For Designer Akua Shabaka, Braids Symbolize Remembrance and Resistance

Texture Diaries is a space for Black people 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, they 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.

At New York Fashion Week in February, designer Akua Shabaka and her mother Rebecca Henry presented their latest collection, Bloodroot, for House of Aama. Inspired by the bloodroot herb, which has historically been used as a tool of protection for families in the southern Creole culture, models walked the runway wearing Victorian lace dresses and military workwear. It was the culmination of a whirlwind few months for Shabaka, which saw her attending the Met Gala and featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2021. Fashion has long been an outlet for the 24-year-old, who used to remix her school uniform by adding funky-colored socks and accessories to her locs. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, she says there were many times she felt like an outsider, but she “learned that fashion could be a talking piece, a way to connect with others and set trends that then build community.”

“Ah! Our House of Aama “Monstrosity” assemblage dress inspired by Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. A studio piece going back to our upcycling roots. What a beautiful day. (Peep my hair.)”Photo: Courtesy of Akua Shabaka
“This braid look reminded me so much of Ms. Cicely Tyson…perfect look to start NYFW season.”Photo: Courtesy of Akua Shabaka

Shabaka credits her Jamaican-Cuban background and roots in Louisiana and South Carolina for her eclectic approach to style and beauty. “I like to look at myself as a gumbo pot of cultures and traditions from the African diaspora,” she says. When it comes to her hair, braids have a special place in her heart. “For me, braiding represents ancestral remembrance and resistance for Black women. I try to explore one or two traditional African braiding styles per year,” she says.

In her earliest memories, Shabaka had locs. She especially enjoyed doing bantu knots to make them curly, and wearing barrettes her mom would put in as decoration. “At the time that was all I knew. My father and mother had long locs, as well as my siblings and my surrounding community,” she says. “It wasn’t until I went to public elementary school that I realized the other little girls didn’t look like me and I did not have pigtails and little bollies.” That sense of difference was a shock to the system. “It caused me to run away from who I was on so many levels,” Shabaka says. In middle school, she cut off her locs and explored with hot combs, hair dyes and finger waves. Eventually, in high school, she grew out her natural hair and tried different braiding styles. “Through this process, I began to reclaim my culture and develop a love and enjoyment in who I was. This even brought my parents and I a lot closer,” she says. “I had to go through that transitional process and create my own personal narrative outside of the tools my parents gave me.”

“A little natty dread with bantu knots. Cutie pie!”Photo: Courtesy of Akua Shabaka

These days, braids are still her go-to style, perfect for her hectic schedule. To keep her hair hydrated, Shabaka relies on TGIN, As I am and Shea Moisture products. “I have 4c texture hair and it’s very thick. I need extensive hydration and heavy butters,” she explains. “I’ve tried all of these products equally and they have not steered me wrong.” She’s learned that co-washing or deep conditioning with a plastic cap does the trick to lock in the moisture. “I do this even if it’s a co-wash and I’m in a rush because without it, my hair does not lock in the moisture properly and the product will not penetrate the hair follicle.”

“Favorite Kehinde Wiley Jamaican portrait art book and three products I can’t live without.”Photo: Courtesy of Akua Shabaka

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