wanted to straighten this hair
and I didn’t want nobody to
From “Tenderheaded” by Nikky Finney
We should all have been afforded a world where Black natural hair is widely accepted and celebrated in all its textured glory, instead of considered something to be conquered and tamed. Virginia Beach born, DMV “urea” bred sisters Rachel Topping and Rikki-Richelle created a community to promote the undoing of these notions. First christened the 4C Hair Club in 2017, the space advanced much needed exchanges on texturism, products and care, and the decolonization of our minds when it comes to our manes in their untouched states.
As the community expanded they were moved to rename it and in doing so seized an opportunity to reclaim a word used to shame our tighter coils— enter, Nappy Head Club. The name change signaled the inclusion of all hair types and the site’s new growth was not only in members but also in scope. While hair is the impetus, Nappy Head Club encourages the detangling of the ways our Blackness as a whole has been weaponized against us and a shedding of the ways we are made to feel unruly, chaotic and unworthy of the space we naturally command.
The word “nappy” has proven polarizing in a necessary way. Through discourse, the goal is to reject conditioning to shrink for the comfort of those less richly textured and melanated. This work is supported by apparel sporting phrases like “Make (insert major city here) Nappy Again,” “Always Black, Never Sorry,” and “You Better Not Be Tender-Headed;” resources for caring for our unique and diverse tresses; and editorial content touching on everything from hair masks to connect to your crown chakra to holistic toolkits for dealing with racial trauma. We wanted to know more from the Nappy Head Club co-founders on what’s next for their community post-Covid, the ways they embrace Blackness beyond hair and the inner workings of their sister bond.
You both were born in Virginia Beach, which is home to some famous creative mavericks like Pharrell, Missy and Timbaland. How has that history in your birth town influenced you, if at all? What do you think is the secret sauce of that locale?
Rachel: You knowwww, they say there’s something in the water! Haha.
But in all seriousness I think it’s because it’s a crossroads of a lot of cultures. We have beach vibes (I grew up calling everyone dude), influence from the south, influence from up north. It’s not just one vibe. It’s really all of them blended together.
You’ve talked about opening a brick and mortar space and expanding your international community—has Covid 19 affected those plans?
Rachel: It definitely has us taking a step back and re-evaluating things. We’ve realized how strong of a community we truly have online and are starting to brainstorm some ways to create those virtual building moments as well as preparing for when it’s time for more physical ones.
We definitely still plan to explore brick and mortar spaces in the future as things evolve.
Nappyhead Club furthers the discussion of embracing Blackness in all areas of life, not just hair—for example, Nina Jordan’s piece about “redefining her faith outside of the context of whiteness.” What are some other ways you’ve had to learn to embrace your Blackness outside of your hair texture?
Rachel: We also talk a lot about embracing taking up space. I, probably like a lot of Black folk, spent a lot of time apologizing for my presence in white spaces. Trying to make sure my aura didn’t stand out, my voice [wasn’t] too loud or too “ghetto,” my interests [weren’t] too predictable and “urban.” I’ve learned over the years that the spaces I want to be in are spaces where I am not required to apologize. I’ve also learned that true talent is valuable, my perspective is valid, and if you focus on your gifts the right opportunities and relationships will manifest and the wrong will move out of the way.
Rachel, you’ve talked about the need for more Black and Afrocentric brands with clean design. What are some Black brands that you’ve seen with an aesthetic that you like?
Rachel: I am happy to say that there really seems to be a newfound uptick in visibility to Black brands with great designs. It’s really exciting and inspiring for me as a designer. Some brands I love are Pyer Moss, Pakkard Studio, Edas, Brick by Dove, Theo Philip and Kid Super.
Rikki, Rachel has credited you with being an inspiration for experimenting with more styles on her hair. What’s one of your go-to styles for 4C hair?
Rikki: My go-to is a bun mohawk. It works well, especially when I’m in a rush, and I always manage to get a compliment when I do.
You both credit your mothers as being one of your greatest influences. What has been their input on Nappyhead Club?
Rachel: My mother was always the type of person to get things done. No complaining. Finding solves, hacks, figuring it out. Watching her attack the world like that really impacted the way I handle challenges when it comes to the brand. There are so many moving pieces with running a business, and it can sometimes feel impossible. But I’m very grateful to have picked up that “roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-it-done” energy from my ma.
Rikki: My interest in activism started very early. I remember being in the 2nd grade and being so inspired by the influential Black leaders we were learning about at that time. This passion is something my mom nurtured early on. So for her now, it’s no surprise that my work focuses on enriching BIPOC. She always encouraged me and my siblings to be entrepreneurs and to have our own. This is part of who I am to this day.
Can you talk about your experience in Ghana for the Year of Return and how, if at all, that trip impacted your work?
Rachel: Wow, where to even start? Visiting Ghana was so many feelings all at once. Emotional, exciting, thrilling, inspiring. Leaving that trip I was inspired to continue to find opportunities to connect the Diaspora. The impact of having been able to step foot back on the continent, re-connect and build, is invaluable. The goal is to weave that experience into everything that Nappy Head Club is all about.
Rikki is super creative. She always has the best off-the-cuff ideas for ways to take things to the next level, creatively. Rachel is incredibly passionate and driven. When she wants to do something she puts 110% into it and I admire that about her! Rachel and I are half-sisters so unfortunately, we didn’t grow up in the same household. It would have been a great experience to have that unlimited access to one another. When Rikki and I were kids, I wish we’d had more time to play in our hair. Hair was always such a stressful and shameful thing for us nappy-headed babes. If we would have had more time and space to explore our hair, and understand it, I bet we would have grown up with a better self image. A lesson I’ve learned from her is bet on yourself. Rikki is definitely the risk-taker out of the two of us, and I admire that. When she has a feeling, she goes with her gut. And as scary as it may seem in the beginning, things always work out for her. I’ve tried to adopt that perspective for myself. A lot of my creativity has been inspired by Rachel. Growing up, I always looked up to her and thought she was so cool. I’d copy everything she did. She has influenced a lot of my passion for art, so it comes as no surprise that we are here now working on Nappy Head Club together. I love when we travel! We always have the most amazing adventures. Not everyone is a great travel partner. Rikki is always down to explore and find the vibe. Being business partners has changed our dynamic, so I enjoy the moments where Rachel and I can put the work aside and hang out and be sisters. I admire that Rikki embodies cool kids don’t have to be assholes. Rikki has such an awesome / badass personal style, when she enters the room her presence is known! But she is also the sweetest most caring person. Rachel and I come from a father who is a total goofball and that’s something that’s rubbed off on us, so I know when something is up whenever she becomes serious. I can tell Rikki’s mood by…if she gets quiet. My favorite memories with Rachel so far have been the experience of creating Nappy Head Club. The brand has given us an excuse to grow even closer and do the things we love together.
My favorite memory with Rikki is Afropunk in Paris. It was one of our first times traveling together and we had such a great time creating Afro-Futuristic looks and connecting (and a lot of partying) with Black folx from all over. We didn’t even realize it in that moment, but the seeds of Nappy Head Club were being sown that entire trip! Being in business with Rachel is great because we have the same taste and our creative direction is very aligned so we don’t spend too much time disagreeing. We always have each other’s best interests in mind and I couldn’t ask for a better partner. It means so much more to be able to build with family! More than wanting to have a successful business it excites me to be creating wealth and opportunities starting at home. I love the idea of us being able to come up together, and Rikki and I share that wealth with our younger sisters, as well. I want Rachel to know that I love her! Lol, I hope she knows that already! But aside from my undying love for her, the experience of growing Nappy Head Club together has changed my life for the best. Before co-founding this brand I was working in hospitality. I hated what I did and at 23, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’ve learned so much about myself and what my purpose is since founding the brand. I want Rikki to know that she is appreciated! Nappy Head Club wouldn’t be what it is today without her creative eye and contributions. Starting a business is hard work, and having a partner to vent with, share the load, ideate with, celebrate with is invaluable. In the next five years, we will hopefully be doing increasingly amazing things with Nappy Head Club. But also reaching our personal growth goals, building on our bond as sisters, and traveling more! In the next five years, I see Nappy Head Club taking off. Rachel and I hope to one day open a brick and mortar to cultivate a safe space for BIPOC that continues to promote positive affirmations.
All photos by Sabreen Jafry
Makeup by Cirsty Burton
Styling by Rikki-Richelle & Nkosi