When you grow up constantly hearing the phrase “pelo malo” or bad hair being thrown around, as many in the Latinx community with curly hair do, it’s hard not to believe there might actually be some truth behind those words. Mariel Mejia knows this first-hand.
Like many curly-haired Afro-Latinas, Mejia spent years straightening her locks to achieve the bone-straight, “well-behaved” hair that has long been considered ideal. But, after seeing how damaged her strands were becoming in her quest for so-called “good hair,” she eventually decided to go the natural route and start embracing her curls.
This decision ultimately led Mejia to launch Pink Root, a texture-inclusive haircare line designed to support customers transitioning chemically-treated or heat-damaged hair back to its natural glory. No longer a believer of bad hair — just bad hair care, Mejia is now focused on helping curly girls everywhere develop a healthy relationship with their hair texture.
To celebrate Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, The Tease had the opportunity to chat with Mejia about her own hair journey, why she strives for inclusivity with her business, and how the hair industry can better cater to Latinx women and their hair.
The Tease: Tell me about how you got started in haircare and what ultimately inspired you to launch Pink Root Products.
Mariel Mejia: I started Pink Root out of frustration with my own hair. I grew up constantly relaxing and straightening my hair because it was considered lesser than. I thought that these methods of altering my texture were perfectly normal up until I was about 18 years old and realized just how much damage this caused my hair, a lot of it being irreversible. I decided that I was going to go natural to try and fix what I had left of my hair. This eventually led me to creating my own formulas in my mother’s Bronx apartment and as I began to notice a dramatic change in my hair, I decided that I wanted to share these formulas with others because I knew I wasn’t the only one who could benefit from them.
As an Afro-Latina woman, what was your relationship with your hair growing up? Did the concept of “pelo malo” or bad hair ever impact how you viewed your hair?
Mejia: Growing up I definitely wasn’t comfortable with my hair. I felt really insecure about my natural hair because it just wasn’t celebrated at the time and I didn’t know the first thing about taking care of it anyways. I was heavily influenced by the “Pelo Malo” mindset and it took me a really long time to grow out of it. As a Dominican-American, going to the hair salon every weekend to get my hair bone straight was a ritual and I was always ridiculed whenever I would show up with my natural curls out. The salon ladies would always make comments about how thick, coarse, and untameable my hair was and would always push me to keep relaxing it so that their job would be easier. I ultimately stopped going altogether once I decided to go natural and just learned how to care for my curls at home.
Your brand caters to all textures and hair types, from wavy to curly to kinks and curls. What was this important to you and how exactly were you able to accomplish this when developing your product formulations?
Mejia: Catering to multiple hair textures was extremely important to me when making formulas because I wanted as many people as possible to feel included in our brand. Growing up, I always felt like women who looked like me or had my hair texture were excluded from a lot of brands up until recently and that always made me feel insecure. When creating Pink Root, I vowed to be as inclusive as possible. Although we are a Latinx/Black created, operated, and owned brand, I still wanted to make sure that anyone would feel comfortable to pick up a bottle of Pink Root.
I was able to cater to multiple textures by carefully choosing ingredients and constantly taking in feedback from users. A lot of consumers think that what works for another won’t work for them, and this holds some truth to it, however I believe that the magic is in the technique. So, someone who has type 2A hair or 4C hair can both use a moisturizing leave-in conditioner, but just may use it in a different method to get their desired results.
What do you think sets Pink Root Products apart from some of the other natural hair brands already on the market?
Mejia: I think what sets us apart is our focus on formulas. When I was working on these formulas, I spent a lot of time playing around with different combinations of oils, butters, proteins, etc. and was consistently taking in feedback from our testers in order to make adjustments. We don’t just purchase our formulas in a batch and stick a label or influencer marketing on them, we genuinely care about what goes in our products because we want your hair to look and feel better over time the longer you use them. We care about our formulas and most importantly, the health of your hair.
What do you wish the hair industry would understand when it comes to Latinx women and their hair?
Mejia: I wish that the beauty and wellness industry as a whole understood that we do not all come in one flavor. The stereotype or image of the average Latina that we have seen in the media up until very recently is not an accurate representation of who we really are as a demographic. We are a very diverse group made up of many different backgrounds and all live very different experiences. It’s important to be able to cater to all these different subgenres — for lack of a better word — when it comes to trying to sell us something because what works for Eva Longoria will not work for Cardi B even though they very much share the same language.
What role do you think you and your business are playing in helping to change the narrative about Latinx representation in the hair industry?
Mejia: I think that we’re helping push the boundaries of Latinx inclusivity within the beauty space. A lot of times, Afro-Latinx are left out of Latinx spaces because people have a hard time placing us somewhere. Over the recent years, I have seen a larger volume of brands and businesses acknowledge their Afro-Latinx roots and this has made a lot of spaces feel more inclusive. While I am definitely not the first Afro-Latina to venture into the beauty world, I feel really proud to be a part of the small group of women representing that demographic.
What’s your message to other Latinx-owned business owners like yourself who are trying to create their own space in the hair industry?
Mejia: The best piece of advice I could give is going to sound super cliche but it’s to just keep going. There have been so many instances in which I have been excluded, told “no,” or where seemingly big opportunities have fallen through. The key is to just keep going. There will always be another door to knock on, another path to reach your goal, and there will always be someone who supports you even when it feels like so many things aren’t lining up. The journey wasn’t meant to be easy, especially for our community, so just hang in there!
What’s next for Pink Root Products?
Mejia: More formulas! Our goal is to keep your hair healthy and we’re passionate about hair care and plan on extending our formula collection. We are hard at work creating new products as well as still considering our customers’ feedback on our current ones. We want to keep your curls poppin!