What I Learned from the Bronner Brothers Hair Show
by L. Canaday
If you’re like me, you’ve polished off the last of your leave-in’s, and are now relying on leftovers to get you by until the Taliah Waajid World Natural Hair Show in October. Always on the hunt for new products, I decided to try my luck at the Bronner Brother’s International Hair Show held August 4th at the Georgia World Congress Center. I have to admit that my expectations for the event were not high, and a lot of that can be attributed to the movie “Good Hair”, by Chris Rock.
I arrived at the 65th anniversary production of the BB event expecting to see shady foreigners wheeling and dealing over expired relaxers and ponytail extensions of questionable origins. I even scanned the crowd for hysterical women with stacks of unmarked bills negotiating their last payments on costly weaves. I consider myself adventurous, even open minded. But if these were my expectations, I understood why I didn’t see too many naturals in sight. With all of the natural hair events to attend, what would an event for the “fried, dyed, and laid to the side” crowd have to offer?
Well for starters, a glimpse at history. It turns out that the creative visionaries who pioneered the natural hair events we enjoy today are standing on the shoulders of giants, specifically those of the Bronner family. Practice makes perfect, and after 65 years, this family continues to turn out a damn good production. Walking the floor, I understood why this show represents the best and brightest of what the black hair care industry has to offer. From elaborate stages and lighting, to the sound system and costume design, this was a top notch event, fit for a celebrity turn out.
And turn out they did. And I’m not just talking about major recording artists and all-star comics. I’m talking about the runway on the show floor. Professionals aside, it was easy to mistake attendees themselves for contenders on America’s Next Top Model. Gender bending beauties collided with Lady Gaga look alikes, and women who rocked outfits that would make even a “Basketball Wife” green with envy. And to my surprise, everyone was ready with a warm smile and sure fire pose. No time for eye rolling and teeth sucking here. Why? Because money makes people happy, and many of them were getting PAID!
The place was packed with thousands of professionals, skilled technicians, savvy business people, and artists. It appeared that they all knew their worth, and set prices accordingly. Vendors sold to eager customers who filled trunks and suitcases with expensive merchandise, celebrity hairstylists marketed their services, and other businesses were there just to help people figure out how to keep up with all that dough!
But for all of my “feel good” moments, there was a dark side. A wrong turn led me down an aisle that showcased a variety of straight hair, which in my imagination, was freshly shaved off the head of another human being who would never see a penny in profits. The hair seemed to stretch for miles across the floor, and the prices were staggering, many reaching thousands of dollars for premium selections. There were also no shortage of customers, and frankly, it made me sad.
To its credit, Bronner Brothers presented a great deal of workshops and information on natural hair care, but sisters still turned out in droves for an elusive image of beauty. I had to consider that prior to the current interest in natural hair, the success of this show may have been built on marketing a less than self-affirming ideal. I eventually approached one vendor who was selling products for the kinky curly crowd, and surprisingly, she shared my sentiments. Of course we had the “back to our roots” conversation one is likely to have at these moments. But in the end, we concluded that this show offered opportunities for black people to make an honest and prosperous living, no matter what side of the aisle they were on.
I also realized how the BB event was a reflection of the creative genius that is represented in our community. Past reviews of the show have referred to the hairstyles as “crayola colored”, and well, just not that classy to say the least. But leave it up to blacks folks to use caustic chemicals and color to turn perms into Picasso’s! What I saw was walking art, some of which was displayed on the heads of stunning brown-skinned women who were beautiful enough for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. I imagined that their elaborate costumes and makeup were the product of a talented black person who might not ever see their creations in the tents at Bryant Park, let alone the models. At the end of the day, this event gives many African-Americans a chance to showcase their tremendous talent, when they might otherwise be told “no” by more mainstream outlets.
Last but not least, the BB show gave me a chance to kick back and enjoy the party. Maybe it was because there were few products that suited my natural needs, and I people watched instead of doing the “grab and dash” that is typical at some of the natural hair shows. It was nice to be around people in their element, doing what they do best, and flaunting it for everyone to see.
It reminded me that hair care was not just about getting it right all of the time. Sometimes it’s just about how you feel, even if it’s just for a moment. Yes, the purple afro might fall out the next time it’s dyed, but it probably feels good to be the only girl in the room bold enough to wear one. Next month at the Waajid event, I will walk around the booths making comparisons and double checking ingredients, but will know in my heart that the chicks rocking aqua blue bangs at the BB show were having more fun.
L. Canaday is a recent graduate of the Master of Professional Studies program at the University of Denver. She lives with her husband and son in Atlanta. Contact her at: email@example.com. Read her other guest post for NHM here.
What’s your take on it? Have you attended both hair shows? What’s similar and different about them?