Ekene Chuks-Okeke is a lawyer and a teacher-to-be. She is also one of the organizers of Naturals in the City, Lagos’ quarterly natural lifestyle meet-up! Ekene runs a popular natural hair blog with her best friend Marilyn called The Kink and I, I’ve always loved that blog name.
To us, good hair is healthy hair (natural or relaxed) and it is really important to us that everybody knows this! Through our blog, we seek to educate, encourage and inspire everyone that comes across us to take better care of their hair and see the beauty in it.
Today for the #BNFroFriday interview, Ekene is sharing her natural hair journey with us, details about her blog, how she runs it with her best friend and more information about Naturals in the City.
BellaNaija: Tell us about your hair
Ekene Chuks-Okeke: Hi BN fam! My hair doesn’t have a name, but I love her very much! My hair is very tightly coiled, definitely 4C if you are into hair typing. I like to call it the coiliest of coilies! When I was relaxed, it used to be a rich Colour 4 but since I went natural in 2012, it has definitely gotten darker. I haven’t tried dyeing my hair yet, but I want to! My hair is low porosity, meaning it doesn’t easily absorb moisture. Though my hair is full, my individual strands are very very thin.
BN: Why did you decide to go natural?
ECO: I stumbled on natural hair online, while seeking help for my relaxed hair. At the time, I didn’t know that people wore their hair like this, I honestly did not know it was an option. My relaxed hair had started breaking when I reached a certain length, and I wanted to fix that. Took to my trusted friend Google, and in the process discovered a whole new world of hair blogs. Most of them natural, and I fell in love with the way the natural girls I saw online looked. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but it was heavy on my mind so I knew I had to try!
BN: How did you make the change to become natural?
ECO: I cut off my relaxed ends in May, 2012 after transitioning for 8 months. My transitioning period was stressful. I had no idea what I was doing and dealing with 2 textures was driving me crazy. Eventually, I just gave up and committed to kinky twists, this really helped! Actually, before the final transitioning attempt, I had tried for 2 other semesters. I’d go without relaxer for 4 months, and after that, I didn’t know what to do, so I relaxed again.
My sister and my bestfriend were very supportive. One of my friends that was transitioning too. Everyone else was ambivalent. They didn’t get it, but it was like okay, if it means that much to you, do it and let us hear word. My mom was totally against it, though. I knew she felt strongly about it, so I kept talking about my transition. The night before my big chop, she actually told me “this thing you want to do. You will not be fine”. Imagine! It really hurt, and I cried o, but I went to the salon the next morning anyway.
Now, all my friends are natural and transitioning. And my mom loves my hair (a miracle!) She thinks twist outs make me look crazy lol but, I’ve straightened my hair twice and she didn’t like it. I thought it’d make her happy, but no, she prefers me in my fro to me in straight hair. Wow!
My soul sister, Solange was a major source of inspiration for me during my transition period. Also, YouTubers FusionOfCultures and CurlyChronicles. I actually thought my natural hair would be curly like FusionOfCultures’ but nooooo, that was just a dream!
BN: Are you ever tempted to go back to relaxers?
ECO: Sometimes, I crave straight, stretched hair, but it’s only temporary. The beauty of having our kinky texture is in the versatility of it. I got a Silk Press in April and it was better than a relaxer. I was over it in 2 weeks, and I got my kinks back.
BN: Ever hidden your natural hair?
ECO: LOL yes, I did! Short story. After my big chop, I had quite some length because I had transitioned for 8 months. Part of the reason why I transitioned was, I was afraid. I felt I could not rock a short cut since I did not have Amber Rose’s head. After my big chop, my hair was shorter, but not that short. I was feeling bold, so I thought, why not go lower? I went to a barber who was as clueless as I was. Natural hair shrinks, and I, did not know this. I went with wet hair, fresh from a shower. The guy put his clipper into my shrunken, wet fro. 20 minutes later, the result of this “hair cut”? My hair was uneven, very patch- patch. In some areas, my scalp was even visible! Imagine the nightmare! I lost the liver I had to go lower! So, for the next 4 months, I hid my hair in braids and weaves so it could grow out. After this, I cut it again, to make it even, and started over.
BN: How long have you kept your natural hair?
ECO: My last relaxer was September 30, 2011 but, I like to say I have been natural since May 2012 (my big chop). After the Big Chop, I had 2 chops within the year and abstained from all forms of cutting after (not the best idea) In the last 2 years, I’ve had my hair trimmed 4 times- but I am trying to make a habit of examining my ends for a trim every 3 months.
BN: How does climate where you live affect your hair?
ECO: I live in Lagos. I once heard an “expert” say that our weather is part of the reasons why our hair is dry. NEAUXP. NO. UNTRUE.
It’s very humid here, so when I do curly styles like twist outs or braid outs or rod sets, I expect the moisture in the air to destroy my definition by the end of the day, because that’s what kinky-curly hair does. When your curls meet moisture, they revert to their original state.
When I’m too busy for my hair, I limit everything hair related to washday, moisturising included. I moisturise my hair after I wash it and that’s usually it till the next wash. Is my hair crying for help by the end of the week? Not usually. The humidity in the air moisturises my hair for me. It could be dry when I wake up, but by midday, it’s soft and smooth. Thank you, mother Nature!
BN: Do you have any other problems with your hair?
ECO: Hmm. I prefer the word challenge, lol. I think my hair has been the same length for 2 years now. I am trying to get past this growth plateau. I think I’ve finally figured out the problem, so, hopefully this problem is already half solved!
BN: What’s your stance on natural vs chemical products?
ECO: Ha. This one deserves an essay on its own! First of all, everything is a chemical because everything is made of matter. Water is a chemical; it is H2O. The air you breathe is chemical. People avoid Sulfates in shampoos most times because they are drying. Some sulfates are derived from coconuts! Natural or chemical?
Only a few natural/organic brands are truly natural and organic, very few. I’m here for safe ingredients; the simpler the better. HOWEVER, in most products, the active ingredients that get your hair soft are the “chemicals” (the fatty alcohols, the quats), not, the Coconut Oil or Vanilla Extract. I don’t think a lot of people know this, and they should.
The idea that everything natural is good for you is also untrue. I see all kinds of recipes on the internet and on facebook groups but really, guys? Just, do a patch test before you try anything. I eat tomatoes, but I suffered a very harsh reaction when I rubbed a fresh tomato slice on my face. I looked like I had measles and actually needed Calamine lotion! Now imagine if I blended a batch and used on my hair as some treatment? Nah.
“Natural” vs “Chemical”, I choose what is safe, and what actually delivers the desired results in the most effective way.
BN: What’s your daily, weekly and/or monthly hair routine?
ECO: When my hair is out, every week I wash with a sulfate-free shampoo and deep condition, then moisturise and seal. Sometimes, I just rinse my hair with warm water and use the Shea Moisture African Black Soap Purification Masque, or a DIY mudwash I mix myself. Both products cleanse hair to a good extent, and condition it very well. My curls are always super hydrated after! (Now I’m trying to go 2 weeks between washes, though)
I used to have some products I swore were my ride-or-dies, but you know that thing called see finish? I think that’s what happened. They stopped working as well on my hair, so I need some new faves. At the moment, the longest products in my regimen are- the Shea Moisture masque I mentioned (since 2014) and the DIY mudwash (since 2013)
During the week: I moisturise if my hair feels dry. I could spritz with just plain water, or apply some leave-in, and let humidity do its thing.
Monthly: the only extra thing I’m trying to do on a monthly basis is to incorporate protein treatments. Every 4-6 weeks, this is a goal.
BN: What advice would you give to people thinking of going natural?
ECO: If you are thinking of going natural, I want you to know that you can totally do it. I also need you to know that, you are going back to YOUR natural. Not your favourite youtuber’s, or hair blogger’s. Not even your sisters. Be ready to accept your curls for what they are, and it will be easier to work with them.
BN: What do you like best about your hair and being natural?
ECO: The options. I love how versatile my natural hair is. All the things it can do. I get bored easily, so I love that I can switch my style up.
BN: What are your favourite styles to rock and why?
ECO: My favourite hairstyle is the Afro. Love it. Now that my hair is much longer, it’s not as easy to manage as before, and it may be too distracting in the formal work place, so I save it for special occasions.
My skill set is limited (work in progress) so to work, whenever I just need to focus and not do hair, I style my hair in twists.
My new favourite style to dress up with is a sleek bun. It only takes 20 minutes to set, and the result is always predictable (unlike curly styles, which I’m working on perfecting right now 🙂 )
BN: Tell us why you started your blog, it’s content, how you run it and why you run it the way you do
ECO: I started The Kink and I (www.thekinkandi.com) in 2012. Technically, it started in 2011. I was blogging just because I wanted to write something. Anything. At the time, I was transitioning and did not know if I would make it to the end, or that I would even like being natural, or be passionate about hair in general. I started documenting my journey, and the more I learnt, I just felt I had to share it somehow. I have always enjoyed simplifying things that look difficult and breaking them down to others. Natural hair is not difficult, but there’s this big gap because for years and years, our curls have been alien to us. We are now in the process of re-learning. Reading blogs was so helpful to me in beginning my journey (still is) so I wanted to be helpful to others too.
My bestfriend Marilyn joined The Kink and I officially in 2014. We blog about our personal journeys- what we do with our hair, how we do it, why we do it. We review hair products and hair salons a lot. We are both very passionate about hair care, so we are constantly learning, and sharing what we find out. There is no one way to be natural, we just want you to have the information. We want you to have options. For instance, a water only hair regimen could work, but if you are like me, you want a hair routine that doesn’t need you to get your hair wet a lot. Many naturals love Coconut Oil and Shea Butter, but from my experience, my hair is not a huge fan. What can you use then? We experiment a lot, and have found that there are few hard and fast rules that apply to EVERYONE. So yes, options. 🙂
I’m very deliberate about my hair, and Marilyn is more “anywhere belle face” lol. She is very spontaneous. We share our adventures and discoveries; in the hope that our readers are educated, encouraged and inspired. We also enjoy sharing with our readers what’s hot and new on the scene; trends in hair styling, new regimens people are trying, debunking some myths by providing the relevant information when necessary.
The hair scene in Nigeria, particularly Lagos is really poppin’. So much is going on and not enough people are aware. We want people to know what businesses are out here to serve them. Since March 2013, we have had a growing directory of natural hair stores, salons and stylists, and the response to that has been wonderful.
Our Blog Process
We are different, so we complement each other. Now that we are both working, we try to be more deliberate about it. She lives in New York, so we have “blog meetings” every 2 weeks, on the phone. We have a calendar so we know who is responsible for what. We schedule our posts ahead, and Google Drive/ Google Docs also help keep us organized.
BN: Tell us about Naturals in the City (NITC)
ECO: Naturals in the City was started in 2011 by Natural Nigerian, Carib Health and Screwy Hair Girl. At that time, natural hair wasn’t as common or as popular in Nigeria as it is today, so naturals really needed that support. (I believe) it was a gathering created to show people that they were not alone. That natural hair is beautiful and that they could maintain it. Though NITC started out as a natural hair meet-up, it has expanded to a natural lifestyle meet-up because, we want you to have healthy hair, AND live a healthier, more natural life all round. This is not to preach to anybody o. There’s SO much going on in the hair and beauty, and food industries. A lot of misinformation. When you know better, you do better, right? We just want you to make informed decisions.
I attended my first meet-up in Abuja (2012)- Natural Nigerian also has an Abuja meet-up called Capital Naturals (the last one was on August 6) so that’s how we met. I attended NITC in Lagos the next year. Then, I moved to Calabar for NYSC and while I was there, I was missing out on fun hair stuff in Lagos. One day, Natural Nigerian announced another NITC so I tweeted her to say I was sad that I was missing out, again! Then she asked me if I wanted to plan a Calabar meet-up with her. I said yes, so Naturals in Paradise happened October 2014. That was a success, so she asked me to join the NITC Team in Lagos, and that’s the story! ☺
The next Naturals in the City (the sixteenth!) is on Saturday, September 17! Sign up on our website nitcnigeria.com, so you get all the event details as soon as we announce! Every quarter, we come together to learn, eat, shop and give back. Everybody is welcome; we have women, men, children, young and old. Seriously, we even have crafts to engage the kids to keep them busy while you can focus on having a good time.
NITC is open to EVERYONE, and has been, since inception. Some things I do to my loose natural hair may not apply to locs or relaxed hair and vice versa, BUT the fundamentals of healthy hair care for us all are the same.
Other Hair Related Events in Lagos
Ade Balogun of Locitude has Loc Appreciation Day in Lagos. Dabs of Savvy Chic Hair & Beauty Hub has her Naija Hair Can Grow Salon Day Out. I attend these events and I’m here for ALL kinds of hair events. We can’t reach everyone with the good hair gospel, so, more are definitely needed!
More photos of Ekene’s gorgeous mane
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ekene!
If you’d like to be featured, send an email to [email protected]!