics of her with her phone.  I knew then that I had arrived at this party despite my state of mind, just to meet this beautiful being.  One thing lead to another and she ended up having her hair done at our salon and modeled for an event at Khamit Kinks for my product line Anu Essentials, called The A-Nu Experience along with Natural Hair Does Care.   An aside here, my tears didn’t start flowing until the next morning, I guess after the shock wore off and then they flowed for days… But I digress, if you ever have a chance to meet Tessa you instantly feel her beauty and warmth,  she’s a special spirit and after you get over how much hair she has, you just want to know more…

Tessa Kagbala
Tessa at the A-Nu Experience

  • Where are you from and where did you grow up?  I was born in Bedstuy Brooklyn, in the 80’s we ducked out to Flatbush, where we were amongst our community but the environment wasn’t the best.  My mom kept me well occupied in various art institutions throughout the city. I am fortunate that the City was my oyster! Early in my youth, my mom became fed up with Brooklyn, so we moved to Hell’s Kitchen, in NYC. Where I still reside. •    You have an amazing amount of hair, how was it handled by your mom or other care-takers when growing up?  My mane was fortunate to have a mom who had the patience to nurture my hair. As far as I can remember I always had long hair. My mom usually styled my hair in plaits, double strand twist, and on special occasions I wore it out.  Now not everyone had the same ability to take care of my tresses! Being mixed, my father’s side was not able to deal with my texture. Gratefully I only had a few incidents when I was made to feel shame at having so much hair.

•    What do you remember about anything significant about your hair as a child?  Do you feel you received extra attention as a child because of your amazing amount of hair?  My hair felt lighter, my curls were more defined, while still being dense.  I can’t recall receiving extra attention, maybe because I am an only child. I probably did receive praises for my curls, but my mom always instilled the mindset that being pretty is great, but having brains is more valuable. Maybe that is why till this day I am always humbled when people tell me that they like my mane.

Tessa Kagbala
A pic I took of Kessa’s mane the night we met

  •    Did you ever have problems (bullying) from peer or jealousy because of your hair?  We all to some degree faced issues growing up, but I believe it stems from individual insecurities. I faced more taunting when I wore my infamous stucco bun. I was an ugly ducking for many years! I wore glasses, and by the end of elementary school I had braces all the way up to high school. I still cant fathom how long I had to endure having braces!!!  Because I didn’t fully love myself by junior high, my appearance was the least of my concern. I would perm my hair, or rock a gel’d down bun until it was time for a touch up.

•    Did you ever have your hair chemically straightened?  If so when and what impact did that have on you?  At 7 years old, I begged my mother to perm my hair. I wanted to emulate her. The years that followed were filled with burnt scalps, damaged hair, and low self esteem. In my early teen’s I experimented with coloring my hair every shade of red. During these times I wanted to stop relaxing my hair, but those in my environment encouraged me to continue saying that my hair wouldn’t be the same, there fore there was no point in going natural. A friend of the family  was my hair dresser, but she didn’t really know how to do my hair. I still went to her,  because I wanted to believe that one day I would leave the salon feeling confident.  Following the trend of my peers, I asked to get two chunky blonde high lights where my hair was parted… well she interpreted that request as me wanting to have my hairline dyed platinum blonde. When I arrived at a friend’s house she fell to the floor in a laughing fit.  My heart crumbled. Since I didn’t take care of my hair, it just broke it by bit.  That was not a cute school photo that year!!!!!!

You mentioned that you hadn’t been to a salon in years when you came to Khamit Kinks to have you hair done recently.  What was that experience like for you?  Mystically, I learned about Khamit Kinks through you, Anu. My first time there, I was honored to support the salon for your A-Nu Experience event. Upon arrival I was engulfed with a relaxing aroma, warm smiles, and loving hands. It had been ages since I went to a salon, let alone a natural hair salon.  To be surrounded by women who knew how to treat my tresses was a blessing. I appreciated the consultations you provide your clients. Its not often you feel reassured that your mane isn’t going to be over manipulated, causing more damage than good. Recently I returned  to get my yearly trim, and though more than I would like to admit was cut off,  my mane feels and looks healthy!

Tessa at Khamit Kinks
Tessa with Khamit Kinks Stylists who groomed and styled her hair, Aneka and Kanque.

    •    How has the current wave of the natural hair care movement affected your world?  When I was transitioning, I didn’t know anyone in the natural community, nor did I know that it existed.  There were no tutorials, natural hair products were out of my budget, I for sure didn’t see naturals in the media that were amongst my age group.  Folks would say I reminded them of Diana Ross and Chaka Khan, seeing their images encouraged me to continue. When I was compared to Trace Ellis Ross, I knew that the movement was alive and thriving! It’s so heart warming seeing us unite while embracing our inner beauty. Growing alongside the natural hair care movement has enabled me to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone. This has been an amazing journey of self-discovery. Through osmosis we are simultaneously reflecting and propelling ourselves forward. Leaving our mark on this land for generations to come.  I’m humbled by all the love I receive through social media. It encourages me to deepen my intent and purpose in this lifetime.

Tessa at NYC Subway

  • You seem to have a unique style, way of presenting yourself.  Can you share with us how this came to be?  Was there someone in your family that influenced you?  My mom and grandmother were always dressed to the nines! My grandma’s thing when I was growing up was our Sundays Best. I can still feel the joy of putting them on. And the misery when I grew out of them.  One of my favorite dresses as a toddler was placed on a teddy bear.. I wonder where they are 🙂

I was also modeled during my years with my theater group The 52nd Street Project. My favorite part of writing and/or performing was seeing how costumes brought characters to life. By the time I “graduated” from the group I was very much into looking good. As the years progressed I guess you can say I had a knack for shopping. It’s my mom’s gift that I thrift shop, she planted that seed at a young age! I did go through my phase of shopping at mainstream stores following trends and such. On the quest of living a more frugal life, thrift shopping aided me in finding not only bargains but quality garbs that fit my various style aesthetics. Being comfortable in my wardrobe took many moons,  I would buy and tuck pieces away telling myself I wasn’t ready to adorn my temple with such items. When I began to unlock my inner unlimited potential, it became easier for me to express myself using garments. Don’t get me wrong, there are still time that I push myself out of my comfort zone. Life has many layers, and I’m enjoying and adjusting as I peel them away.


•    What do you do around fashion and style (tell us about your connection with Housing Works)  I never envisioned myself using garments as my medium. For years I was encouraged to find a career in this field, but I didn’t feel connected to it. During my style metamorphosis I realized I enjoy playing in my collection. I aid those who are having difficulty connecting to the garments that are stuffed in their closets. To me playing into trends leave ladies feeling lost and wallets empty.  Your wardrobe should be timeless, while using the various cycles to obtain certain silhouettes, hues, patterns, and textures. Last year, my friend suggested that I visit Buy the Bag, which is Housing Works Warehouse retail shop in Brooklyn. I was enamored with the plethora of clothing they have!!! The fact that you can stuff a bag for one low price, is unheard of. I have to say that since I have started shopping here my wardrobe has been enhanced! It dawned on me that this is such a great resource to tell my community about, since im frequently asked where obtain my garbs.  Afroista has recently been collaborating with Buy the Bag, throwing monthly thrift shopping parties. These social events have been tons of fun to host, and I’m so grateful to those who have been supporting them!!! From the live bands, the drink sponsors, and to Alan and his staff. My intent is that people find amazing pieces that they love without going outside of their budget. All the proceeds go towards Housing Works fight against HIV/AIDS & Homelessness. It’s a great cause to stand besides, because these issues have effected all of us in one way or another.  

•    How would you describe yourself? Such an odd thing for me to do… I’m a closet introvert, though you would never think so. I guess that’s what makes me eccentric. A rebel with a cause, who is on a journey of self-discovery in order to live life to it fullest potential. I’m kinky, geeky, and chic.

•    What’s are you most passionate about? The future generation’s, love, life, art, survival.

•    Most recently you turned 30, what are you looking forward to for your 30’s.   I have many lofty aspirations, I hope through faith and practice I will be able to manifest them. Continuously developing my family is most vital to me. Having two boys, my intent is to show them that through our actions anything is possible, if you work at it. Solidifying my company Afroista, while expanding other horizons. I look forward to discovering more of what my purpose is in this lifetime.

  •    What else would you like to share with us about you and your fabulousness?…there are many more pages to fill in this novel. I feel blessed, humbled and grateful for your audience!