RUKA HAIR: Preserving a Colourful Tradition
In our multicultural cityscape of London, the streets overflow with a sea of hair. Textures, lengths and colours move in constant waves, fill every space in this explicit show of individuality. In a world where appearance matters most, where we use piercings, tattoos and garments to display our personality, hair reigns supreme as a visual aesthetic. We cannot take it off or easily hide it.
Historically, hair was a sign of status, the story told through particular style. Without a word being said, so much was instantly revealed solely by a person’s tresses. In African and Afro-Caribbean traditions, hair created community amongst tribes. Specialised tools and products were passed down from generation to generation to make sure the upkeep of their delicate locks were preserved. Wide tooth combs are the most common of these tools. The design ensures that hair can be detangled without curls being damaged or breaking. Combs with finer teeth can either snap or get stuck in the hair, making the maintenance even harder. With the wide tooth comb, strain on the scalp is also reduced and the roots are never disturbed. However, as the world expanded into new territories, these sacred traditions were lost by the many who got separated by their origins.
In a world where appearance matters most, hair reigns supreme as a visual aesthetic. We cannot take it off or easily hide it.
Though there are always hubs; and hairdressers were prime in helping preserve the communal importance surrounding hair. It’s not uncommon for black women to spend a whole day at a salon getting their hair done. The length of time spent together in this aesthetic space – mostly full of women – creates a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere that makes women feel happier during the lengthy process. I always think of a particular poem, that I came upon on Afrocks, that I feel sums up my feelings of the salon.
‘Dear Black Woman,
Take a seat, sit down
I beg you take a breath, adjust your crown
What is it, to have one minute?
To shift that weight on your shoulders
To empty that basket of burden and dash the guilt out with it!
Free yourself from drama
Release yourself from your role within it
Opt out, sink into a space
Credit Afrocks, read full poem here
When considering the giant that is the hair industry, standing out from the rest is crucial, and for black owned businesses it’s even harder to find a niche in the market. This is largely due to most people finding black hair intimidating to work with. Since it’s so specific in maintenance and texture, as well as being very delicate and sensitive, people who are unfamiliar with how it works would much rather avoid it. This lack of knowledge doesn’t only effect professionals in the hair industry, but the clientele too.
Black hair has become the hot centre of so much political debate, such a rocky terrain – where meaning and action are constantly under attack – that for the onlooker it can seem a space fraught with conflict. The discussion on whether braids, twists or cornrows are too ‘unprofessional’ for the workplace has been up for debate for years, and so have many others that politicised black dos.
Most packaging for leading brands are dull and one dimensional affairs, showing very little colour and vibrancy. With the recent revolutions in history and the inherently lively nature of black culture, Ruka wanted to reflect these positive connotations rather than the gloomy political landscape.
This approach is calibrated not only to attract younger generations, but also to embrace the current society we live in, where black hair is finally being celebrated. Part of their vision is to ‘live a colourful life in the sense of embracing and celebrating diversity, versatility and joy.’ Their recent pop-up store in Westfield further reflects their modern take and rejuvenation of branding for black hair, representing an appreciation of the cultures and traditions that makes hair extraordinary.
As a company built on traditional techniques that also invests heavily in R&D, Ruka is ushering in a new era.