No parent wants to hear their child say they ‘hate’ any part of themselves, but when Luke Carthy’s son came home crying about his hair during his first week at primary school, Luke could relate all too well.
After having attended a mostly white primary school himself, Luke, who is Black, found his hair became a ‘bit of a fascination’ for his classmates as it ‘behaved so differently to how everybody else’s did.’
Though the interest started out as ‘a bit of fun’, it eventually prompted him to believe that his hair was ‘inferior’, because the products he needed to treat it ‘weren’t available’ as widely as so-called ‘European’ haircare products.
Speaking to UNILAD, the father-of-two said that because he couldn’t get his hands on appropriate hair products without having to embark on ‘a half an hour journey on the bus to find these specialist hair shops’, he grew up ‘not feeling represented, not feeling accessible, not feeling seen.’
Fast forward 20-plus years, and Luke noted that you ‘would assume’ that with ‘progression in culture and society that things would have moved on.’ But when his now seven-year-old son came home in tears, feeling ‘really unsure about himself because he was the only child in his class that had his hair type,’ Luke felt like history was beginning to repeat itself.
Luke further noticed the lack of representation for Afro hair through his daughter, who began asking questions such as ‘why can’t my hair look like that?’ and ‘why can’t my hair be straight?’ after seeing beauty adverts on TV.
Reflecting on the situation, Luke said: ‘It made me realise that things haven’t progressed as far as I’d hoped, and it’s physically on my doorstep now.’
Having previously working in ecommerce, Luke made the decision to set out on his own and create Afrodrops, a company that not only sells Afro haircare products, but also aims to create an accessible community where consumers can be educated on the best haircare for them.
While his children were a huge driving force in his decision to create Afrodrops, Luke also recognised there was a ‘real appetite and demand for knowledge around haircare.’
In contrast to the European haircare products that aim to remove oils, Luke explained that with Afrocentric haircare it is ‘all about retaining that moisture, that oil, the hydration.’ Unfortunately, however, he wasn’t aware of this for the first 21 years of his life, as he noted: ‘You can’t walk into Tesco and read the back of the bottle and find out what you need, it’s just not there.’
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As he grew up, Luke simply copied his parents when it came to treating his hair, using ‘heavy greases’ that left his scalp dry. He used Head and Shoulders shampoo to try and get rid of dandruff, because ‘that was the product on the telly’ that proclaimed to do the trick, but it just wasn’t right for his hair.
It wasn’t until he’d had his son that Luke set out to better educate himself about his haircare, speaking to numerous family members and going out of his way to do research to determine how he could achieve a healthy style. He came to realise that his ‘whole haircare routine up to that point had been completely wrong,’ and that he had to hydrate his hair before using an oil to lock in the moisture.
His newfound knowledge has helped him establish Afrodrops as a space that celebrates ’embracing the hair you were born with.’ He made clear that the company will never sell relaxers that chemically alter or straighten hair, as was common with Black women in decades past.
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Luke hopes one day Afrodrops will offer haircare products of its own brand, but for now it acts as a stockist for other brands that focus on being ethical, prioritising haircare and making a difference, rather than simply churning out products for profit.
Discussing the goals of the company, Luke told UNILAD that Afrodrops aims to ensure customers ‘don’t feel isolated’ because of hair type, and that through the site’s community they can talk about their hair type and their hair challenges and goals in order to learn more about how to look after it.
One example of this education in action was when a customer contacted Luke to discuss haircare for her mixed-race child, who sometimes woke up with their hair so matted the parents had no choice but to cut some of it off.
The mother had attempted to find suitable products for her young son, but she struggled to do so until she reached out to Luke, who recommended some products and helped her find what she needed.
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He explained: ‘She’d realised that her child’s hair was nothing like her own hair, and so it’s like, ‘Where do we go?’ So that is the perfect example of a customer who needed help, and we were able to do so and find products that worked for her child’s hair. That really epitomises what Afrodrops is about. It’s just to help.’
Luke has noticed a trend when it comes to parents attempting to find Afrocentric products for children, as he said ‘you don’t know what kind of hair your kid is going to have until they’re born.’ He explained that ‘haircare isn’t genetic’, addressing customers as he said: ‘If there’s anything I can do to help with product guides, how to work out what hair type you have or how to transition to natural hair, then please reach out, I’d be happy to help.’
When it comes to representation on the high street, Luke drew on his own experiences working in ecommerce and noted that often the issue starts with buying teams, who are in charge of managing stock. He explained that ‘if you haven’t got representation’ in the buying teams, then you have a ‘narrow vision’ when it comes to the products that later appear on the shelves.
Luke explained: ‘I worked for one of the UK’s largest pharmaceutical brands that sold online, and there wasn’t a single Afrocentric product on that website. We had conversations about it and… the answer was: ‘We just don’t know that area. It’s not an area that we specialise in.”
In aiming to offer the representation that he grew up without, Luke hopes Afrodrops will ultimately be seen as a Black-owned service that sells Black-owned products and supports Black communities. Through his company, children like his own will be able to embrace their natural hair, rather than having to struggle with it like he did.
If you’d like to visit the Afrodrops website and learn more about Luke’s work, you can do so here.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]