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Therese Karitanyi of Iraba: “Life is hard enough, and Hair is a big part of how we see ourselves”

There is a certain acceptance that has to be reached and everyone needs to do their part. I recall years ago seeing a picture of someone I knew, on social. She confidently sported a big Afro and I thought…wow, that’s bold! Funny enough, my hair was already natural at that point, but I was still […]

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There is a certain acceptance that has to be reached and everyone needs to do their part. I recall years ago seeing a picture of someone I knew, on social. She confidently sported a big Afro and I thought…wow, that’s bold! Funny enough, my hair was already natural at that point, but I was still seeking to transform it further, with non-permanent treatments. To me, the reaction I had is a real issue. It’s time we upgrade our minds. Thankfully, a lot of progress has been made since, but more work needs to be done. It is unfair to require an individual to reach this acceptance on their own. Society has to help. We need to become aware of our thoughts about hair, and ask ourselves:” What ideas are these thoughts perpetuating?”


As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Understand About Hair Discrimination”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Therese Karitanyi.

Therese is a Product Developer, Systematiser and Strategist who is passionate about leveraging science, tech, and art to create solutions that improve the human experience. She founded Iraba because she knew first-hand what it’s like to be frustrated and confused about natural hair, and believed that people with even the curliest and tiniest of curls deserve a better haircare experience.


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 grew up in Central and East Africa. It was a time of political turmoil so there was quite a lot of instability around me. I was lucky though, to be surrounded by family. Those years taught me to always do my part, and be on the lookout. When the threat of war is always lurking, you quickly learn not to take anything for granted.

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

When I was little, I wanted to see what long natural hair would look like. It was a bit of an enigma for me because long, loose natural hair was uncommon, and as I later understood, unacceptable. Long loose natural hair was considered unkempt so the only options, for a child, were to cut it short, or have it braided. Unfortunately, I happen to have a very sensitive scalp. When I would get my hair braided, spontaneous tears would start rolling down my cheeks on the side they were pulling. This would happen when a specific part of my scalp was pulled tight, and it happened every single time! It’s as if they were pushing a button that triggered the tears to fall. I was really young back then, but that might be the first time I thought to myself…this isn’t right.

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

I was showcasing Iraba Cosmetics at a local store in town one weekend, when a lady approached me and we started chatting. We had a good exchange, and at the end, she suggested that I should go back to school to get a better job so I don’t have to be stuck stopping strangers to tell them about products. She was shocked when I let her know that I own the company that makes these products, that I have in fact finished school, and that I still somehow chose to be there on that day because I thought it was a good way to keep a pulse on what people seem to care about, and also for people to get to know the brand. She could barely believe it, we both laughed, and in that moment, perhaps, her perspective changed. She wished me well, and got on her way. I think about that moment often.

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?

I am actually not an influencer myself, but I am building a platform that could amplify the voices of those influencers and creators who share the ideas that I would like to promote. The only piece of advice I would have would be: Seek to serve. I believe you gain influence by first earning trust. If you are on the path to being an expert, be honest about that process. You don’t have to pretend to know everything, be yourself, and be honest. I think it’s the best way to enjoy the process as well.

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

  1. Look back at old photos of yourself. I’ll quote Mary Schmich’s words: “Trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.”
  2. Own who you are. Confidence is attractive. One of the reasons I enjoy watching Beyonce’s work is that she brings power to whatever stage of life she is in.
  3. Don’t worry if people around you don’t see it, or the internet doesn’t validate it. The most important thing you can have is to feel good about yourself when you are alone with your own thoughts. Find out what that means for you.

Can you share with our readers some of your techniques to style natural hair?

  1. Wet it often, water is your friend. The more you do, the easier it will be to detangle each time.
  2. If you want a low manipulation style, stretch it with twists then tuck the ends to protect them.
  3. Make sure you apply products evenly. I am notorious for skipping entire sections of hair. Don’t be like me, work in sections.

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

  1. Keep your scalp clean, you should know when it’s time to wash it
  2. Use products that will wash out easily. Product buildup will make your hair look dull
  3. Trim the ends if they start to split, it will help with detangling

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. Life is hard enough, and Hair is a big part of how we see ourselves. Not being able to step into the world simply as we are will absolutely spill over in other areas of life. It’s hard enough being a person of color, or a person of [fill in the blank]. All other things being equal, our upbringing and life experiences create enough grief that society not accepting our natural hair can be the straw that breaks the camel back. No one deserves that extra stress.
  2. Natural Hair can require high heat, physical pulling and/or strong chemicals to be permanently transformed. This can take a Health toll on all involved: The transforming, burning, chemical treatments we impose on our bodies are not without consequence, especially when they are not done properly. I worry about both the person receiving the treatments, and about hairdressers who inhale fumes and may not be equipped to protect themselves appropriately.
  3. Hair transformations take a lot of time and resources which could, instead, be spent creating, spending time with loved ones, or working towards something we care about. There is a time and financial toll to constantly having to “better” ourselves. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with wanting a different look for fun, but it’s a different story when we feel we need it to be able to be accepted in our world. There is a big difference.
  4. There is a certain acceptance that has to be reached and everyone needs to do their part. I recall years ago seeing a picture of someone I knew, on social. She confidently sported a big Afro and I thought…wow, that’s bold! Funny enough, my hair was already natural at that point, but I was still seeking to transform it further, with non-permanent treatments. To me, the reaction I had is a real issue. It’s time we upgrade our minds. Thankfully, a lot of progress has been made since, but more work needs to be done. It is unfair to require an individual to reach this acceptance on their own. Society has to help. We need to become aware of our thoughts about hair, and ask ourselves:” What ideas are these thoughts perpetuating?”
  5. It’s tempting to think that this topic is sort of “not that deep”, that it doesn’t really impact society as a whole, but if before we speak, take a picture, post a video, engage with people, or confidently walk into a board meeting, we first must “fix the hair”…whatever that means for us….All of society loses. In those moments, there is a certain amount of bandwidth that is lost when it could’ve been used for common good.

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

I have to credit my people, who have always picked themselves off the ground and kept working hard for a better future. There is a term in Rwanda “Agaciro”, which can be translated as “Self-dignity” or “Self-Worth”. The best quote that describes that principle is: “No one can give you self-dignity, you must give it to yourself. You have the power to acquire it, it is your right, and your responsibility to seek it.”

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. 🙂

Right now: Stacey Abrams. She is a woman on a mission who is shaking her world, one action at a time, and is doing it with the cutest hairdo. I love that she is multi-passionate, that she is a civil servant, a writer, a creator, and a woman with a plan.

How can our readers follow you online?

Sign up to our email newsletter www.irabacosmetics.com, instagram @irabacosmetics and all social channels, we’d love to hear from you!

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


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