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Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

Laura Nsafou Is the French Author Teaching Black Girls to Love Their Natural Hair

Her children's book, "Like A Million Black Butterflies," addresses race and bullying—rare topics you don't read often in French literature.

Growing up, French blogger and writer Laura Nsafou was bullied for her appearance, specifically her hair and nose. One day after a girl put down her hair, she came home and asked her mom to undo her braids. Her mom said no and told her that she had to accept herself as she was.

When French publishing company Bilibok approached Nsafou years later after reading an article on her blog on representation and diversity in literature, they asked her to write a book based on a Toni Morrison quote from the book God Help the Child: "Her clothes were white, her hair like a million black butterflies asleep on her head." Nsafou used her past experience to write a book called Like A Million Black Butterflies.

For her, the goal was to write a book about bullying and race that would bring a "more accurate representation of a black girl dealing with her hair and facing others."


Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

A popular afro feminist writer, Nsafou had started her blog 4 years ago, writing openly on issues related to race, classism and sexism. Although she had published her first novel prior to that, she had, by then, almost given up on writing because of diversity issues. "The books I saw in stores excluded people like me. I felt like my novels wouldn't be published because they were against the norm." So when the chance arise of writing Like A Million Black Butterflies, Nsafou was finally able to write the book she would have loved to read as a child. "I wanted to use all this conversation of afro hair and salon and focus on responsibilities that comes with racism in school," she says. "People tend to dismiss children's worries about it, but they should be addressed."

As one of the faces of the French afro feminist movement that aims to empower black women by reappropriating the spaces that are not open to them, Nsafou was aware of the tropes she wanted to avoid. Her main character, Adé, doesn't define how little black French girls should look like, instead it's about considering her as one of many possible black girl heroes. In the book, it was important for her to portray a variety of black girls, both in words and pictures by working closely with the illustrator.

The book was released in 2017, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, riding on the coattails of the global conversation on representation in literature. For Nsafou, it's due to the fact that people were supporting her on social media, as well as bookstores and libraries and schools expressing a strong interest for it. They saw the book as an object that could inspire and bring better representation in French children's literature. On top of it, there is a demand from parents, especially black parents, to have access to books for their children they can relate to—books not full of stereotypes.

Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

Despite the great reception she had when the book was in stores, she has frequently been accused of "ethnocentrism"—"One school refused to have my book because they felt it was excluding children because the main character is black. We have dozens of books about white boys, no one believes that it is excluding. Why can't black women be universal too? Do people want to teach children that some of them are invisible?"

She recalls an anecdote. She was at a book signing event with her mum when a white woman looked at the book cover and asked her if she could open the book. Nsafou agreed. The woman explained to her that her child has frizzy hair, but wasn't sure if the book was for her. Nsafou's mum was there and said: "Why? Black people don't see themselves in many books, and yet we still read them."

It is important for readers to understand that they need to take a new path in the way they relate to books. "There can be Asian, Arab; Latino characters in a book, and readers can still feel concerned."

Photo courtesy of Laura Nsafou.

Her hope is that people carry on having a conversation on diversity and what it means. Often, it's not just about having people of color as main characters, but about who writes, produces and illustrates these books.

But change will come in the popular, yet rigid children's literature world in France when the publishing industry will understand and receive Nsafou's books and the many others that exist. She notices that, the very few children's books portraying non-white characters tend to be translations of English books. It's easier for the English-written ones to arrive in the French market rather than the other way around.

As for Nsafou, the adventure she had with Like A Million Black Butterflies is coming to an end. She is now working on her next novel—an urban fantasy trilogy about a woman going to Senegal for the first time where she meets a djin who would lead her to discover the story of her family.

She's still looking for a publisher for this one.

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Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Freddie Harrel Is Building Conscious Beauty For and With the African Diaspora

Formerly known as "Big Hair Don't Care", creator Freddie Harrel and her team have released 3 new wig shapes called the "RadShapes" available now.


Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


The normalising of Black and brown women in wigs of various styles has certainly been welcomed by the community, as it has opened up so many creative avenues for Black women to take on leadership roles and make room for themselves in the industry.

Radswan (formerly known as Big Hair Don't Care), is a lifestyle brand "bringing a new perspective on Blackness through hair, by disrupting the synthetic market with innovative and sustainable products." Through their rebrand, Radswan aims to, "upscale the direct-to-consumer experience holistically, by having connected conversations around culture and identity, in order to remove the roots of stigma."

The latest from French-Cameroonian founder and creator Freddie Harrel - who was featured on our list of 100 women of 2020 - has built her career in digital marketing and reputation as an outspoken advocate for women's empowerment. On top of her business ventures, the 2018 'Cosmopolitan Influencer of the Year' uses her platform to advocate for women's empowerment with 'SHE Unleashed,' a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism and sexism.

And hair is clearly one of her many passions, as Freddie says, "Hair embodies my freest and earliest form of self expression, and as a shapeshifter, I'm never done. I get to forever reintroduce my various angles, tell all my stories to this world that often feels constrained and biased."

Armed with a committee of Black women, Freddie has cultivated Radswan and the aesthetic that comes with the synthetic but luxurious wigs. The wigs are designed to look like as though the hair is growing out of her own head, with matching lace that compliments your own skin colour.

By being the first brand to use recycled fibres, Radswan is truly here to change the game. The team has somehow figured out how to make their products look and feel like the real thing, while using 0% human hair and not negotiating on the price, quality or persona.

In 2019, the company secured £1.5m of investment led by BBG Ventures with Female Founders Fund and Pritzker Private Capital participating, along with angelic contributions from Hannah Bronfman, Nashilu Mouen Makoua, and Sonja Perkins.

On the importance of representation and telling Black stories through the products we create, Freddie says, "Hair to me is Sundays kneeling between your mothers or aunties legs, it's your cousin or newly made friend combing lovingly through your hair, whilst you detangle your life out loud. Our constant shapeshifting teaches us to see ourselves in each other, the hands braiding always intimately touching our head more often than not laying someone's lap."

"Big Hair No Care took off in ways we couldn't keep up with," she continues, "RadSwan is our comeback.It's a lifestyle brand, it's the hair game getting an upgrade, becoming fairer and cleaner. It's the platform that recognises and celebrates your identity as a shapeshifter, your individuality and your right to be black like you."


Check out your next hairstyle from Radswan here.

Radswan's RadShape 01Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


Radswan's RadShape 02Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


Radswan's RadShape 03Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

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