Twins and dreads. These aren’t the first things that come to mind when talking high-fashion. But Asha and Ayanna Diaz, budding designers hailing from the “sweet-sweet” sister islands of Trinidad & Tobago, admit that is what intrigues people about their fashion line “Wadada Movement.”
Over a fuzzy Skype line, and with Asha on the run, we managed to chat about everything from how a rocky journey to Rastafari led to their transformation to naturalistas and creating a fashion line that, in 2 years, has showcased in New York, Trinidad and Jamaica.
And in true Wadada style, they’ve juggled the changes and challenges with laughter, grace and a natural flow.
SG: How did you come to embrace your natural hair?
Ayanna: Through Rastafari we grew to embrace our natural essence. When I was eighteen, I decided I wanted to grow my locks. I saw myself going down a different path that I don’t think I should’ve been on. So for me, it was a complete lifestyle change. I was seeking Rastafari before [locking my hair]. I was asking questions…talking to people. When I turned eighteen, I knew this is what I wanted. So I cut all my straight hair off, and I started fresh.
Asha: I started growing my hair in September 2006. It was a time of transition for me. I just graduated from University and I was not sure of my position in the world. But in the end, the decision to lock my hair really wasn’t a decision at all. It was something deep down within me, knowing this is what I had to do and it was the way of life I should be living. It was a decision I was toiling with for a long time, especially since Ayanna had been growing hers many years before.
Ayanna: So her hair is much shorter than mine. Her hair is maybe, like, lower back and mine is like under my “bumpsy.” [laughs]
Asha: It’s been 6 years now and it’s a lifestyle change I have never once regretted.
SG: So, how did you transition? Did you do a big chop? Did you twist?
Ayanna: I cut my hair 2-inches from the roots and just twisted it. And that’s it. I put it in a tam for almost 2 years and I left it. My sister, she actually twisted hers straight on the ends. But for some reason, they both came out the same. [laughs] And it looks exactly alike! Her hair looks how mine looked with every stage that she goes through.
SG: Asha, did you do the same?
Asha: Hahaha. At that time, I used to periodically put chemical relaxer in my hair, but had not done it for a few months before locking my hair. I simply pulled sections and tied a knot to the top–by the roots–to keep them sectioned. From there, I let them ‘mat’ naturally. No salon or beeswax or anything. It was around the same time I moved to London, England. So I ended up wearing a lot of tams as well to keep my head warm. In doing that, I noticed my half-straightened half-matted hair started to get shorter as the knots got bigger and bigger.
SG: How do you maintain your locks? Do you follow a routine or use specific products–natural or otherwise?
Asha: It’s pretty easy to maintain for now, as it isn’t extra long yet. I wash it once a week, with normal shampoo and conditioner. Mind you, it takes a little longer and I definitely use way more products than the average person. But it’s not a problem.
Ayanna: I wash my hair in natural spring water at least once a week. I try not to do the chlorine–the pools, that kind of stuff. Basically that’s it–shampoo, conditioner. I don’t wash my hair in my shower. I go to a spring or waterfall close to my house. It’s like a little shower that comes out of the rocks with natural water. So I just use that. It’s cold as ice! That’s the only problem.
SG: They say it’s good for your skin and your hair!
Ayanna: It is! It’s good for your hair and skin because it has all the natural minerals.
SG: So, no butters or oils?
Ayanna: No, not really. I’ve never been a “product person”, to say, I need this particular product. For me, whatever I’m comfortable with at the moment, I’m good.
SG: And you don’t experience dryness or breakage?
Ayanna: No, not really. The weather we have in Trinidad is completely different. When I lived in the states, I used to have to oil my hair at least once a month. I used to use this olive oil thing. But down here, once I wash my hair in the spring, I feel like I’m good. I don’t feel it gets dried out or nothing like that.
SG: There are a lot people in the Caribbean, and abroad, who are not “naturals” or Rastas. What was that part of the transition like for you? What kind of reactions did you get from people when it comes to your hair and lifestyle?
Asha: For the most part, people are educated about Rastas and have a basic understanding of the lifestyle. But I did encounter a hand full of people in the U.K. who were amazed at the way I wear my hair. It’s always entertaining to hear them talk about it and ask to touch it (which I discourage). When I visited Trinidad for the first time, after moving to London and growing my hair, a lot of my friends were shocked. I was the last person they would have expected to change my lifestyle and lock my hair.
Ayanna: I started my locks in America. I lived in Chicago for a year, where I started my locks, and I moved to New York for 4 years. My locks basically grew in New York and then I moved to Florida. So I know the stares, the looks, everything. It was my hair. And then I opened my mouth. I don’t know what people thought my accent was–Jamaican, half-island, I don’t know! [laughs]
So, it was kind of difficult. I lost internships because of my hair. I couldn’t do certain classes. My school had a uniform–the University. I couldn’t wrap my hair in school because it wasn’t part of the uniform. I’ve lost a lot of friends. And family members looked at me as if I was a stranger when they saw me for the first time with the dread on my head. It was a lot. For me, the transition wasn’t just happening. I knew I needed to be very serious about it because changes were happening because of it.
SG: Ayanna, in the beginning you were on your own. How did you handle these challenges?
Ayanna: Well I’ve always been close to my mother and my sister. Once they were okay with it, I didn’t have much of an issue. But, I kept myself around people who were like me. Then around 2007, I started realizing nobody was really shunning me anymore. [laughs]
SG: How did it affect your confidence?
Ayanna: Honestly, my confidence didn’t start to shine until 2008 when I started to feel comfortable as a woman in Rastafari. I used to think people would judge me. Then around 2007, I realized I can still be me and be a Rasta woman. I didn’t have to “study” about people saying things behind my head. Now, I can go anywhere and feel comfortable. I can go any party. I can go anywhere and not feel like people are staring at me or that I don’t belong.
SG: Have people changed their minds now?
Ayanna: Yes. Because they realize I have not changed. My personal views, my religious views might be different. But my personality, my interaction with them hasn’t changed. I think they just got thrown off by seeing my physical change.
SG: Do you think society’s attitude towards locks are changing as a whole?
Asha: Oh yes. The attitude of people are definitely evolving. People are becoming a lot more open minded. More people are accepting that just because we have locks, does not mean we smoke weed and beat drums all day.
Yes, there are still the close minded people who try to fight us down. But overall, people are accepting. From my experience, the U.K. is absolutely more open minded than the U.S. about locks. In the U.S., you still go places and get nasty stares and disgusted looks. But it’s something a lot of people can relate to. Not because of their hair, but perhaps because of their skin color or the shape of their eyes or even because of the language they speak. If you’re confident with who you are, things like these seem so trivial.
Ayanna: People used to ask us, “Where did you get that?” So, we started the line in 2010. We tried putting out a few pieces to see how people reacted. And the response was amazingly unexpected. So since then, we decided to push a brand and not just clothes.
SG: And that’s where “Wadada” comes in…
Ayanna: As Rastafari, Ethiopia is a part of our culture. “Wadada” is an Amharic word, which is the national language for Ethiopia. It’s literally translated to “a greeting of peace and love.” We wanted to start something that was a positive movement, because we do a lot of charity events as well. Hence we put the word “movement” behind Wadada and not “Clothing” or “Wear.”
SG: We don’t see much high fashion coming out of the Caribbean. What makes Wadada different?
Ayanna: Our stuff is more conservatively fashionable. As Rastafarians, we believe that we carry ourselves with royalty. We find every woman as a queen. To keep that in our designs, we always have something that is conservative, yet, out-the-box fashionable. But, it’s a balance because we’re catering to every woman.
SG: What kind of projects are you currently working on?
Ayanna: We did our first travel to Jamaica for Protoge & Kymani Marley’s video “Rasta Love.” Clothes from our first collection are actually on the lead female for that entire video. This year, we also did Tobago Fashion Week in Tobago and then Caribbean fashion week in Jamaica.
We’re currently working on our third collection. Our second collection was in two parts. One was called “Summer Love” and the second part is called “O.N.E.”, which is One Natural Energy. And we’re looking to put our charity line, “O.N.E.” in stores by Christmas. Twenty percent of the profits from “O.N.E.” go toward charity for women here in Trinidad, for the shelter.
SG: Does building a business ever impact your relationship as sisters?
Asha: Well we’ve always spent a lot of time together, even before we started Wadada. So it’s not new. But I must admit, it makes decisions a little easier. If I am unsure about something, Ayanna is there to give another opinion. If we cannot agree on opinions, we have made a deal to scrap it.
Ayanna: We are sisters before business partners. As any other siblings, we have our disagreements. But we try not to let the stress of business impact our private lives too much.
On the one place in T&T that’s a must to visit, Asha and Ayanna agree…
Asha: Definitely any beach in Blanchisseuse, which is on the North Coast of Trinidad. There’s something about the drive that is very therapeutic. Whatever beach you decide to pull up on will be amazing. Whether you want to ride the waves, soak in a river or just take in the sun…Forget about Maracus and take the extra 45 minutes drive to Blanchisseuse.
Connect with Asha and Ayanna:
Facebook: Wadada Movement