Antidote Street Founder Winnie Awa Shares the Natural-Hair-Care Expertise Our Mothers Never Did
If you, like me, grew up without knowing how to love and care for your naturally curly, coily, Afro-textured hair, then you're not alone. Founder Winnie Awa also had a similar experience, which inspired her to provide education on natural hair care through her beauty-tech startup Antidote Street. Awa took a moment to chat with POPSUGAR on why she launched the platform, what she learned from her own natural-hair journey, and the hair-care products she always keeps close by.
Awa's Natural-Hair Journey Inspires Antidote Street
"I had just gone natural, and prior to that I was reckless," Awa confessed. "I was relaxing my hair, taking off my weave, and relaxing it again. I would go to this very, very naughty auntie on a Friday evening; she would take out my weave, relax my hair, then put the weave back in, which is the worst thing that you could do to your hair, both in terms of chemicals and tension. A few of my friends had been transitioning to natural hair and it looked really cool on them. So, I thought, 'Is it actually going to look good on me or not?' I really didn't know, so I gave it a try."
"I'd never seen my hair like that. I never knew it was curly because typically, the tiniest growth that was not uniform to the straight relaxed bit, I would run and get the creamy crack on it."
"I started braiding my hair back to back to let the natural hair grow out and to see and get a sense of what it would be like. By the time I had done that, maybe back to back three times, and washed my hair, I had all this curly growth. It was a lot bigger than I would typically let it grow for and I didn't recognise it; I'd never seen my hair like that. I never knew it was curly because typically, the tiniest growth that was not uniform to the straight relaxed bit, I would run and get the creamy crack on it."
After discovering her natural hair texture for the first time as an adult, Awa went to acclaimed Afro hair salon Adornment365 in Brixton and bravely got a big chop. While she fell in love with her new cropped Afro, she struggled to figure out the right products to use for her specific hair type — inspiring Awa to launch Antidote Street.
Antidote Street Responds to a Gap in Natural-Hair-Care Education
"I was really keen with Antidote Street to create a space where it was curated. A curated selection of the best products for textured hair," Awa said. The curated hair-care selection on Antidote Street has been tested in line with cosmetic regulations and efficacy with different hair textures. Awa explained that "there's a new brand that we're trying to bring onto the platform, and it was fascinating, we all tested it. It didn't work for a bunch of the girls on the team, whereas for me, because my hair was coloured, it worked. So it's about being able to really understand the products at that granular level. It's never just about products on a shelf for us."
Antidote Street is a premium selection of tried-and-tested, quality products, but what makes it truly unique is that the team is dedicated to matching you with the right products for your specific hair type. When she founded it in 2014, Awa was working in ecommerce for companies like Net-a-Porter and ASOS and thought, "Why isn't there a place like that for me?" Since Antidote Street launched, the company has evolved with its customers by starting out with product curation, then moving into product relevance. More recently, Antidote Street launched a Salon Manifesto with the UK's leading Afro hair salons, and now the pioneering brand is exploring a new multilevel service, Antidote Street Labs.
"You start to see lots of products that are for curly hair, it's got coconut oil and shea butter, but that doesn't really mean anything; those are not the only ingredients that exist."
The Salon Manifesto aims to hold Afro hair salons accountable for the service they provide. There are countless stories of curly girls searching without avail for the right salon, and Antidote Street wants to make that process effortless for both clients and salons. As for Antidote Street Labs, Awa explained that "the beauty industry, for such a long time, has not prioritised this consumer, and we do. So, brands come to us for understanding, for insight. And for us, it's about this desire to create a world where representation is everywhere, where people have no excuse for not creating the product for this customer, and where they're actually taking their needs into consideration. When I look at how the market has evolved, you start to see lots of products that are for curly hair, it's got coconut oil and shea butter, but that doesn't really mean anything; those are not the only ingredients that exist. It's actually quite a lazy way of innovating for this market."
"When you had the natural-hair movement or certainly this process of customers becoming more savvy," she continued. "We started to see a chasm develop between salons, as we know it, and information that customers had at their fingertips with YouTube. To a certain degree, we're starting to see some level of improvements around styling. You can google 'How do I style my hair into the TWA,' and there'll be millions of YouTube tutorials coming up. But I think what is still missing is the advice. At the end of the day, we're not here to prescribe how people should wear their hair. I think people should wear their hair however they want. I think what's been missing is the advice and the knowledge of how to care for it in a healthy way."
Ahead, see the four highly rated products Awa always keeps stocked — and why she loves them.