The natural hair queen

Marcina Dowdell-Williams will be hosting St. Petersburg’s first Natural Hair Health and Beauty Expo on March 9 from 8-7 p.m. at the Hilton in downtown St. Petersburg.

BY MARLO SCOTT, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — For over 25 years Marcina Dowdell-Williams has been braiding hair and creating designer hairstyles. She first embraced the concept of natural hair when as a young child her mother would take her to get her own natural hair braided.

As a young teen, Dowdell-Williams used to braid the smaller kids hair in the neighborhood and impressed her parents, Casandra DuPont and Abraham Dowdell, so much that they put her in charge of her sister Raquel’s hair. After graduating from Lakewood High School (Go Spartans!) in 1987, she attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). Dowdell-Williams desire to braid hair accompanied her to Tallahassee where she’d style hair for friends in her dormitory for some extra cash.

“I can remember during the early 1990s when chemical services such as relaxers were very popular and in demand. I was just coming out of a Jheri Curl myself. In those days a lot of women were under the mindset that in order to be accepted in society and considered ‘sexy’ you needed to wear your hair straight like the way commercials were strongly advertising like Revlon, Dark & Lovely and Ultra Sheen,” she says.

Dowdell-Williams draws a correlation between natural hair and mother-daughter bonding. The healthy hair regimen she grew up with helped bring her closer together with her mother. Every two weeks her mother would shampoo, condition and style her hair. In those couple of hours, they would talk and enjoy each other’s company.

“This intimate time together was a core necessity to our values and helped with establishing the family closeness,” she said.

Originally wanting to be a business attorney, Dowdell-Williams had a creative side that was hard to silence. By the time she was well into her degree, the money from hair braiding was a welcomed income — especially when she became pregnant. When the realities of being a young mother arose, she was able to step up to the plate and take care of her young family even if that meant putting college on hold.

Some may call it a gift, but she is able to duplicate a hairstyle after only seeing it once no matter how intricate the style may be. This caused a stir in Tallahassee and her hairstyles could be seen all over North Florida. Dowdell-Williams wanted to make her skills for styling and braiding natural hair legitimate with some sort of license that would make it official.

Unfortunately, Florida in the early 1990s had no such certification. Today, however, there exists a 16-hour certification course that will give you a license to practice your craft. So off Dowdell-Williams went to Atlanta to enroll herself in Taliah Waajid’s highly intense hands-on natural hair and braiding workshop. She was so ahead of her time in Florida that salon owners were apprehensive about her and her credentials. Undaunted, she started working from home and became a self-sufficient, self-employed businesswoman. When she attempted to try working again in other people’s salons, she felt out of place. The service that she provided could be executed with minimal amenities. If the electricity went out, who cares; if the water stopped running, so what. None of this affected how Dowdell-Williams performed her job.

Salon owners didn’t know what to charge her for booth rental, not even the so-called top-notched salons. Those days are now a thing of the past. Hair braiding is now at the forefront of many salons. Once women realized that the chemicals only weakened and caused breakage to their hair, they began to seek natural alternatives. Also what helped to usher in an era of natural hair was when a few of the Cosby kids were seen sporting braids. The craze took hold and it hasn’t dissipated.

“I could see my well-mastered style of braiding being placed on the heads of the ladies with relaxers who wanted to give their hair a break from chemical services,” she said.

When the braid craze started to take hold, Dowdell-Williams didn’t do too much natural hair except for children’s because everyone wanted to wear braided styles. So one day, she was looking through some Florida State Board materials and saw a place in St. Petersburg called Mya’s Hair Braiding Institute that provided a 16-hour hair braiding certification. Dowdell-Williams decided to attend the school and take a mini vacation and visit some family. Some of the people in her class were from well-known natural hair salons such as Simply Natural and Anako Nappy.

With certification in hand, she returned to Tallahassee and opened up her first salon in 2001 called Naturally You. She was so sure of her talents that she convinced a friend to leave her corporate job and join her. Her exact words were: “We can do this!” She and her business partner sought out the industry’s top forerunner, Anita Hill Mosely of BAD (Braids and Dreads) that is located in Richmond, Va. There Dowdell-Williams learned the ins and outs of the hair braiding business.

It was almost like a secret society. No one wanted to show you anything, nor did they offer any tips for natural hair and braiding,” says Dowdell-Williams.

Upon returning to Tallahassee, Dowdell-Williams and her business partner were determined to make Naturally You one of the top salons in the area, and that is exactly what they did.

“One unique thing that we did was host a monthly meet-up group called ‘In the Kitchen.’ This group of clients, potential clients and ourselves would sit and have group discussions on what to do with their hair on different levels of hair care. Our business thrived and we offered all forms of natural hair care services; we also trained potential stylists in skills, techniques and the business of working in and operating a natural hair salon.”

Loving My Hair

With no regrets, she left her salon in 2008 and finished her degree at FAMU. In 2010 she graduated and returned home to St. Petersburg. She began working as an independent stylist at Hair It Iz Salon and shortly after took over the very same salon, christening it Loving My Hair Natural Hair Studio, located at 3429 11th Ave. N. in St. Petersburg.

“The one thing I often tell people when they say that they want to go natural. I stop them and say, ‘no you were born natural, and that you are returning back to what you were created with.'”

Loving My Hair offers a wide range of chemical-free services such as protein and hydrating treatments, traditional lock maintenance, natural hair styling, braids, protective styles and twist. Her goal is to help men, women and children sustain the healthiness of their hair. When this mother of five is not creating masterpieces in the salon, she enjoys kicking her heels up and spending quality time with her family.

On Sundays, you can find Dowdell-Williams and her family visiting with her mother at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, where the pastor is Dr. John A. Evans Sr. Remembering how rough it was for her to break into the business, in the future, Dowdell-Williams would like to empower the youth with entrepreneurial and business skills so that they may be able to build wealth in an industry that is in high demand. Hold on that’s not it!

Always on the cutting edge, Dowdell-Williams will be hosting St. Petersburg’s first Natural Hair Health and Beauty Expo March 9 from 8-7 p.m. at the Hilton in downtown St. Petersburg, 333 1st St S. Hosted by Dowdell-Williams and local author of “Cubicle Diaries” William Walker, the daylong event promises to be informative and entertaining. There will be free educational workshops, a vendor fair, health screenings, live performances, swag bags, a barber showcase, a fashion show and much, much more. There will also be a kick-off 50th birthday celebration with a celebrity comedian. You don’t want to miss that!

One of the main sponsors for the event is The Black Shopping Channel, which recently launched in January. CEO Cleaved Garret will be there introducing his new channel for potential designers and inventors to showcase their products.

You think Dowdell-Williams is done? I don’t think so.

For more information about the expo, or if you would like to make an appointment to get your hair styled, please call 850-212-5712.

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