Carlisha A. Duffey of Southern Girl Natural Hair Studio: “Our hair reflects our culture and heritage”

Our hair reflects our culture and heritage. Our curls are unique and different from head to head even within one family. It is who we are — no matter the texture. For so long, society has tried to dictate who we are without understanding the deep meaning we associate with our hair. As a part of our series […]

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Our hair reflects our culture and heritage. Our curls are unique and different from head to head even within one family. It is who we are — no matter the texture. For so long, society has tried to dictate who we are without understanding the deep meaning we associate with our hair.

As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination ”I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlisha A. Duffey. She has been specializing in Natural Hair Care for more than six years and her salon, Southern Girl Natural Hair Studio, is located inside Sola Salon Studios in Topeka, Kansas. She is dedicated to educating, empowering and encouraging women and children to love, cherish and nurture their hair’s natural texture. Celebrating diversity is her salon’s mission and embracing everyone’s unique attributes is a powerful message Carlisha hopes to continue to spread in her community.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit of your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I was born in Dallas and spent most of my time between there and Houston, where I fulfilled most of my schooling. I have two sisters and three brothers and the majority of my family lives in Dallas. I grew up with many special interests — most of which I still have to this day. If I had to describe myself, I’d say I am an Athlete, Artrepreneur (artist+ entrepreneur) and Author. I come from a large family full of creative minds and I’ve been blessed to have inherited many of their gifts and talents.

Can you tell us a story about what inspired you to become a natural hair advocate?

When I was four years old, one of my aunts decided to put a relaxer on my hair without either of my parent’s permission. Fast forward some years and I started to experience breakage and a number of other issues. At that time, my mother wasn’t well informed of how to properly care for our hair, and neither was I when I started doing my hair in my teens. As fate would have it, swimming was one of my primary sports. My hair just continued to break off from being exposed to chlorine as well as the relaxers. When the Natural Hair movement began, it wasn’t on my radar. However, my mom and younger sister took notice. After finally getting fed up with my hair, I woke up and had a friend cut off anything that was not curly.

Doing my big chop was freeing. I broke free from the stigmas placed on my hair and the pressure to maintain straight hair. In its natural state, my hair was thicker, healthier and grew passed my relaxer length within the first year of me embracing my natural curls. I then realized I knew nothing about hair care products nor how I should be caring for my hair. Years passed and I attended cosmetology school thinking I would be educated on the texture of my hair, so I too could help others. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive the education I had hoped for. I learned from studying my family’s hair more than I did in beauty school. We all have different curls and products reacted differently on each of our heads. As my family began to have conversations about our hair, my mom said, “I didn’t know that if I had just stopped applying the relaxer on your hair, it would have been fine after the initial relaxer.” That statement really stayed with me because it showed me how much we had to learn about our hair and that it was up to us to stay informed and find the hair care routine that worked best for us.

Working in salons, I noticed that others were searching for stylists who could work with natural hair and had a deep understanding for what you should and shouldn’t do. The problem was I often found myself being the only one with this knowledge and passion. That’s when I made the decision that when I opened my own salon I would emphasize that curls of all kinds would be welcomed and cared for. I wanted to share my personal journey and struggles I had been through and let the natural hair community know that a relaxer was not their only option.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One story that sticks out is when I found out I was nominated for Makeup Artist of the Year and Photographer of the Year at the Midwest Hairstyling Awards. Initially, I wasn’t going to submit, but a fellow Sola Salon Studios owner encouraged me to enter or she was going to do so for me. I did my research and decided to give it a try. I am around talented stylists all the time and am often in the mindset that I still have a lot to learn. However, Erin inspired me to just go for it and I did. I didn’t expect to be selected — let alone in two categories! I often don’t feel good enough, but being selected as a finalist encouraged me to believe in myself a bit more than I had in the past. The day I found out, I was braiding a client’s hair and my clients all know I won’t answer my phone unless it’s a family emergency. My phone kept buzzing so I looked to see what was going on. It was the announcement of the finalists. I started screaming and ran up and down the hallways trying to find Erin to give her the big news. Everyone was opening their suites trying to figure out what was happening and once we filled them in on the announcement, they joined in with the screams. It was one of the best moments of my life, especially because both submissions were of natural hair. I will never forget that day.

As an influencer, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

My advice to others is to know what you want and work for it. I’m often doing soul searching to make sure what I am doing is in line with what I love. Sometimes if I’m off, I’ll make a course correction — which is totally ok! I leave places I have outgrown and am constantly connecting and researching veteran stylists that are doing what I want to do. Staying focused and on track is important for me so I can get to where I want to be. It won’t be easy and I promise, you will have both good and bad days. However, remember you are your only limit and you are your only option. Be your own rescue and make it happen.

Can you share 3 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Beauty starts within and if you are having a day where you don’t feel beautiful, take inventory of your mind and have a conversation with yourself. My mom calls it mirror work. Her technique is to stand in front of a mirror and tell herself affirmations. For me, I have more of a figurative mirror. I picture myself in my mind and will read empowering books and have conversations with the words on the page. I watch inspiring movies or tv shows and find characters I identify with and draw from within. Quotes on Pinterest are also a go-to for me because I believe that sometimes you are the only one that can encourage yourself. I find things from the areas in my life that interest me and I find myself from within them. Loving myself without external influence and listening to what’s happening on the inside gets me through those hard days.

2. Find what makes you feel beautiful. Putting on clothes that I feel most comfortable in is a great and easy way to boost my confidence and feel beautiful. Don’t worry about looks and only focus on your own personal comfort. The last thing you want to do is put on something that reminds you of what you don’t like about your body or yourself. I have certain articles of clothing that I will buy in every style and color because even on my worst day, they still make me feel like me.

3. Make yourself a priority. 2020 has turned things upside down for many of us, but if there’s one thing I learned was to prioritize myself (both mentally and physically). If there’s something someone is asking of me and it’s not in my heart, I tend to lose my peace and get frustrated immediately. That request now gets a NO! 2020 helped me make myself a priority. I decided that all that I give to others, I will now give to myself. I say no to things that disturb my peace or conflict with my schedule. I make time to do what I love, like swimming, ice skating, reading books and having more quiet time to myself. Even if something unexpected comes up, I go exercise and then come back to try to work it out. In the past, I would have just worked and worked, but now I tackle things in my everyday life differently.

Can you share with our readers some of your techniques to style natural hair? When styling natural hair, the products you use are extremely important. I prefer to utilize Alikay Naturals and if I have a client that wants to just rock their curls, I make sure I use Lemongrass Leave-In Conditioner. I spray at the root first and finger comb it to distribute the product. Very rarely do I pick up a comb or brush to style curls. To reduce breakage and the formation of knots and tangles, finger combing section by section is the best technique to follow.

If I am about to do two-strand twists on hair that is curly, but not kinky, I use Shea Yogurt Moisturizer. It is lightweight and nourishes the curls without unnecessary weight. For clients that have kinky hair, I will use the Loc Butter instead. Even though it says locs, the product can be used on twists as well. Kinky hair needs the added weight. For two strand twists and / or braids, I will often use a paddle or Denman brush — depending on the texture. The brush creates a smooth palette for the twists.

Can you share some of your techniques about how to best maintain natural hair?

The best way to maintain natural hair is to wear a silk or satin bonnet to bed. If your hair needs to be refreshed, the Lemongrass Leave-In Conditioner is a great option to refresh your curls without the need to co-wash. Co-washing refers to washing your hair simply with conditioner or a product designed as a co-wash, like Alikay’s Co-Wash Me Cleansing Conditioner. It is best to wash your hair once every week or biweekly. Even if you co-wash throughout the week, you will still need to shampoo and condition your hair. It’s important to understand that co-washing does not replace shampooing and conditioning.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can help articulate to our readers your “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination”. If you can please share a story or example, for each.

1. Our hair reflects our culture and heritage. Our curls are unique and different from head to head even within one family. It is who we are — no matter the texture. For so long, society has tried to dictate who we are without understanding the deep meaning we associate with our hair.

2. Our hair not fitting society’s standards is based on the society that is built. It is our right to be ourselves, just like it is your right to be who you are without discriminating against the other person. We are all created equally, but it does not mean that because we look different we must all conform to a man-imposed, idealized standard.

3. The discrimination stems from the racism that is the foundation of this country. Hair discrimination targets Black and Brown people. Some white people tend to not be comfortable with our unique cultural attributes, so they create laws and rules so they can be more comfortable. They rather silence our voice and heritage than accept us for who we are. The question is: why is it such a problem that we look so different? What exactly is wrong with our texture and who are you to decide how we should carry ourselves? Who is creating the standard of what is and what should be? Why is their voice more important than the individual who has the right to be themselves?

4. Somewhere along the lines, someone forgot we are human beings too. Looking back in history, there are certain races that haven’t had to fight for basic human rights like we have. They were simply given those rights. What’s important for everyone to understand is that decades ago and today, we were and still are all humans. To have laws preventing something as basic as my hair being styled a certain way is a reminder that we are still not where we should be nor are we perceived as human beings by all. We still have a long way to go, but as we continue to unite, things will begin to change. They already have.

5. Asking someone to not touch my hair is a part of our culture. In our culture, our hair is sacred. It is a violation of personal space when someone reaches out and touches our hair. Ask and don’t expect the answer to be yes. Chances are it will be a no and it’s important to respect that boundary. Having to have this conversation is once again a reminder that to some people in our country, we are not equal to them. They don’t want to accept our differences. Those who don’t accept us for our differences are the ones that need to change and examine the root issue of why they feel this way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? Be Your Own Rescue is a life lesson quote I admire and implement into my everyday life. I was going through a challenging time in my life and my life coach said, “Be your own rescue.” Hearing those words changed my life. It was like a lightbulb came on and sparked a new profound meaning to what I do and how I do it. My focus shifted and I began to create the life I wanted without looking to others to make it happen for me.

Not long after that, I was watching an episode of ABC’s Scandal, where Olivia Pope was kidnapped and she sees flashes telling her that no one was going to save her and that she had to save herself. This scene drove Be Your Own Rescue deeper into my soul. It sounds funny but how interesting is it that sometimes a show or movie might inspire you to do something different or wake you up to realize that it is all up to you. Now, any time I am feeling down or discouraged, I hear this voice whisper, “Be Your Own Rescue.”

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂 Shonda Rhimes, Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris are some of the biggest names that I’d love to have a private conversation with because they give me hope. I grew up during a time where there were not a lot of black female role models in the world and since then, technology has opened the door for people like me and other black women to discover these powerful figures — Queens as we refer to them in the black community.

I see myself in them. My potential and power are something I feel like I would connect with them on and would love to hear about their own journeys as well — how did they get to where they are, what struggles did they have to overcome. I’d like to hear their stories and learn about their thought process. I would love an opportunity to sit amongst them and soak in their words like a sponge.

I have been a fan of Shonda’s before I knew she was behind Princess Diaries. I watched ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy from day one and now, she took my life to a whole new level with the hit show Scandal. I love her writing and the way her mind works. Michelle Obama leaves me speechless. I am a military wife and I always say, I struggled and endured, but Michelle was the ultimate military wife. Her accomplishments, goals and maintaining her identity despite her husband’s aspirations I know was not easy. Kamala Harris comes from a diverse family background and works in a field dominated by boys, predominately white men. I was so proud of her during the debate — it was kind of like the Super Bowl for me. I would love to know how she embraced her strength and found her voice and confidence. A conversation with any of these ladies would be a dream and honor!

How can our readers follow you online? Follow me on Facebook @carlishaAduffey or @sgnatualhairstudio and on Instagram at @carlishaduffey or @sgnaturalhairstudio. I’m also on Twitter @carlishaduffey. For more information, and to stay up-to-date, visit or

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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