If you’re a black or mixed race woman, or even someone who just has really curly hair, there’s no doubt that you’ve had at least one bad experience at the hair salon. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I’ve lost count of how many times my appointments lasted for more than 6 hours, how many times my ears were burned and how many times I’ve I left the salon with plans to wash out whatever the hairdresser put in my hair as soon as I made it home. Add to that the minefield that you can encounter when you’re just on the hunt for the right conditioner, and it’s easy to see why Winnie Awa started Antidote Street, a London-based digital marketplace for multicultural beauty that ships worldwide.
On Antidote Street
Formerly an e-commerce expert at companies such as ASOS, LVMH and Net-a-Porter, Aba, Nigerian-born Winnie says the goal of Antidote Street is to: “curate the best products for afro, curly and textured hair types.”
“We do this because we know how difficult it is to find really good quality hair products; we’ve struggled for so long to find products, always asking friends or relatives who were traveling to buy us random products from America – never even knowing if they’d actually work!” says Winnie. “Our real sweet spot is that we make everything personal for people, based on their hair texture, and we don’t believe in encouraging them to become product junkies – we’re not here to tell them to spend loads on a supposed ‘magic potion.’ We believe in people finding what’s right for them, with the right ingredients, that are healthy for their hair.”
Since the site launched in 2014, it’s amassed a huge array of hand-picked products to suit every need, but you’ll also find plenty of articles on everything from caring for your scalp, to how to style a TWA (Teeny Weeny Afro). There’s also a customer service box that pops up to help you find exactly what you’re looking for; simply type in your hair question, and you can chat live with a customer service representative.
On Black Hair Care Beauty Products
As a hair and beauty journo myself, I know how exhausting and confusing it can be to test so many products at once, so of course, I have to ask Winnie if she’s tried everything on the site.
“We do have a pool of testers, I can’t test every single thing. For example, if a product comes in that’s really good for very thick, kinky hair, I’ll put it out to our testers,” says Winnie. “It’s not enough that someone labels a product saying it’s for curls and afros, we want to know the concentration of ingredients and give the creator of the brand the opportunity to share how they went about formulating the range and who they’ve worked with.” She notes that the research side of sourcing products has become even more important, as a recent article in Science Direct determined that certain ingredients used in products aimed at black women can be endocrine disruptors [chemicals that interfere with our hormones that can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects and other developmental disorder]. “It’s not just about packaging; we need to ask: ‘Is this product good for us?’,” says Winnie.
In addition to improving the lives of women every day via the products found on Antidote Street, Winnie is also on a mission to improve that pillar of the black community: a trip to the hair salon.
“Go to any gathering that’s mostly women with afro or curly hair and you will hear someone bring up their salon experience, and then all kinds of crazy stories come out. Products get us so far, but it’s the salon that gives us a new haircut or style,” says Winnie. “We do a lot of customer forums, and over time, one of the recurring themes has been the salon experience. People kept complaining about punctuality, product knowledge, or customer service. There are a lot of individuals who are doing great work, so I wanted to create an opportunity for salons to get together so that we can all work together and see what we can learn to improve things and set some standards.”
On Craft and Community
Subrina Kidd, a session stylist (usually a freelancer who works on editorial shoots as well as in the salon), hosted one of the first Antidote Street events, and shared some of her own personal experiences about learning her craft. She talked about how difficult it was to attain the skills specific to caring for black hair.
“She said that it’s pretty much the same today, and if a hairdresser wants to specialize in afro hair, they will often have to pay more to gain that knowledge, and because of this, the talent is dying out. My concern is, if this is the true state of things, how do we expect high street salons to keep up?” says Winnie.
Together, Winnie and the salon owners who attended came up with a manifesto for hairstylists and salons that focuses on timekeeping, artistry and professionalism. “There are so many salons that have solo founders so it’s tough because they’re doing everything. They’re doing the hair, ordering the products, doing the accounting, it’s no wonder that complaints can occur,” says Winnie. “ I believe we can improve things if we come together. We just have to figure out a way to make it happen.”
Winnie also expresses her belief that, through the improvement of services over time, going into hairdressing is a career option that younger people will become interested in, after all, it’s a great way to create a freelance career.
Winnie Awa’s Favorite Brands and Products
Before I let Winnie go, I had to ask her about her favorite brand on Antidote Street – and of course, she couldn’t pick just one!
“Dizziak is my absolute fave; it contains quinoa protein babassu, coconut and argan oils. Without fail, I apply this every week; I pop it on after washing my hair, then put a heat cap on and just go about my day. If I have to run errands I’ll just pop a cute scarf over it and head out,” says Winnie.
I can’t wait to see how the Antidote Street Manifesto, and Winnie shakes things up. Stay tuned for the next installment in her story – your hair will likely thank you for it.If you’re based in London and interested in the next salon manifesto event, it will be taking place at Peckham Palms later this year.
Imagery by Charisse Kenion.