Vixen Chat: Creators of 'Mixed Chicks' Talk Defining Beauty and Hair Education
Having great hair is no easy task. Being able to manipulate your natural curl pattern is so tough that many of us endured hot combs and relaxers before we got a chance to embrace our natural locs. Kim Etheredge (left) and Wendi Levy (right) understand this dilemma all too, having struggled with various concoction just to get their curly cues to do what they wanted (not the other way around).
Enter Mixed Chicks. A haircare line not just for those stemming from a immediate multiracial heritage, but also for the women who want to moisturize, soften and tackle their natural hair (instead of running to creamy crack). VV caught with the LA-based duo, who recently released a new sulfate-free shampoo, to chop it up about hair, the hurdles of mixed identity and today's definition of beauty. --Niki McGloster
VIBE VIXEN: Because the name is Mixed Chicks, what are you two "mixed" with?
WENDI: My mother is African American and my father is an American Jew.
KIM: My mother’s Irish and my father’s black.
Cool. How long did you guys know each other before you started Mixed Chicks?
W: Kim and I knew each other two years before we started working on mixed chicks.
K: Yeah, maybe even just like a year and a half, a little longer.
How’d you two meet?
W: Well I was close with Kim's sister because we had been working together at a different company, and she took me over to Kim’s house. Kim used to like BBQ and cook, and I love eating, so I met her at her house, eating her food. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I'm a foodie, so I understand! Why did you two decide to go into business together?
W: Sharing the hair stories, the horror stories about curls, having those conversations like, Wow, what do you use? The rest of the world needs to know about this stuff, and somehow we can probably create something 'cause we know exactly what we need. Then Kim was active in finding labs, and we worked back and forth with a chemist. We kept coming up with different samples and altering them slightly, letting our friends sample them and try them. Kim and I knew we had it down when we weren’t getting our samples back, when our friends were stealing them!
During that trial and error phase, during the horror stories, what products were you using, specifically, that phase that just weren't working?
K: We were using so many products, I can’t even give you names. I mean, the thing is we had several products for years. You had a slew of products from this aisle, that aisle. Everyday you could’ve been mixing different products.
W: Yeah it was a concoction. Back when I got a shag in the early ‘80s, I think I really liked some TCB curl activator, then it would give you some kind of residue, then later on, it was like some mixture VO5. You always needed something moisturizing but then something to hold, and nothing was ever quite right. You were just constantly reinventing your concoction. We could just go on and on.
How did you finally educate yourself about your hair and your curl pattern?
W: Oh, you just become self-educated really. Just by trial and error. It’s a way of life almost, when you’re coming up and there’s nothing available for you in the ‘70s. You just become like a professional guinea pig; you just mix and match. My mom, when I was young, actually worked in the beauty industry, so I had a lot of different products and things at my fingertips. As far as us learning which ingredients are responsible for what reaction your hair has, when Kim and I started working on the project, you could Google any ingredient and really learn so much about it and educate yourself about it at home.
Women are flocking to your product like moths to flames, but it’s not just about using the product, it’s about knowing your hair. How did you plan on sharing that education to other women? Would you recommend trial and error for them as well?
W: Absolutely. I would.
K: We really gave them a first big step with one product instead of 10, so they’re able to try with that. It’s about being patient. It’s like women reverting to being natural. Eventually it will happen, it takes time; you have to learn to deal with your hair. Some people don’t have a curl pattern that’s consistent, so sometimes you have to play with that. You have to two-strand twist it, you have to do different things to enhance those curls. But I think that we created a product that kinda works across the board, so it’s all about an individual finding out how much they need for their hair, what tricks they may want to play with their hair and just styling it.
W: It comes down to how much of the leave-in you wanna use, and how you’re gonna apply it, and how you’re gonna dry it and that’s unique for each individual.
Yes, and really taking their time in finding their own pattern. Why do you feel women are embracing their natural hair now more than ever before?
W: The face of America and the face of the world is changing. What’s beautiful is changing, and that’s evident when you think of pageants in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Every woman wore their hair straight. When you think of newscasters, the only way you could succeed would be to not embrace what is natural: press it out, relax, conform to succeed. But it’s not like that anymore. The world is changing and it’s a beautiful thing when you see everybody’s natural beauty, so we totally see it as a movement now. We can see the movement really, really rolling now and find that in our sisterhood now and we like embracing that.
Just as you said, the definition of beauty is really changing. Do you both feel that because there is more of an acceptance of diversity that it's the perfect time for your product to be on the market right now?
K: It’s so funny, just before I answer that... You said something a moment ago that just struck me. Isn’t that crazy that someone’s beauty has to be defined by someone else?
Yeah, it is.
K: I think what’s beautiful is who you are, and I think that’s what’s happening now.
W: Everybody’s embracing that attitude.
K: Yeah, instead of being oppressed.
W: We are having more people speaking out and people are telling you to be you.
K: And that’s the thing about Mixed Chicks. Now you don’t have to choose: are you black, or are you white, or are you this or that? You’re a blend of it all, and we’ve never had that. We’ve been forced to choose since we were children.
Even with high profile celebs like Mariah Carey and Obama, it still seems that young women battle with their biracial identities.
K: But you know that starts at home. You know, it’s all about your parents. I know Wendi has a very strong mother; I had a strong father, and I think it was always [taught] in my household: You are Kim Etheredge, bottom line, nothing else. It never became a color, even though color was an issue, so for me, it wasn’t difficult. I know Wendy was from the east coast. She had different experiences. I grew up in a very blended area. Yes, I can say I had friends since childhood, and we didn’t see color, but you saw the difference when you get to high school. I used to like Adam and Steve, then I used to like Gerald and Marcus [laughs]. But I think it’s really communication with your kids and not telling them to choose, allowing them to be who they are and supporting them in being who they are and that’s what it’s about.
Do you feel you’re driving that message through your hair products, like 'Yo, I’m a mixed chick, and I have things for me, there’s a place for me...?'
W: Yeah, cause we have girls in middle America who say I’m the only one who looks this way. I don’t have anyone else here. When I get on the computer and see you, 'Oh, my gosh. I feel accepted,' I relate. That’s me.
That’s what young girls need just across the board, that self confidence. Now going into the product, can you tell me what your most popular product is that you have in your collection right now?
K: The leave-in conditioner, for sure. That was our original product we created, a styling crème that could moisturize and provide enough hold and definition and control the frizz. That was our original mission because that’s what we thought was lacking in the market, and I guess everybody else agrees, ‘cause that is definitely a top-selling product. The deep conditioner was the next most recognized or appreciated one. That one will soften your hair and make it easier to detangle and people with any texture hair enjoy that, anywhere from straight to coarse that the deep conditioner can really detangle and just control it.
What makes your products different from others that are on the market?
W: We really didn’t create a brand that was to cocktail. We were really trying to clear out people’s medicine cabinet or underneath your sink. We were trying to clean that up for you and not make you have to purchase so many different things. Our leave-in conditioner works on a variety, a spectrum of curl types, and I think that stands us apart. We are our product. It’s a personal need, and we’re always interactive, Kim and I, on the internet to help you understand our product and understand your curls. We’re reachable, and I think a lot of other brands are made in some lab by somebody who knows nothing about us, so I think that makes us stand out.
A lot of celebrities have become fans of Mixed Chicks, too. Which celebrities that are out right now would you be dying to use your products on?
W: Elle Varner. We think her music is incredible, and we know our products could do wonders for her hair.
Yeah, we love her too.
W: You know who I love? There’s some football player with curls running out the back of his helmet. Polamalu from Pittsburgh!
K: I mean there’s a slew of people. You know there’s a lot of people who do use it, we just don’t talk about it and we’re just so happy that they use it.
W: Yeah, even Slash from Guns N' Roses uses it. We’re just happy with the relationship and that they’re clients of ours.
Down the line do you see yourselves collaborating with a any particular artist for a specific collection of Mixed Chicks products?
W: Anything’s possible. Nothing’s out of the question. Kim and I are always trying to expand in different ways. I mean it’s not something we’re actively doing at the moment but yeah anything is possible. It sounds interesting, like an interesting concept.
And your brand is branching out into clothes and dolls. What do you see down the line or what are you guys working on?
W: If we tell you, then there are just so many copy cats out there. We can’t let you know 'til we’re turning left.
But there is more to come?
W: Yes. Kim and I are always looking for a new way to put ourselves out there.
K: We do have a kids line that we’ve created and that’s available at Target and Rite Aid. Our adult line will be available in May in Target.