When Linwood Darkis was only 17 years old, he was fully licensed to work as a cosmetologist. After learning how to braid at the age of 5, Darkis said that he would braid anything he could get his hands on — curtain tassels, carpets and friends’ hair.
But when he was going through his cosmetology program in high school, he noticed nobody was teaching how to braid or do a proper press. All of the mannequins he learned on had straight hair — even if the mannequin’s skin tone was Black.
“It was like, OK, well, we checked the box, there you got some diversity,” Darkis explained to In The Know. “It just wasn’t really happening for us.”
Now Darkis teaches at the same program he graduated from in Killeen, Texas. Even though he graduated over two decades ago, he still found himself getting frustrated with the fact that he was only able to teach high school students using straight hair.
“I started researching and trying to find mannequins that I felt would serve well,” Darkis said. “I found some where their hair looked like it would serve the purpose I needed when it was in the photos, but then when I shampooed it and got it home, it was like a looser curl than mine.”
The quality of the mannequins wasn’t great either.
“I just wanted to know, like, when can we get a mannequin that my students can learn natural hair on, and so I started reaching out to manufacturers,” he said.
After about a year of getting turned down, Darkis finally created a mannequin that’s pretty close to what he wants for his students.
“I’m so thankful that it’s been able to fill an option of the market, but I would love to see some of these different mannequin makers do better with their product and create something that the market is looking for,” he said.
It’s not just students in Texas either. Darkis runs several popular social media accounts where he demonstrates hair techniques. Initially, he started posting videos because he couldn’t give every one of his 70 students one-on-one time, but since then, he’s grown a big following of both aspiring cosmetologists and people who simply want to learn how to do their own hair.
“The students that this makes the biggest difference for is the ones who they get to learn how to care for their own hair as well as how to care for a client’s hair that’s going to come into their salon,” Darkis said. “It starts not just in cosmetology school. It starts with things that we’re putting out in the public. It starts with how we share about our hair and how we’re willing to educate people about it.”
Another impact on making hair education more widely known? It addresses the incorrect stereotype that Black hair is “unprofessional.” For more than 40 years, Black employees have continually filed cases against their workplaces to fight for the right to wear their natural hair.
For example, there is a case from 2013 that was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Chastity Jones against her new employer, Catastrophe Management Solutions. The company had just hired her as a customer service representative but under the condition that she cut off her locs. When Jones refused, the company rescinded her job offer and allegedly told Jones, “They tend to get messy,” in relation to her hair.
“I think that’s a huge part of why so many people act like our hair is not professional, or they act like our hair is not well-groomed,” Darkis explained. “I think it comes down to a lack of education and honestly ignorance on their part.”
Since Jones’ case, more government entities have strived to protect culturally specific hairstyles as being “inextricably tied to race” and the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
“That education piece has to include us, especially considering the fact that we are some of the largest consumers in the beauty industry. How are you going to sell us products, and you’re not even learning how to take care of our hair,” Darkis said. “When it comes down to it, our industry has neglected to care for us. Our industry has neglected to care for coily fabrics of hair [and] that’s not acceptable.”
The Black hair care industry is worth more than $2.5 billion.
“I’m tired of feeling like we got to play catch up to learn how to take care of our own hair and learn how to care for the hair that’s out here in the communities that we serve. That’s not acceptable anymore.” Darkis said. “This isn’t some outlandish thing to ask for.”
In The Know is now available on Apple News — follow us here!
If you enjoyed reading this article, check out In The Know’s story on Miss Nevada being the first openly transgender Miss USA contestant.
More from In The Know: