Lorraine Massey: “One Curl at a time”

I believe anybody that has hair has the potential of having uniquely amazing hair no matter what hair type you naturally have. You have to accept what you have residing on top of your head, completely surrender to its uniqueness and read Curly Girl the Handbook. Curls are like having a garden on top of […]

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I believe anybody that has hair has the potential of having uniquely amazing hair no matter what hair type you naturally have.

You have to accept what you have residing on top of your head, completely surrender to its uniqueness and read Curly Girl the Handbook. Curls are like having a garden on top of your head and sometimes we can have different kinds of roses all in the same garden. You may find that you may also have varying curl types. Observe them and allow them to be, do not try to change them because you cannot make a pear tree into an apple tree. The more you go against them, the worse for wear they will be. Stop treating your hair like laundry and wean yourself off the use of straightening implements, and harsh detergent shampoos filled with sulfates.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorraine Massey.

Lorraine a pioneer in the booming Curly Girl movement, created the CG Method, which has since been adopted by hundreds of stylists worldwide. Lorraine is the sole owner of Spiral (x,y,z), a multidisciplined salon, and founder of CurlyWorld, a line of haircare products. Lorraine spends her days teaching the Curl by Curl method to stylists worldwide. Curly Kids is her third book, following bestsellers Curly Girl: The Handbook and Silver Hair: A Handbook with Michele Bender. For more information visit Lorraine Massey at curlyworld.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Lorraine! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The bain of my existence eventually became the vein of it. The disdain of my own hair brought me to this career path. It basically chose me. From the first moment I could look in the mirror, I remember seeing this thing on my head that I felt didn’t reflect what I was supposed to look like — and that was long black Polynesian hair; not these crazy curls? All of my siblings had straight hair. Was I mixed up at the hospital?

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

A curly-haired male came to me for a haircut because he had just heard about my No-ShamPoo philosophy at a dinner party. A female friend repeated what I had told her: if she wanted to have fabulous, healthy curls she shouldn’t ever use traditional shampoo because they contain harsh detergents called sulfates that dry out already naturally dry hair causing the F word — FRIZZ!

His name is Alan Salkin and it turns out the haircut inspired him to pitch and write an article for the NYTimes that not only changed my life but the lives of all my business partners and associates at the time. The phone went from 50 calls a day to over 1,000 and so on. That grassroots company I created, which started in my 5-floor walk up, later sold for over 300 million dollars in 2017.

Even though I was not a part of that buy out for reasons I cannot disclose now, but one day will, I was proud to have created something that was once so special and had generated many great outcomes, for the most part.

Since then I have created another product company that is much more natural and personalized called CurlyWorld. I also teach the Curl by Curl method at my new salon Spiral xyz in New York City.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

The tipping point was being an overworked, in-demand stylist that wanted to deliver quality, one on one personalized attention to my clients. Because of that NYT article and my book, Curly Girl the Handbook, the Curly Girl Method had started to create such a demand for curl stylists that everyone in the salon was booked a year and a half in advance, which for a salon is a really great problem to have, but burn out was inevitable. Also a big part was the psychology of being curly and past traumatic hair events since we were not trained therapists. Myself and my curl stylist colleagues were the initial educators of the Curly Girl Method and the Curl by Curl cut and as we stayed very busy day in day out, other things were happening behind the scenes I was unaware of resulting in me leaving the company in 2013.

However, the salon alone couldn’t house the demands because there are millions if not billions of curly heads on the planet and only a handful spoke naturally curly. People fly in from all over the world to see their favorite stylist. It’s very emotional when a Curly Girl/Guy finds a curl stylist coaching them like a personal trainer into curlove.

Over the last 15 years there has been major growth in curly education but still not enough to cater to the millions/billions who are indeed 100% naturally curly.

Traditional hairdressing education is very archaic — the curriculum still pursuing and teaching old schools hairdressing techniques. One of these techniques is blowfrying, which is trying to reduce everyone’s hair into a straight, one dimensional flattened line. When it’s cut wet, it not only contracts and springs upwards many inches once it dries, but it frizzes outwards too! We are also taught to perm hair that does not need to be permed and chemically relax hair that does not need to be subdued into a straight-jacket. Using razors and heat tools like blowfryers (my word for blow dryers) and flat irons to attack the hair only creates more destruction and damage. I used to say naturally beautiful hair is an endangered species as I longed to see curls in their natural habitats.

It’s a vicious cycle to assume that you don’t like the hair that you were born with and that your hair’s natural texture is a problem to be fixed. That’s what many traditional hairstylists assume when they see curly, wavy and kinky hair whereas I see it as hair that just needs to be understood and accepted just like any other body part.

In your experience what were the most effective ways for your business to generate leads and sales? Can you share a story or give an example?

“Blowfry your curls and you may be happy for a day (if it’s not raining). Learn to love your curls and you’ll be happy for life.”

Education and unlearning was a huge part of the growth of the curl industry.

Again it all starts in school. We are taught to straighten everyone out, and temporarily flatten those follicles so it may look good for that 10-minute stretch until you leave the salon, but what about the rest of the time? This is why the Dry Bar was created. The revenue of Dry Bar is over 200 million dollars a year in the USA alone, because they’ve been able to market effectively to the vulnerable curly girl who keeps the hair industry in the billion-dollar range.

Curly Girls become addicted to having their hair straightened because they cannot get that kind harsh pull and tug flat hair fix themselves. I call it the Cinderella complex because they will always have to rely on someone else to do their hair, to come and rescue them from the dreaded curl. If you think about it the only people in blowfry bars are curly, because women with naturally straight hair wouldn’t even think about going for a blowout.

Wherever there is a straightening implement, flat iron or round brush there is a Curly Girl nearby waiting to happen. My salon became a kind of anti-salon because over time that kind of abuse adversely affects the hair’s organic fiber and natural form. The result is parched, dry hair that will cause sparseness at the scalp from all the pulling, major breakage and severe dryness. Many curlies would come to the salon, not always because they wanted to, but because their hair was severely damaged and the only alternative was to try to embrace the hair texture they were born with or wind up with no hair at all.

At the beginning, the salon waiting area often felt like an emergency room with hair needing code blue resuscitation. Every single curly that came into the salon got a personalized hands on education of understanding their own hair foliage from cleansing, conditioning and styling applications and daily curl hacks and night time routines.

This part of the service is crucial and goes way beyond the salon so when they’re at home they can do it themselves and become self-sufficient, with healthy hydrated, defined bouncy curls every day. You are the one that gets in the shower, you are the daily guardian. A curl stylist helps with education and as a curl educator and stylist, you will notice your client base expanding exponentially because so many other curlies notice and chase them down the street to ask them what they do and where they go. It’s been a grassroots movement. Curly Girls love sharing their hair discovery stories and how to’s because they know they were in the dark about their own curls once upon a time — that is truly curling it forward.

The sales of Curly Girl Handbook have grown over the last 20 years. Interestingly enough it was number one on Amazon in England in 2019 (the UK had been experiencing very hot summers)

Why now? I have always been tongue in cheek about mentioning Curly Girls going natural during hot and rainy summers and the subsequent onset of global warming. With the humidity and constant water molecules in the atmosphere due to rising sea levels the CG would have no choice but to start to embrace what she has. The nature of curls will make the decision for us otherwise it will be a lifelong battle because you have to live with yourself for eternity and nature will always win in the end.

The Curly Girl Method has generated millions if not billions of dollars in the hair industry just by putting those three letters on their product line, website, and social media.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

David Schiller, a curly guy client who suggested on several occasions I write a book about curly hair and my simply unique approach and cutting techniques. At first I believed I could never do that; I never went to school and I can’t write properly, but David would keep encouraging me to come and meet his beloved boss Peter Workman, the late owner of Workman Publishing who published that first book as well as my two other books that followed. The rest is history

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

When I first moved to New York I worked at a salon that had three levels — a basement where I worked, the street level, and a mezzanine and where you worked was evident of rank.

It was Halloween and Mrs. Quantum (name change) was recommended by her two daughters to come and see me for a haircut. She was and still is the most elegant, sophisticated woman I have ever met. Since it was Halloween, the salon dressed up, and coming from England this was a dream come true. We love drag and dress up; Monty Python was my ultimate favorite and was always my go-to for dress-up parties.

So I decided to dress as a nun — I wore fake round glasses and put black gum on my tooth. To top it off, I was pregnant at the time. Mrs. Quantums face was in utter disdain when she first met me. She looked me up and down and questioned if I was the one really cutting her hair. She sat down, told me her preference, I made some suggestions and we never spoke again. I ended up giving birth to my first child, Kaih the next day.

Three months later she came back and told me she didn’t want to like her cut and didn’t want to see me again but she reluctantly expressed that she’s never loved her hair more. Despite the fact that I dressed in a way that may have disrespected her religious beliefs because of my Halloween outfit, I still have the privilege of seeing her, her daughters, son-in-law, and now her grandchildren to this day.

The takeaway is you can often give a great haircut/ service but personalities can clash. If you are talented and truly care about the person you are working on they are more likely to give you another chance. I am so grateful she did.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. 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?

When you are transitioning from a glorified laundry hairdresser who is only washing and ironing everyone out to straight flat lines to a full on encouraging curl stylist, you may experience a lot of backlash from those you have trained to be addicted to the blowfry. You may even lose some clients at the beginning but I guarantee they will find their way back to your caring chair. Straightening curly hair is an endless battle resulting in an inevitable truth that curls are not going away. If you are a hairdresser and you have not taken any curl training and like any updates in our technology I think it’s important that you update your data to learn the skill and knowledge of all curl types. Because all those clients who you are blowfring straight are your future curly girls.

Can you please share “Five Things Anyone Can Do To Have Fabulous Hair”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

I believe anybody that has hair has the potential of having uniquely amazing hair no matter what hair type you naturally have.

First things first, stop using silicone based shampoos and conditioners. Look for vegan, plant based products that contain these ingredients: Aloe vera, coconut water (not oil), the Resurrection Plant, and bamboo fibers. Look for water soluble products that evaporate naturally from the hair, leaving no build up or residue and look for products that disclose their ingredient list. Avoid synthetic fragrances in your hair products.

Another thing to avoid is heat styling and other harsh tools. When you heat style — whether straightening, blowfrying, curling, relaxing — over time it will damage the hair and fray your hair cuticles. You might see hair loss and an inflamed scalp. With curly hair, avoid brushes, which tend to anybody that has hair has the potential of having uniquely amazing hair no matter what hair type you naturally have.

You have to accept what you have residing on top of your head, completely surrender to its uniqueness and read Curly Girl the Handbook. Curls are like having a garden on top of your head and sometimes we can have different kinds of roses all in the same garden. You may find that you may also have varying curl types. Observe them and allow them to be, do not try to change them because you cannot make a pear tree into an apple tree. The more you go against them, the worse for wear they will be. Stop treating your hair like laundry and wean yourself off the use of straightening implements, and harsh detergent shampoos filled with sulfates.

Start to observe your hair’s natural foliage. When you get out of the shower, the ocean or pool, that is when your hair is in its truly natural state. Are your curls looser around the temples and tighter at the nape or vice versa? Is frizzier and dryer on the top canopy with a constant halo? Is it dryer in parts than others? You are the guardian and you are the one that gets in the shower with it every day of your life and ultimately no one can know it better than you do.

Find the right sulfate and silicone free products that both you and your hair agree with and stay in process and consistency for at least 2 months. This will start to change your hair habits as you begin to cultivate a muscle memory with your curls. Once you begin to notice how hydrated. frizz-free, defined and bouncy they are, you’ll never want to go back to The exhausted ways of blow drying it and keeping your hair out of the natural environment it so greatly wishes to be a part of. Hair is an ecosystem, because knowing and not doing is worse than knowing at all.

Curls are green; no plug-ins and no sulfates that hurt our waters. Curls are yours completely for free and that is priceless.

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

  1. Often people closest to us can say detrimental things about our hair and can take a lifetime to overcome self-esteem issues. Stop listening to the opinions of others about how you should look and say ‘I appreciate the opinion you keep to yourself’
  2. Study nature. When you begin to study nature, the greatest equalizer ever, you start to begin to see how intertwined we are and that we are a part of nature not apart from nature.
  3. One Curl at a time. The Curly movement is still grassroots. There is still a lot of misinformation out there that has over complicated something that is and will always be a very simple 3 step process: Cleanse, Condition, and Style

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I spent 3 years raising money for Keep a Child Alive. Every single haircut was donated to this organization. When I met Mum Carol who had the orphanage in Africa she showed me many pictures of the kids she was looking after and I couldn’t help but notice a lot of the girls and women wearing very straight wigs. Being a curly advocate it was a big surprise to me and I wondered how they were able to afford these wigs. Mum Carol stressed that these girls want to feel like every other girl and some of them have aids. She also told me that the donations did not go towards the wigs and that the girls often sold their bodies in order to buy these wigs. This was most upsetting to hear.

So my dream would be to go to Third World countries with ‘Curls without borders’ where water sources are very scarce and to teach girls and women how to love the hair that they have. Perhaps even teach them a haircare livelihood or skill that they could use and pass on to teach others in their communities and look at local resources where we could use what’s is grown around them and help them make their own products and such.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I dislike when people say fake it until you make it, instead why not say Faith it until you make it.

Have faith in what your vision is, stay true to it, do not sway with the ever current trends and stay in your core belief. After all, curls are not a trend, curls are a lifestyle.

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. 🙂

I am originally from the UK and Richard Branson is my biggest inspiration now and always. He is a natural wavy boy and he has this undeniable brilliance of seeing and creating things we are all craving but don’t know it yet. At one point in NYC I named one of my salons in hopeful projection of possibly one day pitching this idea to him.

I think he would understand the massiveness of the ongoing plight of the Curly Girl/Guy because it’s a lifestyle and his daughter has curly hair with similar corkscrew hair to mine (she wears it very straight now but just because you can’t see it visually, doesn’t mean it’s not there). I think he would understand that if we had more salons that truly catered to naturally curly hair with a whimsical educational twist like Virgin and a Genius Bar like understanding of each curl type and matching products (especially in England/Europe where the weather is always frizzling/drizzling) the curlies would come out in droves. Then together with Virgin Air/Trains and buses we could connect the whole experience to personalized travel, hospitality, theatre, gallery openings, restaurants, etc. It could be very profitable.

Once a curly trusts and is comfortable with their Curly Girl Method stylist they will travel halfway around the world to see them. I still have the privilege of seeing clients for 30 years in NYC who came to see me in my five floor walk up on Sullivan Street in the West Village.

There are very few salons that actually cater to the Curly Girl. There is simply not enough of us as it is still very much grassroots; one curly telling another. Here we are, we have taken man to the moon, we can clone people, and soon with Mr. Branson’s ingenuity we may be possibly traveling intergalactically but we still can’t figure out the natural curl.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please visit



Facebook: Curly Girl: The Handbook — curlywhirledtour on instagram

Twitter: @LorraineMassey

Instagram: @curlyworldllc

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